Concern for Community. It’s not a suggestion or a guideline, it’s one of the founding principles of cooperatives. It’s painted on our walls, written in the lines of our mission statements, ingrained in the minds of employees and management, and of course, it’s one of the biggest selling points of a credit union.
From the moment I entered the credit union industry, I’ve been witness to just how deeply credit unions care for their communities and I’ve seen the creative ways they find to reach out and be involved. It’s this dedication that keeps people coming to credit unions over the larger banks; the friendly tellers they know by name, the personal connections they make, and the investment in community they see every day.
But what happens if after a year of lockdowns and quarantines, of being unable to enter their credit union lobby, of not hearing a peep about community events, members no longer feel the connection to their credit union? They may just be so inclined to switch to the bank with the most convenience or the most efficient mobile app to make banking from home easier on them.
Don’t use coronavirus as an excuse
Credit unions need to be aware of the barrier that COVID-19 is creating between them, their members, and their community. A credit union that becomes cut off from those will ultimately put itself at a great risk to lose members and to lose a huge part of what makes a credit union stand out. If we can’t stand by the seventh cooperative principle when things get difficult, then to what extent can we really claim a concern for community?
Don’t let the pandemic be an excuse to pull back. It’s time to get creative in the ways we interact with our community and find ways to participate while still staying safe. Especially during the holiday season, when many are struggling to provide not only essentials for their families but gifts to make the season as special for them as anyone else.
Support members supporting the community: Earlier in the year, ATL credit union had an inspired idea: give money to members who are ordering takeout during the pandemic. Not only did this encourage members to give money to local restaurants who might have been struggling due to lockdowns, it rewarded them for doing so and showed the credit union’s dedication to lending a hand to their community during difficult times.
Donation boxes for toys and gifts: This is one of the easier (and safer) holiday options. Leaving a donations or collections box outside the credit union or in your community for people to donate to is a simple and effective way to stay connected to your community and support those who may need help providing gifts for their children. Alternatively, MSUFCU is supporting a virtual toy donation, where members donate directly through the site and are able to pick out the specific gift they want to contribute to–meaning members can make a difference without leaving their houses.
Letters from Santa: Another safe, fun, and easy idea for credit unions to pull off. Either have parents address their children’s letters (or even emails) to Santa to the credit union or have a drop-off box at the credit union. Employees and volunteers can respond to the letters as Santa and bring some holiday cheer to kids.
Holiday meal drop-off: Have your credit union organize a holiday meal for those in need. Volunteers can purchase or bake meals and drop them off to families, shelters, or those who may be at a larger risk for coronavirus and struggle to get to the store.
Baked goods exchange: Similar to the one above, have volunteers or families bake and decorate holiday cookies and other snacks to drop off to those in the community or at shelters.
Donate funds: Money may not be festive or creative, but it will certainly help those struggling during the holiday season. Have your credit union encourage members to donate to charity and match their donations up to a certain amount.
Virtual Santa: Virtual teller technology can be a great way to host virtual Santa meetings to children unable to see Santa in person. Fintech company POPi/o has made their technology free for financial institutions looking to host holiday events for their communities.
Break down the barrier
No matter how simple or extravagant you decide to go, your members will appreciate the effort to stay connected to your community when it’s not exactly easy. When things go back to normal, they’ll remember who reached out and upheld the seventh cooperative principle; who took that line in the mission statement and the paint on the walls seriously; and who sat in silence and let the crickets chirp.