Imagine having 100 opportunities to show just how unique your credit union is.
Dubbed Project 100, over the course of 100 days last year, Co-op Services Credit Union handed out $100 to 100 people in Southeast Michigan-no strings attached. People were just encouraged to think about what they could do to give back to their communities whether by volunteering or even just helping out a neighbor.
"Southeast Michigan has been hit so hard by this tough economy we were looking for ways we could give back to the community and encourage others to contribute to their communities," said Lisa Fawcett, marketing director at the $379 million credit union.
According to Project Coordinator Greg Wohler, the initial idea for Project 100 came out of brainstorming sessions to determine what the Livonia, Mich.-based credit union could do to really impact people in the community.
"We wanted to show not only members but locals that our credit union is concerned and cares," said Wohler. "Recognizing our resources are limited, we thought why not enlist an army of people and exponentially increase the community impact. Those 100 could impact others by 10, by 100 magnified. There was also just so much negative press out there and every day there was a new story about unemployment. Another element of Project 100, from the beginning was to help make things better by starting to talk about the positive and get people thinking about some of the good things happening out there."
Concept to the official launch of Project 100 took a mere 35 days, and it kicked off with Youth and Community Development Coordinator Jeremy Cybulski randomly offering people $100. The man on the street video promotion never identified Co-op Services CU. Cybulski also handed out a Project 100 T-shirt and a stack of cards printed with the whatisproject100.com microsite for the lucky recipient to give to friends and family where they could register to be selected. Locals could find and share money saving tips, learn more about local charities, volunteering opportunities, get ideas about ways to give back and winners could share their stories of what they did with the money.
"Jeremy was a natural fit. We wanted this to be a viral grassroots campaign which is why for the first 30 days we didn't involve our name or brand just to get people talking and wondering who was behind this," said Fawcett. "We made sure the site had really great content so we figured what better way to drive people to this content and increase the number of people doing good than to give them the opportunity to be next."
Wohler said ironically the greatest challenge initially was getting people to accept the $100.
"Who knew it would be so hard to give away money?" joked Wohler. "We knew with so many people out of work that $100 is something people would need, which is why it was so important that there were no strings attached. We recognized that for some that $100 could help put food on the table, or pay a bill so it was a surprise when some people just said no I don't want it."
Once they leaked to the press that the credit union was behind Project 100 and started spreading the word via every available social media channel including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, some locals wrote posts on the microsite kicking themselves for walking away from the money.
According to Fawcett and Wohler, the $10,000 budget and significant investment of time and effort were all worth it. Fawcett said what was most gratifying was how recipients positively affected others from handing a neighbor in need the $100 or treating children a neighborhood to a pizza party and giving the delivery person a $24 tip. The 100th recipient, Kate Sanders, who lost her job in early 2009, used the $100 to honor her daughter's request to host a holiday party where guests brought unwrapped toys to donate to Toys for Tots or canned goods to donate to a local food bank in lieu of gifts.
"We simply represented the spark to get things started. The recipients and the lives they touched, they're the ones that really created change by continuing the giving," said Fawcett.
The campaign has not only created community goodwill but also generated quite a buzz for Co-op Services CU as a different kind of financial institution. The credit union had 1.5 million media impressions, and Wohler said every major local news media outlet covered the story. To keep the spirit of giving in the forefront, the credit union unveiled the Co-op Cares Project for the first quarter of this year where members who open a checking account received $100 that could be donated to a local charity of their choice.
Ultimately, eight local charities were featured on the www.whatisproject100.com site, where members and locals were encouraged to vote for their favorite charity. The three charities that received the highest votes were each awarded one-third of the total donations collected throughout the project. The votes were recently tallied and Gleaners Community Food Bank, HAVEN and Second Chance at Life were selected as the recipients of $1,000 each from the credit union.
"We were also very happy to see that charities of all sizes, large and small, were able to benefit from this project. Every one of the eight charities worked very hard to make this project a success," said Fawcett. "We've received tremendous feedback from all eight charities participating in the project. They've told us that the exposure alone has helped them at a time when they really need it. It's been inspiring to see the amount of people who have visited the site to vote for their favorite cause, and perhaps then stopped to think about what they could do to give back as well."