6 Credit Unions Take On 1 Shared Day Of Service

There’s a growing trend in Credit Union Land that’s encouraging employees to spend Columbus Day on the road, volunteering and giving back to their communities.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • On Columbus Day, credit unions from Washington state to New Jersey spent the day volunteering in their local communities.
  • The actions were part of a larger effort to underscore the impact credit unions make in their communities every day as part of the cooperative movement.

Monday was a federal holiday in the United States, and many credit unions across the country were closed. But that doesn’t mean they stopped working. 

Credit unions have turned Columbus Day — known as Indigenous Peoples' Day in seven states — into a day of volunteerism. They’re doing good work in their communities and impacting thousands of community members. 

Community volunteerism has been a part of credit union DNA since the movement’s founding. In recent years, however, a growing number of cooperatives have worked together to coordinate their efforts. 

Affinity Plus FCU formalized its random acts of kindness program when it launched Plus It Forward Day in 2013. The program was such a success that the Minnesota Credit Union Network approached Affinity Plus in 2017 about expanding the day of service into a statewide effort. In 2019, more than 45 credit unions participated in the rebranded CU FORWARD Day.

But the expansion hasn’t stopped there.

Callahan CUFSLP credit unions have a history of volunteerism and community support, and through their work with Affinity Plus, several were inspired to join efforts in a coordinated Day of Service. With the support and coordination of Callahan & Associates, these credit unions are focused on the ultimate goal: Motivate all credit unions to participate in a nationwide Day of Service. (Editor’s Note: Both CUFLSP and CreditUnions.com are affiliated with Callahan & Associates.)

Learn more about the Day of Service and how your credit union can get involved. Email Talia Rocha at trocha@callahan.com.

Individual credit unions that participate in the Day of Service decide the best way to make the biggest impact on their local markets and members. 

Here, six partner credit unions — located from Washington state to New Jersey — describe the resources required, challenges faced, best practices, and more for their own service efforts.

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union

Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.3B, Saint Paul, MN) began its Plus It Forward Day on a September Saturday in 2013. The idea was a twist on the pay-it-forward concept, with the intent to spread kindness through random acts across the state of Minnesota. The service day now takes place on Columbus Day, with activities running the gamut from raking leaves to reading to school children. The credit union even received national recognition in 2014 when it received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Local Communities.

This year, Affinity CEO Dave Larson was in Fergus Falls, MN, with his credit union team, performing random acts of kindness and paying a surprise visit to teachers in the school district. 

“We continue to strive toward our mission of giving back,” Larson says. “This day is one of our favorite days of the year.”

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?  

Dave Larson: It’s worthwhile for a multitude of reasons. Giving back is a huge part of who we are — this is one day that embodies that. 

One of the main purposes is that it makes people feel better — the ones with whom we interact and also ourselves. It feels good to give back to others. We say if it’s well-intended and does good, go for it. 

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

DL: One of the major challenges we faced initially with Plus It Forward was the day it took place. Saturday was tough to staff branches and find volunteers. And, many employees had the day off. 

Additionally, some of the places we wanted to go — such as shopping malls — were leery about our efforts. They thought we were going to be selling people something.  

Finally, being in Minnesota, weather can play a role. We’ve had sunshine, cold, high winds, and even snowflakes. You never know what you’ll get up here.

Who needs to be involved across the enterprise? What internal resources do you need to pull this off?

DL: It’s best to have everyone involved. The more the merrier. Internal resources such as senior leadership to back and internal team captains to coordinate helps make the day run smoothly.  

The Minnesota Credit Union Network approached Affinity Plus in 2017 with the idea to make Plus It Forward Day a statewide effort. Rechristened CU FORWARD Day, more than 50 credit unions and organizations in Minnesota participated in 2019. Leagues and credit unions in Illinois and Mississippi launched their own initiatives, as well.

Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook, Senior Vice President of Culture and Community Engagement, Lake Trust Credit Union

Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook, Senior Vice President of Culture and Community Engagement, Lake Trust Credit Union

Lake Trust Credit Union ($1.9B, Brighton, MI) has had a volunteer engagement program since 2012; however, in 2018, it formally introduced a focused day of volunteering. 

This year, the credit union provided volunteer support to 11 non-profit organizations. Activities ranged from home restorations, gardening for food banks, and supporting domestic violence shelters. It also worked with Operation Warm and the Lake Trust Foundation to provide 1,500 coats to children in need.

“These agencies need support and rely on volunteers to provided needed services to the community,” says Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook, the credit union’s senior vice president of culture and community engagement.

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?  

Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook: The Day of Service is a unifying connection for our team. As credit unions, we’re founded on the premise of people helping people. The Day of Service allows us to extend beyond financial services and meet real needs that are impacting our members and communities. It’s a day where the credit union can join together and demonstrate our core value of making a difference. 

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

BWM: We didn’t have any challenges introducing our Moved By Good Day. It was a natural evolution of our volunteer engagement program. Our Moved By Good Day is completely voluntary, and we thought holding it on a holiday would mean we wouldn’t get many team members to participate. But, nearly 80% of our team chose to use this day to volunteer for good.

We have identified several best practices:

  • Connect people throughout your organization during your day of service using technology and enable them to share what they are doing across the credit union.
  • Put together a core planning group to take responsibility for organizing the day and handling the details.
  • Assign site captains to each volunteer facility to ensure the experience is beneficial for the agency and the participating team members.
  • Invite your board members and elected officials to engage with your team and volunteer.
  • Provide opportunities for your leaders to work with teams they do not engage with on a day-to-day basis.
  • When possible, align volunteer opportunities to the passions of your organization and community’s needs.

Who needs to be involved across the enterprise? What internal resources do you need to pull this off? 

BWM: Our leadership team, a core group of team members, and our community development team work to plan the day. In addition, we leverage resources from our internal communications, marketing, governmental affairs, and culture teams to support activities such as T-shirt design, application development, logistics, scheduling, inviting government officials and communications. 

Our executive leadership team travels across the state to work alongside our volunteers in the various communities in which our members live and work.

In 2018, Lake Trust’s Moved By Good Day reached 22 volunteer sites and employees combined for 1,234 hours of work. That includes time spent at the Lansing Charter Academy where 75 volunteers handed out winter coats.

Kara Kelly, Public Relations Manager, Teachers Credit Union

Kara Kelly, Public Relations Manager, Teachers Credit Union

In its 2019 Day of Giving, employees at Teachers Credit Union ($3.3B, South Bend, IN) volunteered at 44 different non-profits — including food pantries, animal rescue shelters, a hospice, a nature center, a children’s hospital, and more — across the state of Indiana. The credit union hopes this day gives its employees a sense of purpose and makes connects them to the credit union’s social responsibility efforts. 

“We also hope the day provides a meaningful way for team members to put their abilities to use and gives them a change to grow and develop new skills,” says Kara Kelly, the credit union’s public relations manager.

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?  

Kara Kelly: TCU understands that team members want to find a sense of purpose at work. One way to do that is by giving back to our local communities. The investment helps TCU team members discover the value of giving back in a more determined way with impressive projects completed to show for it.  

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

KK: In year one, the biggest challenge was finding enough non-profit organizations to work with and convincing them to host multiple volunteers on a specific day, during a set period of time. To overcome this, TCU developed a planned approach geared toward non-profits that had bigger projects to complete, such as preparing a community garden for winter or inspecting, sorting, and packing crates of canned goods. 

We discovered that finding a group volunteering opportunity for six people is much easier than finding a one-day opportunity for 25 people, so we approached more organizations and set a cap on the number of team members who could register for certain opportunities. 

Looking at this enterprise-wide, who needs to be involved? What internal resources do you need to pull this off?

KK: To better understand what executive management and our board of directors expected to get out of the event, we scheduled time to hear from TCU’s most influential voices before getting into the nitty gritty of planning. In the event’s first year, we also established a Day of Giving committee to collect ideas and spark innovation. To make the Day of Giving event happen, we need three employees to devote 15% of their time over a six-month period to the project. They secure opportunities, set up and manage event-planning software, and communicate with team members. A “captain” is also chosen to lead each of TCU’s 44 Day of Giving teams. We invite colleagues throughout the organization who demonstrate a passion for TCU’s mission to serve. In addition to supporting the event, we view it as a building a pipeline of future leaders. TCU also purchases lunch for all participating team members on its Day of Giving.



Katherine Taylor-Hurley, Senior Manager of Community Engagement, BECU

Katherine Taylor-Hurley, Senior Manager of Community Engagement, BECU

BECU ($21.2B, Tukwila, WA) has held an annual Day of Service since 2015 to “put our money where our heart is,” says the credit union’s senior manager of community engagement, Katherine Taylor-Hurley.

Employees run simulated financial reality fairs for local high school students and align service activities with the organization’s purpose. 

“As a cooperative, we bring people together to improve the financial well-being of our members and their communities,” Taylor-Hurley says.

In 2019, nearly 2,200 BECU employees participated in reality fairs at 17 high schools across Washington state. Its South Carolina branch contributed by working on a local service project. 

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?  

Katherine Taylor-Hurley: BECU considers our Day of Service valuable as both an employee engagement and community engagement event. 

For employees, it is an opportunity to connect with BECU’s purpose and values in a hands-on way side-by-side with colleagues from across the credit union. The community engagement side of the event helps develop real-world budgeting skills. It is also an opportunity for BECU to demonstrate our community engagement to our membership and to the broader public.

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

KTH: Developing a model for the event that stays true to our focus on financial health has been a challenge. Deploying 2,200 employees to schools in a way that creates a good experience for both our employees and the students requires year-round planning. 

A significant amount of resources goes into supporting the schools, from recruitment in the early part of the year to managing customized logistic plans for each school. To fully support employees, we recruit a dedicated group of employee volunteer site leads each year who act as the main point of contact for employees assigned to each school. They disseminate information, manage special requests, and generally ensure our employees have a great experience. 

We have also found that balancing new and returning schools is helpful. Schools new to the event often have more custom requests, schedule anomalies, and generally need more support. Returning schools are more self-sufficient.

Who needs to be involved across the enterprise? What internal resources do you need to pull this off? 

KTH: Every person on our20-plus person cooperative affairs team plays some role in executing Day of Service. We also engage multiple teams across the division to support marketing and member communication, technical needs for the event, and other event needs. HR is an important partner as well. 

From a leadership perspective, we seek sponsorship and support from across our executive management team and at the senior and vice president levels. We engage leadership to host our employees at each school, welcoming them in the morning and hosting an engagement activity at lunchtime. 

The other key resource is our network of more than 60 site leads from across the credit union. We engage site leads in three main categories: employee/logistics leads, presentation leads, and tech leads. They are central to making this event a success. It is the site-lead model that makes it possible for us to execute Day of Service at this scale.



Kayla Lackner, Community Engagement Specialist, Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union

Kayla Lackner, Community Engagement Specialist, Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union

Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union ($1.8B, Saint Louis, MO) launched its Day of Giving in 2018. 

That year, employees listened to a keynote presentation in the morning before heading out to work in the community. This year, employees attended a slightly abbreviated morning presentation and chose from 25 different volunteer activities ranging from making baby blankets and pet toys to helping veterans carve pumpkins. 

“Based on employee feedback, we increased the amount of time they had to volunteer in the community,” says Kayla Lackner, the credit union’s community engagement specialist.

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?  

Kayla Lackner: Our Day of Giving is an opportunity for our employees to have fun while giving back to the community. In addition to the good feeling that comes from helping others, our Day of Giving provides employees the chance to meet, dine, and volunteer with co-workers from other departments and branches, connect with our community, and learn new skills.  

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

KL: The biggest challenge we faced was employees’ fear of the unknown. The event was new, and people were unsure what to expect. 

For six months leading up to the event, we posted updates that included organizations where they could volunteer, food that would be served, the agenda, and more on our intranet Day of Giving page. Employees started looking forward to the monthly updates. 

Who needs to be involved across the enterprise? What internal resources do you need to pull this off?

KL: The buy-in for an event this impactful and large starts with the leadership team. 

Also, as an event overseer, you’re unable to manage 25 or more volunteer locations at one time, so you must carefully select and rely on team leads. 

Finally, seek employee input to gain support. Survey employees to gain a better understanding of the organizations they want to work with.

Judi Meighan, Foundation Director, Affinity Federal Credit Union

Judi Meighan, Foundation Director, Affinity Federal Credit Union

In 2017, Affinity Federal Credit Union ($3.3B, Basking Ridge, NJ) launched Affinity Gives Back Day to foster goodwill among employees, members, and community. During this one-day event run by its foundation, employees volunteer with local charities, provide financial literacy seminars, and participate in other activities. 

“It shows how we improve the financial lives of our members and our communities by engaging employees, even those who typically aren’t able to participate in out-of-office outreach events,” says, Judi Meighan, director of the Affinity Foundation.

This year, the credit union is replacing the day with a week of opportunities to volunteer. In 2018, 32 employees volunteered at 19 charities. This year, 100 employees signed up to volunteer at 16 charities. 

Why is it worth having a day dedicated to volunteerism? What’s the purpose?

Judi Meighan: For our organization and employees, it enhances the corporate culture. We use this day to reinforce our mission statement and for training, team-building, and helping organizations in the community. 

For our members and community, our tagline — Belong To Something Better — and cooperative ideals serve as our inspiration. We exist to serve our members, and this event puts our philosophy in action and allows employees to get involved with members and in the community to support worthwhile causes. 

What were some challenges you faced when introducing a day of service? How did you overcome them? 

JM: The first year we held this event, the credit union was open for business. While obtaining company buy-in was not an issue, volunteer support was a challenge. 

The second year, 2018, the credit union volunteered on Columbus Day when all locations were closed. We received feedback that it was difficult to attend because school closures were inconsistent and it was only one day. 

Offering opportunities to volunteer during work hours, with manager approval, has made a big difference in our increased participation.

Who needs to be involved across the enterprise? What internal resources do you need to pull this off? 

JM: Our brand relations and advocacy department has worked closely with the foundation to make Affinity Gives Back Week a success. Our internal communication department has also been helpful, and external affairs, which organizes the financial wellness portion, has been involved as well. Our marketing department has not been involved because the event is not member-facing.

Affinity Gives Back Week garnered more than three times the number of volunteer than the one-day event in 2018.

Want more credit union strategies? Sign up for the CreditUnions.com free newsletter.