Credit Unions Mix Online With Traditional to Help Those in Need
For many credit unions, deciding which charities to give to takes time and much planning.
One example of that jumpstart occurred in early October when My CU Services LLC, a wholly-owned CUSO of Mid-Atlantic Corporate Federal Credit Union, in Middletown, Pa., started promoting its electronic bill payment donation option. The feature allows members of 750 credit unions nationwide to send donations electronically to charities of their choice. For each donation members send by Dec. 31, My CU Services will give $1 to the Children's Miracle Network. Jaime Agostino, marketing manager for My CU Services, said the donation option has been available for several years.
“We wanted to come up with a way to call attention to some of the different features of EBP,” she explained. “We thought the season of giving would be an ideal time for credit unions to highlight to members a great way to make a donation to charities of their choice.”
To help get the word out, the CUSO is providing newsletter articles, commercials, Web page banners and a how-to guide that credit unions can customize.
“One of the great things about the system is it enables you to make a donation on behalf of different people,” Agostino said. “For example, a donation to the Red Cross can be made on behalf of maybe a family member. You can choose to send an email to someone announcing your donation or have the charity send an acknowledgement to that person.”
Another feature is the contribution can be sent to a little-known charity as well as a large one. If the charity doesn’t already exist in the system, the donor simply needs to provide information such as the telephone number and address so the gift can be sent either electronically or by check.
Agostino said some charities make it easy to chip in at this time of year. Approach the local supermarket and there may be a Salvation Army bucket and a bell ringer. There's probably a Toys for Tots drop-off box at the shopping center nearby. Still, other charities may not be as visible.
“For me personally, diabetes is a big thing,” Agostino said. “I have family members who have diabetes and complications from diabetes. So it's a cause that's near and dear to my heart. They don’t necessarily have a lot of donation buckets and boxes. But every year at this time I send money to them. There's no struggle with ‘where can I drop this check off?’”
Making a holiday offering is also easy at the $180 million Singing River Federal Credit Union in Moss Point, Miss. From Nov. 11 through Dec. 20, for every approved loan, the credit union will grant $5 to a member's choice of the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or Our Daily Bread.
Through a campaign launched in November, for every approved loan, Singing River FCU granted $5 to a member to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toAnimals, or Our Daily Bread.
Trudi Mullins, vice president of communication and team development at Singing River, said the charitable idea got underway four years ago as part of a rebranding effort. A centerpiece of that was community involvement, she noted.
“When we say ‘Life's better at the river,’ we see that as an obligation to improve everybody's quality of life,” Mullins said. “It started with a $5 donation to Our Daily Bread, a local charity that feeds homeless people and shut-ins.”
So far, the response has been phenomenal, Mullins said. The credit union's goal was 300 additional loans but it easily exceeded that by about 10%. This year, Singing River wanted more of a member's choice, so it added Wounded Warrior and the ASPCA to the fold.
Mullins acknowledged that the list of charities seeking help is extensive, and members can feel overwhelmed. Singing River contributed to various charities throughout the year including the national American Cancer Society in October and the local chapter of the American Heart Association in the spring.
“We like having Our Daily Bread in the mix because we've had a relationship with them and with the challenging economy, the number of homeless and hungry has increased,” Mullins said. “Because we have such a high demographic of outdoor sportsmen here, animals were a logical choice. Wounded Worrier reflects our large number of military and veterans.”
The job of Singing River's marketing department is to encourage people to take action, Mullins said. Because there can be lot of holiday clutter, to cut through, she advised finding a need, ideally something nobody else is doing, and then work to meet that need.
Sometimes a holiday event develops into a tradition, perhaps with a few modifications from year to year. That seems to be the case at the $48 million Industrial Centre Federal Credit Union in Muncie, Ind. For 20 years, the cooperative has sponsored a program that helps families during the Christmas season.
“It kind of changes and grows every year,” said Brittani Richards, ICFCU marketing director.
Originally, the credit union focused on families who were members or somehow associated with the credit union. In 2012, ICFCU started raising money for Secret Families Christmas Charity, whose mission focuses on families with children who would otherwise go without the holiday. The charity said it helped 187 families last year.
Nearly all of ICFCU's 60 employees donated to Christmas Families throughout the year. During the holiday season, members can contribute at either of the credit union's two branches. The money is used to buy groceries, toys and other items. There's also a mitten tree indicating a specific need a family has such as winter coats or gloves.
This year, the credit union is also assisting a family with nine children, four of them adopted and five foster children. The family is experiencing some tough times, so in addition to contributing to Secret Families, ICFCU employees and members are pitching in to sponsor them as well.
Even with this and other charitable activities, “You can’t help everybody,” Richards said. “You need to focus in on what you want to do. We don’t try to stretch ourselves too thin. The key is to find an organization you’re passionate about that ties into your mission. It's rewarding for our employees and our members when they know they’re really able to help someone and they see it happening.”
More traffic than usual was expected on Dec. 5 at the $3.5 billion Redstone Federal Credit Union's officeMore traffic than usual was expected on Dec. 5 at the $3.5 billion Redstone Federal Credit Union's office in Huntsville, Ala., which was the drop-off site for television station WAAF's Can-a-thon drive for the Christmas Charities Year Round agency. Actually, RFCU President/CEO Joe Newberry said all of the credit union's branches accepted Can-a-thon donations for local food banks, a tradition that started in 2001. Newberry underscores the point about focusing in on a cause that everyone can get passionate about.
“Our members are so generous. Every time we ask for their help, they come through.”