HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Current economic conditions have put a strain on financial institutions and the country as a whole, but credit unions are not faltering in the people helping people philosophy through community involvement and donations.
Noelle Fischer-Herbert, vice president of corporate development at Pacific Service Credit Union in Walnut Creek, Calif., said that her credit union has been fortunate to not have to make any cutbacks in community involvement and donations because the credit union has a set annual amount that goes toward community outreach each year. In feedback she received from the American Red Cross, Fischer-Herbert said that the Red Cross reported that they've seen a reduction in contributions this year and have seen more people that are in need.
"With the California housing crisis, people are taking advantage of resources they never thought they would have to," Fischer-Herbert said. "We're fortunate to be in an organization where cutting community involvement isn't on the table."
Jenna Harper, marketing representative at Pen Air Federal Credit Union in Pensacola, Fla., said that Pen Air has also not had to experience any cutbacks in community outreach. Recently, she said the credit union donated $10,000 to Honor Flight, a program that provides transportation to World War II veterans to the memorial in Washington. Harper said that credit union has a specific community service budget that is part of the marketing budget.
Rick Stout, senior vice president at Charter Oak Credit Union, Groton, Conn., said that while the credit union does not have a specific set aside budget for community involvement, it has also not had to make any cutbacks.
"We try to anticipate what we'll allocate, and at our April planning session, we developed a five-year plan requested by our directors to have a clear focus on giving back to the community and to members," Stout said.
Stout said that he has also seen a growing need in the community due to the current economy. This past month, Charter Oak hired an employee who will monitor requests for donations and community involvement from the credit union.
Pacific Service also has a system set up to monitor its community outreach. Instead of an employee monitoring requests, Pacific Service has a system in place where community organizations can request assistance. The credit union then evaluates the request and makes sure the organization meets the credit union's requirements to ensure that the money goes directly to benefit the community and benefits as many people as possible. Pacific Service also has a community involvement committee that focuses on giving assistance to low-income communities.
"We have them break down how many people will be impacted per dollar," Fischer-Herbert said. "We have a robust program, and we've spent a lot of time making it into something that works. We don't have the money to save the world from all the ills, but we do recognize we have a responsibility to the community."
Stout said that "sometimes you don't have to do big things to make an impact on the community." He shared a story about Charter Oaks Waterford office. The office has woods located in the rear of the building that are, during the summer months, occupied by homeless people. The credit union put a porta potty up in the back of the property for these people to use under the condition that they don't create a mess or vandalize it. Stout said that it's been up for over a year, and they've had no problems.
"It's about giving back to a group of people that find that service extremely valuable," Stout said.
Harper said that Pen Air has no set requirements in their community outreach but that they try to give everyone an equal opportunity and spread out their donations and involvement.
"We help out where we can, and up till now, we've done very well with being able to spread things out, and, hopefully, the current economy won't impact that."
Looking ahead to the holiday season, Fischer-Herbert said that the CU has $45,000-$50,000 set aside specifically for the season and have organizations that they work with during the holidays every year. Fischer-Herbert said every holiday season Pacific Services gives food baskets during Thanksgiving and runs a food bank, does Toys for Tots, adopt a Christmas tree and a giving tree program. Also, Pacific Service focuses its biggest contribution to the Salvation Army toward the end of the year and sponsors a toy drive for a local theater group. After Pacific Service extends their set amount, Fischer-Herbert said that it takes requests on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Stout said that though he expects there will be more of a need this holiday season with the current economy, Charter Oak plans to simply continue to do more of the same.
"What this economy says to us is that whether it's good times or bad times there is always a need," Stout said.
As an organization, Joe Dearborn, executive director for the Credit Unions for Kids program at Children's Miracle Network, said that the network is expecting a downturn due to the economy and is seeing a little bit of it already at the retail level.
"The economy is certainly going to impact everyone's fundraising, and we're realistic in regards to our expectations," Dearborn said.
However, he also said that his group is specifically optimistic about credit unions and is hoping for an 8% to 10% increase from last year. Last year, Children's Miracle Network collected $8.7 million from credit unions.
Though with the expecting downturn in general donations, Dearborn said that he does expect with the state of the economy there will be a greater need for funds this year. To help combat the impact of the slowing economy, Dearborn said the group is trying to be more creative in fundraising campaigns and is trying to tap into new potential donors.
"The American population is very generous," Dearborn said. "We see it time after time with disasters like Hurricane Katrina and that will certainly continue in the current economy."