Credit Unions and Community: The Importance of Volunteering

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Being a part of a cooperative, you can’t help but think of community and working together for the common good of the whole. Concern for community is written in our founding principles.

To me, helping the community has always involved volunteering and working with my community. During my junior year of college, I joined an honors fraternity, which on top of a busy class load, took on a few volunteer projects a semester. One of those projects was a 5K we hosted every spring, with proceeds going to our chosen organization, Teach for America. The 5k was always a fun event to host and an easy way to raise money for non-profits near and dear to our hearts.

Not only were we able to give back to the community, but we also benefitted from a simple way to get the word out on campus about our fraternity and our upcoming events. This not only helped our fundraising and volunteer efforts, but it got our name out on campus and helped with our recruitment. Each semester we would get a couple of new members who originally heard about us through our 5K event.

Why it’s important

There really is no downside to volunteering for the community you live in. In fact, volunteering offers numerous benefits not just to the community, but to your credit union and your branding and marketing. It’s a great and simple way to establish your credit union in your town.

If volunteering is not in the works for your team, maybe try the route of sponsoring a sports team or even creating your own event! Each season brings new opportunities to get out there and get involved. Non-profit organizations are always looking for sponsorships for events and many people will see your name out there on some event t-shirt, flyer, or even a thank you over a loudspeaker. All of these little interactions can create a big impact.

Marketing incentives

Aside from community benefits, you might be wondering how this can relate to credit unions, let alone your marketing department. Well in many ways, credit unions are for the community and for the members. How do you get involved with the members of your community and get familiar with those who live and work in your area? By volunteering and participating in community events!

Like my Phi Sigma Pi days, the recognition you receive from events and being out in the community can not only strengthen your bonds with the current members but also bring in new people to your credit union. People become interested when they associate a group or business with positive community interactions that show a sense of social responsibility. An emotional connection to members can and will go a long way.

By participating in these events, you will get your name out there in the community and cultivate brand recognition. We have all heard of brand recognition—it’s how brands become known by association. The more you get your name and brand out there, the more you will find it will be recognized by people. Credit unions should be the extrovert of the financial community. They are FOR the members and community after all! There are plenty of ways to make your name in the community, but wouldn’t you want to be recognized for acts of service and involvement?

Getting the word out at events

At a lot of events, there will be some kind of media coverage, whether large or small. At events such as the River Bank Run that happens every spring in Grand Rapids, they have an expo. At these expos, there are vendor booths passing out everything from bagels, pens, coffee, and more. Everyone wanders booth to booth to get free swag and you bet it’s a great opportunity to talk to individuals who could become members of your credit union. Involvement has a trickle effect and the more you put yourself out there the more you will get recognized. A lot of people attend events, which then gives your credit union more opportunities to create a significant impact.

When you do volunteer or sponsor an event—sport some company t-shirts or hand out related items to your event. Who doesn’t love a free t-shirt or water bottle? Don’t want to spend the extra money on little giveaways? Hand out a snack at the event and interact with those around you. People will respond and recognize those little interactions. Those can add up a lot to someone. I believe in our industry that the volunteer spirit is important and should shine through in our daily lives. There are many opportunities to get out there and help. Whether it is an event you join in or create yourself.

Volunteer ideas

Now that we’ve covered the importance of volunteering and the incentives behind it, how do you get started on this community journey? I would say start small and grow from there. Find a local philanthropy that your team wants to help with or an event to get involved with. Ask your co-workers if they have any ideas or input on who or what to help out with. Someone may have a great opportunity you would not have known about. Here are a few ideas on how to get involved locally:

  • Collect food items for a local food pantry: Not just around the holidays—the need for food is always there. There are also usually opportunities to help out at pantries by filling kids’ lunches or handing out the food.
  • Sponsor a highway or park: an easy way to get your name out there AND keep your community clean. It can be dirty work but it makes a huge difference!
  • Host a blood drive: there is always a need and local blood banks are always happy to help set this up. Extend the invite to your community and credit union members.
  • Pick a local charity or school and see if they have any needs: create an opportunity based on their needs. Create a “stuff the bus” event or a school supply drive. Teachers and students are always in need of supplies for the classroom.
  • Host an event: get creative and have fun! Maybe have a coat drive for the winter or school supplies at the end of summer. Create incentives for the members to participate.
    • 5k
    • Member Appreciation Day
    • Coat Drive
    • Food Drive
    • Toys for tots
    • Create your own contest!
  • Sponsor an event: If you don’t want to create your own event, reach out to local schools or events to see if you can become a sponsor. Have a group work the event or even participate.
  • Volunteer as a group: have a day or a couple of days where you, as a team volunteer at a local charity or offer volunteer days for individuals.

Get involved!

Now I am not saying that volunteering and sponsorship need to happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, but it is something that should be a part of the yearly plan for your credit union. There are more benefits to helping out than disadvantages.

Yes, it takes extra effort and time to get involved but start small and build on those ideas. You will see that the volunteer spirit will grow within. In the end, it helps you, your members, and the community, which we all know is what makes a credit union special. Our concern for community is not a suggestion, it’s one of our founding principles. Look for opportunities around you and see what sparks interest—get excited and have fun!

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