The Random Acts Of A Credit Union’s Kindness

Redwood Credit Union arms its staff and volunteers with cold, hard cash and challenges them to spread warmth and kindness.

Redwood Credit Union ($2.8B, Santa Rosa, CA) is a healthy institution, with lending, savings, and profitability rates at or above the average for billion-dollar credit unions. But there’s more to its health than metrics.

The 200,000-member RCU has built a close bond with the communities it serves in its 16-branch Northern California network by giving back through programs like its Random Acts of Kindness. Three times in the past three years, RCU has given employees and volunteers a bit of money one recent distribution was $20 each and sent them forth to do good.

How they did it is up to them, but judging from the few hundred reports the participants have logged, they range from predictably nice to creatively caring.

Some of the most common ways to give have been tipping those who don’t usually receive a tip or paying for a meal, gas, groceries, haircut, coffee, or dog grooming, says Robin McKenzie, senior vice president of marketing and communications and a 22-year employee of the Bay Area credit union.

Other acts of kindness have included paying for a child’s sports registration, taking quarters to the laundromat, plugging parking meters, overpaying for Girl Scout cookies, paying for books at a junior college bookstore, and handing out gift cards for smoothies.

Redwood Credit Union and its RCU Community Fund in partnership with a local newspaper raised $2.4 million in three months following a devastating wildfire in Lake County, CA, in September 2015. Read about that effort here>

More Than A Random Act

Redwood believes in giving back to the communities it serves, so it gives back in a variety of ways, including:

  • Volunteering. In 2015, Redwood employees, board members, and supervisory committee members collectively volunteered more than 3,200 hours to nonprofits, community boards, committees, and community events.
  • Sponsorships Donations. In 2015, RCU provided nearly $3.4 million in nonprofit and community support. Its United Way giving in 2015 exceeded $100,000 in employee contributions.
  • Community Room. RCU offers free use of the 250-seat community conference room in its Santa Rosa administrative offices to local nonprofits and community groups.
  • Free Financial Education. In 2015, RCU held numerous financial educational events including seminars and workshops. This included a fun real-life teen workshop, seminars on Social Security and identity theft prevention, and a free community event featuring financial expert Jean Chatzky.

Here, McKenzie shares some hows and whys about the Random Acts of Kindness effort at RCU.

Robin McKenzie, Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, Redwood Credit Union

Why did you choose to do this program and do it this way?

Robin McKenzie: We talk a lot about doing the right thing and being a part of what we call the RCU Magic. This is exactly that. Our brand promise is We love to help you succeed. The key word is love. These random acts of kindness are part of the way we deliver on our brand promise and it’s simply who we are as an organization.

How much has RCU distributed since the program started?

RM: The total from the credit union so far is approximately $45,000.We also have reports of employees kicking in their own money to enhance the experience, although that’s not our request or intent.

How do you distribute the cash?

RM: We give managers a per-employee amount and each branch and department decides how to distribute it. Some departments or branches do random acts as a group, whereas others do it individually.

Data as of 12.31.15

  • HQ: Santa Rosa, CA
  • ASSETS: $2.8B
  • MEMBERS: 210,219
  • EMPLOYEES: 437
  • BRANCHES: 16
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 13.94%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.99%
  • ROA: 1.92%

Do all employees have to participate? How do you monitor that?

RM: We expect all RCU employees and volunteer officials [board and supervisory committee] to participate in the program. Branches and departments report every random act via email to the CEO. RCU’s executive assistant logs the stories in an Excel spreadsheet, and we summarize all activities to share with everyone so they can appreciate the impact we’ve had collectively.

How many stories have you collected?

RM: We’ve collected 327 email reports from the past three random acts projects, but most of those reports contain multiple stories, as often one person in a department submits for the entire department or group.

Can you share some examples of random acts? Have there been any notable reactions?

RM: Here are some specific examples:

  • A staff member asked a waitress for someone’s check; the recipient had no idea. The staff member paid for the meal and left a note on the check that said, Redwood Credit Union bought your lunch today. Have a wonderful weekend.
  • A board member paid for a small shop vac at a hardware store. When the cashier overheard what he was doing, she called for a manager and explained what was happening. The manager then authorized a 25% discount.
  • When a staffer paid for an elderly man’s prescriptions, the man wanted to know why. The staffer said, RCU doesn’t just try to help our members but our community as a whole. The recipient said he was a member and was extremely appreciative that we take our excellent service out of the office.

It’s not a random act, but credit unions can tell the movement’s story one member transaction at a time. Read more about The Power of Storytelling

What can you tell us about the paying it forward chains this effort has created?

RM: There are many stories about how our employee purchased coffee or another item and the recipient paid it forward to the next person. This has often led to more than a dozen people being impacted by one initial act of kindness by our staff.

Several employees have reported enjoying the experience so much, they’ve continued to commit random acts on their own. Another way the giving goes beyond RCU is that many staff members involve their children and friends in the process, which has created a ripple effect of givers in our community.

Redwood Credit Union has more than a few pieces of advice and best practices about how a credit union can give back in 2016. Here are seven from Robin McKenzie, senior vice president of marketing and communications.

  1. Align community giving with mission and values.
  2. Be authentic. We’re an industry about serving others, and letting our true sense of community and service show is what credit unions are all about.
  3. Have a community plan and know it takes resources to organize, communicate, and execute.
  4. Engage staff and members in the credit union’s community programs to create greater impact and engagement.
  5. Collaborate. Our fire relief efforts would not have been as successful without collaboration with our local politicians, nonprofits, community leaders and groups, etc.
  6. Have fun. Giving back is engaging and rewarding and contributes to a positive culture.
  7. Develop a plan around key focus areas to make a greater impact. We wish we could support every group that calls and asks for donations, but that’s not possible.

As told to Marc Rapport

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