Funding shortages are forcing public school systems across the country to budget more conservatively. In the Evergreen State, School Employees Credit Union of Washington ($1.0B, Seattle, WA) responded to tight budgets with an auto loan rebate that funds designated public schools.
Although it has a community charter, the credit union’s core membership — which includes not only school employees but also parents, students, and volunteers — shares a commitment to education. In fact, to better reflect the credit union’s mission to serve supporters of education, on Monday August 3 it changed its name to Inspirus Credit Union.
CU QUICK FACTS
Inspirus Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.15
HQ: Seattle, WA
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 6.15%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 36.60%
For example, beyond its auto rebate program, Inspirus offers a 0% loan that helps newly hired school employees pay their bills before their first paycheck arrives. Additionally, the credit union sets aside a percentage of its net worth to give back to education-focused foundations across the state. It also sponsors new hire orientations at public schools and contributes funding to superintendent and principal association conferences and like programs.
Its auto loan rebate program, however, requires its community to participate, too.
$2 Million In Two Months
In May and June of 2015, Inspirus rebated 1% of members’ auto loans or refinances — up to $350 per loan — to the “giveback recipient” school of their choice.
Inspirus presents Mead High School with a check for $2,266
During the two-month period, Inspirus made 97 auto loans for a total of $2 million. That is a 28% increase in number of loans and total loan dollars year-over-year. That translated to a $14,270 return to 48 Spokane-area schools. In addition to raising money, the rebate program directly resulted in 14 new members.
“We generated money to support school initiatives and developed our presence in the community,” says Sherry Lotze, vice president of marketing at the credit union.
Inspirus plans to broaden its scope in ways it has not yet finalized for the next iteration of the program, slated to coincide with the start of this coming school year. The two-month summer promotion was, in fact, a way for the credit union to pilot the program before rolling it out statewide.
“We serve the entire Washington state education system,” Lotze says. “That includes more than 2,000 schools. We wanted to pilot this in the smaller Spokane area where we have a branch.”
Lessons From The Pilot
Seeing the program in action helped Inspirus generate ideas and understand the changes it needed to make before going live across the state.
It's easy to tell that there is an influencer promoting the cause because you'll see something take off like wildfire.
For example, the credit union needs to more clearly recognize the borrowers whose loan rebates supported a local school.
“When we cut the checks to the program, we need to let them know that Mary Smith participated in this,” Lotze says.
Also, Inspirus needs to leverage its relationships with school districts across the Evergreen State.
The credit union serves the majority of its 81,000-plus members electronically and operates only two brick-and-mortar branches. So the credit union plans to attend 350 or more staff orientations during a three-week period prior to the start of the school year, Lotze says. During orientation, credit union staff members will discuss the benefits of the rebate program. In this way, it hopes to spread word-of-mouth awareness from school to school.
Finally, it hopes to connect with influencers — those esteemed teachers, parents, or other volunteers who work judiciously to raise money for the school. By connecting with them during the pilot, Inspirus witnessed a distinct bump in the volume of activity driven to a given school.
“We were at our best when we had an influencer at one of the schools who wanted to champion the cause of the program,” says Lotze of the pilot program.
One pilot partner — Mead High School in Spokane — had both a clearly identifiable influencer and a clearly defined purpose for participation. The high school’s booster club needed a semi-trailer to haul equipment to performances and competitions. It also needed funds to keep up with ongoing travel, instrument, and food costs.
Participating in Inspirus’ program complemented its other sources of funding — including car washes, plant sales, concession booths, and a fall craft fair. All told, the credit union gave Mead $2,266 to further its extracurricular agenda.
“It’s easy to tell that there is an influencer promoting the cause because you’ll see something take off like wildfire,” Lotze says.