Public Service Credit Union asked members what they wanted during the holidays and learned many wanted things for others.
The credit union spent $21,000 on gifts and donation, then celebrated with its community at the end of the year.
Public Service Credit Union ($65.2M, Fort Wayne, IN) didn’t kick off 2020 intending to play Santa Claus at the end of the year, but Fort Wayne’s oldest member-owned financial cooperative discovered a creative way to show its community some love during the holidays.
Public Service was founded in 1932 during the Great Depression. Nearly 90 years later, it embraced the opportunity to spread some cheer during a particularly bleak year. Taking the adopt-a-family concept to a whole new level, the credit union surveyed its community — members and non-members alike — to find out what they wanted for the holidays. Then, it provided cash and gifts to every one of the nearly 200 respondents.
During its Project Giveback efforts, Public Service discovered many people in its community were more concerned about taking care of someone else in need — including neighbors, family, and four-legged friends.
21,000 Reasons To Be Merry
Public Service kicked off Project Giveback by posting a survey on its website and social media channels — including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. It also sent an email to 2,798 members on Oct. 30.
PSCU distributed this brief survey to solicit gift suggestions for its Project Giveback campaign.
On the survey, the credit union asked a few simple questions: What do you want for Christmas? Who do you want it for? Why?
By the time the Nov. 16 deadline rolled around, nearly 200 people had responded with requests such as pajamas for grandchildren, a refrigerator and stove for an aunt, a bed for a disabled child, and donations to an animal shelter.
“We were humbled by how many people asked for things for others,” says Carolyn Mikesell, who has been CEO since she joined the cooperative in 2004. “We were able to purchase gifts, help pay bills, or make charitable donations for every single person that filled out the survey.”
A committee of six employees led the effort, but all 18 staff members of Public Service participated, Mikesell says. According to the CEO, the credit union spent $21,000 on gifts, contributions, and preparations for the day many of the recipients — 150, give or take — visited the credit union’s offices to collect their gifts.
Carolyn Mikesell, President and CEO, Public Service Credit Union
The credit union gave visitors a 30-minute time slot on Saturday, Dec. 12. Visitors arrived, texted the credit union, and entered the lobby one family at a time. Employees worked in shifts, offering hot cocoa and cupcakes, distributing gifts, and carrying gifts to cars.
“All of our employees got involved in one way or another,” Mikesell says. “Some helped with Christmas decorations, wrapping gifts, moving furniture, and much more. Some wore an elf costume. I even dressed up as Mrs. Claus!”
Deep Roots In Indiana
“We are Fort Wayne’s oldest credit union, and we’re here to help our community, one member at a time,” Mikesell ways. “We wanted to provide to members, friends, families, and favorite charities in a fun and exciting way. It’s been a humbling yet inspiring project.”
The reaction from recipients made the experience even better, she adds.
“People didn’t understand why we were doing it or why we chose them,” Mikesell says. “They were so thankful and happy. There were many tears of joy, including from our employees.
“Our staff had a short reflection time together after the event,” the CEO adds. “Overwhelmingly, they loved seeing the reactions of the members and decided that giving back was the greatest gift of all.”
The credit union shared its Dec. 12 festivities on social media, which generated a positive response about its work to impact its community.
Watch PSCU’s YouTube video about its Project Giveback celebration in December.
Love One Another Right Now
“The most touching requests were when people weren’t asking for themselves, but for someone else, including for neighbors and co-workers out of work due to COVID,” Mikesell says.
The single most popular charity was the Fort Wayne Pet Food Pantry.
“We made a giant gift basket with pet food, toys, cat litter, and more,” Mikesell says.
But the effects of the credit union’s goodwill extended beyond gift recipients.
“Several new employees took the time to tell me they have never worked for an employer that spent so much time and money to make others’ holiday special,” Mikesell adds.
Some of our staff members are very good at finding great deals.
Although Public Service sponsored Project Giveback during the holiday season, it’s the kind of initiative that has applicability all year long. Why not show members love on Valentine’s Day? Or during International Credit Union Day? Or on an anniversary?
No matter what the celebratory hook, a few best practices will help any credit union pull off a successful giveback campaign.
Getting started early with planning and then effectively communicating that plan to the team and the recipients were all linchpins to the success of Project Giveback. So was relying on the dedication of a staff determined to do good.
“Give your team to power to do something great, to think outside the box,” Mikesell advises. “They’ll impress you. I was impressed and humbled by the team’s hard work and dedication.”
Plus, she says, leaders might discover some in-house talent they didn’t know they had.
“We found out some of our staff members are very good at finding great deals on gifts,” Mikesell says. “The employees shopped for weeks, even on Black Friday, to get the most we could for everyone.”
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