A Day Of Service During A Challenging Year

Five credit unions share how they volunteer when in-person gatherings are more difficult than ever.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • For the past several years, credit unions across the nation have turned Columbus Day into a day of community service as part of a larger effort to highlight the cooperative difference.
  • The coronavirus pandemic put a new spin on volunteering efforts in 2020, but credit unions made the most of their community work.

From financial challenges to new social norms, and a lot more in between, 2020 has presented an array of hurdles. One particular barrier that has tested the role credit unions play in their communities is the disruption of in-person work for members and organizations in need.

For the past several years, many credit unions have turned Columbus Day — known in 14 states as Indigenous Peoples' Day — into a day of volunteerism. This year, credit unions had to creatively reimagine this day of giving amid a worldwide pandemic that has changed protocols around in-person gatherings and brought health and safety concerns to the forefront.

Last year, CreditUnions.com profiled six Callahan CUFSLP credit unions that each have a strong history of community volunteerism and support. With the support of Callahan & Associates, these credit unions have joined efforts to establish a nationwide, coordinated day of service in which they hope all credit unions will participate. [Editor’s Note: CUFLSP and CreditUnions.com are affiliated with Callahan & Associates.]

To learn more about this credit union day of service and how your organization can participate, email Talia Rocha at trocha@callahan.com. To read more, check out “6 Credit Unions Take On 1 Day Of Service” on CreditUnions.com.

This year, CreditUnions.com reached out to the credit union’s featured in 2019 to ask how they made a positive difference in a pandemic-disrupted 2020. Although some were not able to sponsor in-person volunteer events, all of them were able to make a meaningful contribution to their communities in one way or another.

Katie Villa, Community Engagement Manager, BECU

On Oct. 12, 2020, nearly 2,400 employees of BECU ($24.8B, Tukwila, WA) assembled more than 25,000 personal supply kits benefitting nine nonprofit organizations that serve the credit union’s communities in Washington state and South Carolina.

Katie Villa, Community Engagement Manager, BECU

BECU outfitted each employee with 10 kits to assemble from home. Kits varied by partner organization and included articles such as personal care items, baby items, school supplies, and snack packs. The organizations supported by BECU’s efforts included FareStart, Food Lifeline, Giving Back Packs, Housing Hope/HopeWorks, One80 Place, Raising Girls, Tukwila Children’s Foundation, United Way of King County, and Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.

Did this year’s day of service have special resonance?

Katie Villa: It was inspiring to partner with organizations that are supporting local individuals and families during these challenging times, all while seeing our employees rally around a new way to bring the “people helping people” philosophy to life. Whether it's helping elementary school students with resources to better participate in distance learning or ensuring children and families have access to personal care items, BECU’s commitment to giving back to our communities is as strong as ever.

How did the pandemic and your local guidance alter your plans?

KV: Traditionally, BECU’s employees teach financial education to thousands of high school students as part of our Annual Day of Service on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Since 2015, BECU employees have reached 30,000 students. With most school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and most of our employees working remotely, this year’s approach provided employees the opportunity to serve their communities from home and find much-needed engagement with co-workers.

What were your expectations for the day?

KV: The excitement of our nonprofit partners as we started outreach was an early indication that this shift was the right move. Employees are always excited to participate in our Annual Day of Service, and as we started to roll out communications about the event, many employees expressed excitement that we found a way to pivot in this unusual, challenging year. Now that we’ve worked through a new approach and the logistics of such an endeavor, we’re eager to hear feedback from employees and see what they share on social media as part of the day.

How did the day stack up to your expectations? How did things go?

KV: We have transitioned so much of our business to virtual environments and were a bit concerned this year’s day of service wouldn’t provide the same engaging experience for employees. However, we heard from many teams that they enjoyed the opportunity to give back to their communities in such a creative way while having fun with one another through video chat. Employees’ partners, kids, roommates, and pets joined in on the fun, and several teams dressed up or created a theme for their time together. Our culture is truly special, which was reflected in the early feedback. We even have groups asking if they can make this type of service a more regular part of their work.

What did you learn from this year’s day of service that you can apply to future service work?

KV: We learned our team can innovate and pivot during challenging times, and our employees and community partners are incredibly resilient.

On its Annual Day of Service, 2,400 BECU employees came together in a virtual environment to make a real world impact on nine nonprofits.

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

Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook, SVP of Culture and Community Engagement, Lake Trust Credit Union

Employees of Lake Trust Credit Union ($2.2B, Brighton, MI) spent Monday, Oct. 12, participating in Team Member Volunteer Day. Three hundred and eighty team members — representing more than 86% of the cooperative’s workforce — volunteered in support of local agencies and community members across nearly 30 communities.

Did this year’s day of service have special resonance?

Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook: The COVID-19 pandemic has touched our team members and communities in ways we could never have imagined. Many members of our communities have become un- or underemployed and are struggling to put food on the table for their families. Food insecurity was a pressing issue prior to 2020, and food banks are experiencing an increased need for food. It is anticipated this increase in food insecurity will impact people for the foreseeable future as they recover from the effects of the pandemic. So, we focused our efforts this year on projects that support reducing food insecurity. This included working in the warehouse at food banks, assembling weekend food survival kits for children to pick up at school, winterizing food bank gardens, and more.

How did the pandemic and your local guidance alter your plans?

BWM: We took extra precautions to guarantee the safety of our team. We ensured our team was prepared to social distance and wear appropriate face coverings when they volunteered in public. Additionally, we reduced the participation size of our events to maintain an atmosphere in which our team members were safe and comfortable. Some team members were unable to volunteer on-site this year, and we provided them with a remote opportunity to make masks for one of our nonprofit partners.

What were your expectations for the day?

BWM: As our team planned for the day of service, we stayed fluid in our ideas and expectations given the unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our partners had to change the number of volunteers they allowed on-site, and we thought we would not find enough volunteer activities for our team. We knew we still wanted to help our communities although we anticipated we would have fewer team members participate.

How did the day stack up to those expectations? How did things go?

BWM: The day overwhelmingly exceeded my expectations. Our team members were eager to volunteer and help our neighbors and communities. The heart of the Lake Trust team continues to amaze me. Even as many of our team members were working through their own personal effects and challenges from the pandemic, they were still inspired to give back. As a result of our team’s commitment to the wellbeing of the communities we serve, the day went extremely well.

We used an app that enabled team members to share photos of their volunteering efforts with one another throughout the day. Seeing the volunteer work happening through the app was a unifying experience — the photos reiterated that we are one Lake Trust team helping in many communities.

What did you learn from this year’s day of service that you can apply to future service work?

BWM: We always knew our team members are passionate about helping others. However, with the current environment, we thought we might have more hesitancy for in-person volunteer opportunities. We learned never to underestimate our team’s desire to give back and to continue finding opportunities for team members to help our neighbors and communities.

Lake Trust spent its day of service supporting organizations focused on reducing food insecurity, such as delivering items to local food banks.

Adam Layne, Senior Community Engagement Specialist, Affinity Plus FCU

Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.9B, Saint Paul, MN) asked employees to develop an individual plan that included both community outreach and personal development for Oct. 12. Then, the credit union offered employees an individual stipend to help them execute their plans. Where it could be accomplished safely, Affinity Plus also allowed employees to form small teams to complete larger projects.

Adam Layne, Senior Community Engagement Specialist, Affinity Plus FCU

All told, more than 500 employees participated in the credit union’s reimagined day of service, which it refers to as Plus It Forward Day.

Did this year’s day of service have special resonance?

Adam Layne: Like many communities, Minnesota has been negatively impacted in several ways due to COVID-19. Additionally, our Twin Cities metro area experienced a lot of tragedy following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest. Now more than ever, our communities need our support and kindness. Our employees understand that and looked forward to getting out and doing some good.

How did the pandemic and your local guidance alter your plans?

AL: Traditionally, our Plus It Forward Day consisted of groups or teams coming together for a day of activities revolving around community service. COVID-19 and the potential risk it creates for some employees or their families hampered our ability to bring people together this year. So, we have encouraged our employees to develop individual plans or small group plans that inspire and motivate them personally. We also provided each employee some financial resources to pursue those plans. For larger projects, we also provided the opportunity to “apply” for additional funding should that stipend not fulfill their ambitions.

What were your expectations for the day?

AL: We anticipated employees would find diverse ways to do good for their communities and those around them. This year in particular, we also felt it was important to allow for some time for self-care. So, we offered time for personal development and reflection, time to nourish their mind, body, or soul.

We believed some employees would enjoy the opportunity to set their own course and focus on something that mattered to them. We did have some concerns that some employees would be challenged to identify opportunities that catered to things they cared about or that they could effectively do on their own. To counter that concern, we solicited and shared ideas from other employees to provide options for those who struggled to determine how to spend their day.

How did the day stack up to those expectations? How did things go?

AL: Overall, the feedback has been great. Many employees enjoyed the freedom to determine how they could make a difference in a way that mattered most to them. An unintended benefit was that, in many cases, family members were able to participate. Plus, we expanded our collective impact since employees could do things that benefitted the community in which they live versus where their branch is located.

Ultimately, this meant we accomplished a wide range of giving opportunities. The bulk of the feedback we received focused on how much our employees loved the ability to do something they had personal passion for. Specific activities included things like re-stocking local food pantries, writing notes to seniors in retirement communities, delivering surprise goodies to essential workers—first responders, hospital staff, and teachers—in their communities, making dog toys and blankets for local animal shelters and rescues, cleaning up trash in parks and along roadways, small projects that benefitted the community like Little Free Libraries, and more.

Employees were also appreciative of the opportunity to spend some time to do something nice for themselves — we anticipated that would be popular this year.

What did you learn from this year’s day of service that you can apply to future service work?

AL: Individuals are passionate about several things, and it’s hard to design group opportunities that engage everyone equally. Coordinating large efforts can be both fun and incredibly impactful, but allowing individuals to do what matters to them brings out the true spirit of giving back in the most genuine of ways. Whereas our community work at the credit union does require focused attention on causes the organization can meaningfully and authentically move forward, I think supporting employees on their individual passions will be a theme that continues into Plus It Forward events in the future.

Because employees were encouraged to think independently on how they would give back on Plus It Forward Day, the Affinity Plus team undertook a wide range of opportunities: from delivering gifts to retirement communities as well as notes and goodies to essential workers, cleaning up trash in parks and roadways, making dog toys and blankets for local animal shelters and rescues, and more.

Jacqui Kearns, Chief Brand Officer, Affinity FCU

What initially began as a single day of service in 2017 at Affinity Federal Credit Union ($3.6B, Basking Ridge, NJ) has evolved into a week-long program of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities, dubbed Affinity Gives Back Week.

Jacqui Kearns, Chief Brand Officer, Affinity FCU

In 2020, the credit union scheduled four in-person volunteering events for individual as well as small team participation during the week of Oct. 12. Additionally, Affinity provided employees a number of opportunities to volunteer from home. Such opportunities included making masks for Jersey Cares, contributing to its partners’ Amazon Wish Lists, sending notes to healthcare workers through Notes for Support, or sending care packages through GiveEssential.org. Many employees have other organizations for which they regularly volunteer, and the credit union encourages them to dedicate some time to those activities during the week as well.

Did this year’s Affinity Gives Back Week have special resonance?

Jacqui Kearns: The needs for nonprofit services are continuing to grow, and volunteers are essential to tackling the crisis created by the pandemic. By participating in Affinity Gives Back Week — and our corporate volunteer program throughout the year — our employees’ volunteer actions reflect the culture we strive for at Affinity, one that is focused on putting our communities first in time of need.

How did the pandemic and your local guidance alter your plans?

JK: To adapt to COVID-19 regulations and ensure the safety of all volunteers and nonprofit staff, we required small groups of volunteers to practice social distancing, wear face coverings, and follow all guidelines provided by each nonprofit for their specific volunteer event.

We used the week as an opportunity to educate our employees about the various needs of our nonprofit partners, grantees, and community organizations and talk about how they can support those organizations based on their comfort level.

Foundational Work In 2020

Affinity FCU’s foundation has maintained its community support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are four steps it has taken this year to offer relief where it’s needed most:

  1. The foundation now focuses funding on supporting community programs that provide job preparation, interviewing skills, financial literacy, and tools people need to become financially self-sufficient.
  2. Through its quarterly grants program, the foundation has donated $64,800 to 17 different nonprofits.
  3. The foundation has partnered with Affinity FCU to host a virtual food drive for nine food banks and pantries, resulting in 400 pounds of food collected. It also donated $4,500 across those food banks and pantries.
  4. It funded four $2,500 scholarships for student members of Affinity FCU to support their pursuit of higher education this fall.

What did you learn from this year’s day of service that you can apply to future service work?

JK: It was made obvious that the community needs our help now more than ever. Affinity and our Foundation worked with — and will continue work with — partner organizations to provide much needed relief to essential workers and those impacted by the pandemic. We plan on incorporating more virtual opportunities into our corporate volunteer program for 2021 as well.


Affinity FCU Day of Service


Pier Alsup, Chief Community Engagement and Social Responsibility Officer, Together Credit Union

Since 2018, Together Credit Union ($2.0B, St. Louis, MO) has dispatched more than 300 employees into St. Louis on Columbus Day for its Day of Giving, during which employees volunteer at a variety of organizations or schools. For the safety and healthy of its employees and community, Together cancelled its 2020 event.

Pier Alsup, Chief Community Engagement and Social Responsibility Officer, Together Credit Union

With that decision made early on, the credit union has continued to look for virtual volunteer opportunities for its employees across 2020. In addition, the credit union continues to grant up to 16 hours of paid time off per year for employees to volunteer.

Together postponed its Day of Giving this year. How do you maintain interest for those who still want to volunteer?

Pier Alsup: Our CEO is passionate about the Day of Giving because we are helping others, but it’s also an opportunity for employees and management to work together as a team in the community. It was a difficult decision to postpone what would have been our third annual all-employee volunteer event. We knew we had to pivot and create other ways to give — there are so many people and sectors of the community that need help as a result of the pandemic.

How has the pandemic and your local guidance altered your yearlong volunteer plans?

PA: In previous years, we started the Day of Giving with an all-employee gathering and a guest speaker who spoke on the importance of giving back. Then, teams of employees departed to assigned volunteer locations. Of course, this year we postponed the formal event. We are giving, but virtually, not in person.

We looked for other ways to give to the community, again extending the time across the year and not just on one day. In the spring, we gave food and masks to healthcare workers and first responders. One group delivered hand-written notes to residents of senior living centers. This fall, we’ll be giving supplies and gift cards to educators.

What did you learn from this year’s day of service that you can apply to future service work?

PA: This year we focused on helping different sectors of the community, such as healthcare workers, first responders, and educators. We will look for other ways to help these important groups within our Employee Volunteer Program.

We can share the impact at the end of the year since we changed from a one-day event to run throughout the year. We look forward to returning to our original Day of Giving in 2021.

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