When Giving Back Isn’t Good Enough

Here are three ways to stand out from the crowd and make a more meaningful impact.

 
 

These days, the weight of a company’s philanthropic spirit isn’t just measured in dollar signs. It’s measured in the values, intentions, and perceptions that lie behind that support.

As The Guardian recently pointed out, huge megabanks and other corporate behemoths typically give out millions or even billions of dollars to important causes each year, yet these efforts have not prevented many of the same companies from landing on various most-hated brand lists year-after-year. 

Part of this may have to do with the amount of money given out to those in need compared to the institution’s total profits. The other is that — in cases where a company’s primary focus or method of operations could be seen as controversial — the public tends to view such payouts more as payoffs or even penance than as heartfelt outreach.

Thanks to their local, not-for-profit business model, credit unions typically do not face either of these obstacles. However, their smaller size does mean that any philanthropy must be extremely targeted in order to resonate.

Consider the following three strategies to ensure maximum impact in your outreach efforts and help send an inspiring message — not just dollars — out to the masses.

1. Provide Help Where No One Else Does

Already known for its generous employee perks, Starbucks has skyrocketed to the top of the socially responsible stratosphere after offering to pay up to two years of college tuition for part-time and full time employees who enroll in the Arizona State University online learning program as either juniors or seniors. Those who enroll as freshmen or sophomores are also capable of receiving substantial scholarships for the program.

Because so many Starbucks employees are in their teens and twenties, this program helps attack one of the most aggressive life obstacles for that particular group — student debt — in an especially personal way.

There’s no obligation to stay on with the company or repay these funds, meaning that some employees will likely take their new skills with them and move on to other opportunities. However, the company seems confident that creating a constant, self-generated feeder of educated talent will pay off for everyone in the long run.

2. Make A Measurable Local Impact

Hornady Manufacturing, a Nebraska-based ammunition company, encourages its employees to spend at least part of their annual bonuses supporting the local economy. And to help ensure they do just that, the company provides some of these funds in two-dollars bills, with a total of $61,000 paid out this way the last time around.

As local merchants, financial institutions, and other residents begin seeing a flood of the rare denomination cascading into circulation each year, it’s easy for them to identify not only the source of those extra funds but also the good intentions behind them.

3. Adopt An Always On Reciprocation Approach

Companies such as TOMS — which sells shoes, glasses, and even coffee — and eyewear-maker Warby Parker ushered in a new era of shared philanthropy by donating products to people in developing countries for each item sold in the US at a one-to-one ratio.

For credit unions, the nature of financial products and services means that this exact model won’t fly in most circumstances. However, programs that seek to modify member behavior — for example, increasing card swipes or signing up for bill pay — and then direct the resulting cost savings toward donations can be equally effective.

Granting members more control over your philanthropy, either indirectly through reciprocity or directly through member voting, creates a sense of ownership and ensures that your priorities as an institution never stray from those of the members you serve.

 
 

June 20, 2014


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