Thrive by Asking How, Not Whether to Serve
Throughout history, credit unions have attracted the most members and achieved the most member loyalty when economic times have been toughest.
Since World War II, credit unions have guided members through at least 11 recessions, each lasting an average of 11 months. So, although it’s tough sometimes to do more and be more for your members and communities, we can’t wait for things to get better. History has confirmed that the ups and downs are continual. We always need to be on.
The charities, agencies and local organizations that your members rely on need you more than ever. According to Charity Navigator, the faltering economy brought a general reduction in charitable giving in 2008 and 2009. Donations rose in 2010 and 2011 but did not keep pace with community and charitable needs. Luckily, however, the groups you support share your same concerns: to help people address life’s crises, foster stronger families and communities and offer resources for a better life. Therein is an opportunity.
Credit unions that make the most of their philanthropy do more than cut a check; they work in tandem with local organizations to bring real change in people’s lives. Whether through an improved credit score that helps single parents access reliable transportation (your job) or classes that impart effective parenting skills (an agency’s job), you’re working toward the same goal – improved quality of life through greater self-sufficiency. Take a look at the organizations you support. Have you seized the opportunity to join forces? Make a greater impact?
Sure, your budget is stretched. But you can still support the fun things like the youth dance, theater troupe and football team. When your usual resources aren’t as plentiful, ask those organizations to partner with you to keep your support at present levels. What can they do to create a campaign or involve your members or volunteers, such that you can still help meet their needs?
Again, the theme is collaboration. We can multiply any effort twofold, threefold, tenfold by being creative. How can your credit union and the organizations it serves help one another?
Collaboration has been key for Wisconsin credit unions this year. Faced with increasing local needs, they wanted to give more but were being held back by a 40 year-old statute that limited the financial support they could donate from their reserves in a single year to aid local causes. So credit unions approached the legislature and quickly gained bipartisan support to enact Senate Bill 356, doubling their giving capacity. There was not a single dissenting vote.
The bill’s lead author, Wisconsin Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) remarked how refreshing it was to see an industry lobbying to help Wisconsin communities instead of its own bottom line. He also penned a letter that helped capture for Wisconsin credit unions a 2012 Corporate Citizenship Award from one of the state’s most well-read business publications, Corporate Report Wisconsin.
So your advocacy for the needs of others is simultaneous advocacy for you. Few lawmakers will see a need to slap costly, unnecessary mandates on credit unions when lawmakers and media alike congratulate your own successful efforts to do what’s right. Wisconsin credit unions have told us in a survey that they support close to 3,000 charities. Our REAL Solutions Scorecard that we share with lawmakers and media proclaims this proudly, and we link to this piece at www.theleague.coop/scorecard from every league press release.
Does your credit union have a prominent spot on its website that captures the extent of your community support and philanthropy? Lawmakers, media, and other community partners can’t support your efforts if they don’t know what you’re doing. But you’ll boost your impact quickly if they do. For example, the Gannett newspaper chain, as well as local foundations and businesses, have partnered with Wisconsin credit unions to expand a food drive that started as a local effort but now involves all 10 Gannett readership areas and serves 108 pantries.
Put yourself in legislators’ shoes. They’re constantly urged to fix the housing crisis, do something about payday lending, and help small businesses. But credit unions are already doing the heavy lifting to help people avoid foreclosure, access affordable small loans and extend small business credit. By showing lawmakers you’re solving the problems they’re elected to address, you’ll have their support. That’s why we need small businesses that credit unions have helped to tell their stories in Washington to help pass the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Bill. You help small businesses, they advocate for you, you offer even more help. Good works truly offer compounding benefits.
Another example? Parents need resources that can help them address exploding higher education costs as well as find a way to help their student navigate into adulthood without crushing debt. In 48 states, credit unions have directed local schools to credit union websites for help through Money Mission, which is an online life simulation that teaches teens about financial decision-making while offering opportunities for college scholarships. Parents, hungry for this assistance, urge their student’s participation. That is how credit unions solve problems while also building loyalty with the next generation of borrowers.
The extent of credit unions’ REAL Solutions to meet current needs has not diminished. Sometimes we can help financially. Other times the assistance is more creative. Every time, collaboration magnifies our impact. It’s not a matter of whether we need to serve; it’s a matter of simply deciding how. That’s how credit unions have grown and thrived for more than 100 years.
Brett Thompson is president/CEO of the Wisconsin Credit Union League
Contact 608-514-0083 or firstname.lastname@example.org