"We must of course continue to do as little local communities, the things that can best be done by little local communities; but we must learn to do by planned, coordinated, nation-wide action, the things that can be done only by such action."
-- Edward A. Filene, Father of the American Credit Union System
Since their beginnings, credit unions have sought to do good—to create meaningful social change for their members and their communities. That mission has never been more important than it is today, and it extends beyond the direct financial benefits that credit union members receive through better rates, fees, and service as a result of credit unions’ not-for-profit, cooperative structure. What are credit unions doing to advance the well-being of their members and communities through philanthropic giving, volunteering, and collaborations?
What is the research about?
In partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the Filene Research Institute embarked on new research to understand what kinds of philanthropic efforts credit unions undertake and how they define, measure, and communicate their social impact. By understanding the current state of giving among credit unions, this study sets a baseline to explore further corporate social responsibility and sustainability best practices for credit unions going forward.
What are the credit union implications?
As credit unions strive to play a more active and impactful role in improving the well-being of not just their members and employees but the community at large, most will need to make critical changes to how they approach philanthropy. Some of these changes will be internal; others will compel more outreach and connection to the greater community. All will require credit unions to recognize the interconnectedness of most societal challenges and demand they leverage a more diverse array of skill sets, tools, and partnerships.
As they revisit their approach to philanthropy, credit unions should consider integrating these six strategies:
- Focus on logistics. Effective philanthropy does not just happen. It requires a strategy, designated staff, and transparent protocols for selecting partners and causes.
- Be strategic when deploying resources. Every community has critical needs, and even the largest credit union cannot afford to assist with all of them. Choose causes that align with the mission and values of your organization and those of your staff and members. But do not be afraid to buck the status quo if it is the right move for all stakeholders.
- Measure and report. It is not always easy to measure the effectiveness of philanthropy, but it is absolutely critical to try. Ask partner agencies to weigh in—they are the experts, after all. If you are faced with a situation where metrics are difficult to gather, stories can be a good substitute. Once you have captured your impact, share it. You will validate the benefit of your efforts or provide fodder for critical changes.
- Get—and keep—employees on board. Their support and engagement fuels program success and creates a virtuous circle that can attract and retain good employees.
- Engage members. Look for ways to involve members in your efforts and ensure the causes you embrace matter to them. Work to ensure philanthropy is about helping the community, not only a way to build brand awareness.
- Tell your story—thoughtfully. Show how your efforts impact all stakeholders—partner organizations, members, employees, the community, government players, and more—in a way that is engaging, transparent, and quantifiable.