How To Launch A Day Of Service On A Budget

Altra Federal Credit Union offers tips and insight for credit unions that want to set aside an official day to positively impact their communities.

 
 

CU QUICK FACTS

Altra FCU
Data as of 12.31.19

HQ: Onalaska, WI
ASSETS: $1.7B
MEMBERS: 110,032
BRANCHES: 17
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 11.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 9.6%
ROA: 1.25%

When Altra Federal Credit Union ($1.7B, Onalaska, WI) launched its "Altra Gives Back Day” on Oct. 8, 2018, a full 95% of staff members joined together to make a significant impact on their community. With over 400 employees dedicating their time to 30 different organizations, they made quite an impact.

"Altra Gives Back Day inspired many of our employees and opened their eyes to community needs," says Shawn Hauser, the credit union’s community relations officer.

As part of Altra’s community engagement program, employees may take off up to eight hours every year for volunteer activities. This now-annual day of service, which Altra holds on Columbus Day/Indigenous People's Day, is a chance for employees to connect with the community as part of the credit union team. It’s helped employees develop new relationships and serve local non-profits throughout the year. For the credit union, Altra Gives Back Day is just one component of the cooperative’s larger vision of “Helping You Live Your Best Life.” 

Build Up From The Beginning

The leadership team heard the initial pitch for creating a give back day in the fourth quarter 2017. It was a natural fit with the credit union’s vision and people-helping-people cooperative philosophy, but putting it all together required a lot of back-end work by Hauser. 

The community relations officer reached out to organizations in the markets it serves across Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. In the end, 30 organizations — some of which had an existing relationship with the credit union, some of which did not — in those six states made available a variety of volunteer activities that fulfilled community needs and aligned with the abilities and interest of Altra employees. 

“Offering something for everyone is critical,” Hauser says, noting the activities for the credit union’s day of service ranges from feeding the hungry, volunteering at animal shelters, and helping maintain local trails to administrative tasks for people who cannot participate in more physical activities.

If finding organizations that need free help sounds easy, it is not. Not all charitable organizations need volunteers. And, some simply will not respond to outreach. Others might have project work that doesn’t require an on-site presence. For example, putting together hygiene or activity kits or writing letters to military personnel. That’s why Hauser says it’s critical to research, plan, and communicate well in advance of the dedicated service day. 

All Hands On Deck

Beyond the fact a coordinated day of service aligns with Altra’s overall vision and mission, Hauser attributes the event’s success to several other key factors, such as being flexible, providing multiple opportunities, and letting the employees choose works with their values, skill set, and physical ability.

“This is a program that’s good for everyone and makes our communities stronger,” Hauser says. 

To ease the planning lift required for Altra Gives Back Day, the credit union has developed several standard forms and checklists, including a project detail form organizations submit to request volunteer assistance during the day and a day-of checklist for team leaders.

In addition to taking a well-organized approach to that first Altra Gives Back Day, Hauser also enlisted others to ensure the event ran smoothly. A 12-person community engagement steering committee helped organize the day, meeting monthly and communicating via email to prepare the organization for the day of service.

The day of the event, the steering committee members worked in the credit union’s operation center to provide much-needed logistical support throughout the day. They ensured group leaders were prepared with checklists, points of contact for their charities, and an understanding of the impact their work would have so they could motivate and inspire their teams. 

Help From Automation

Hauser recommends using sign-up software to more efficiently pull together the puzzle pieces. 

4 Tips To Launch A Day Of Service

  1. Research Similar Initiatives: There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Take a look at and learn from what others are doing. Consider credit unions, leagues, and even larger corporations.
  2. Plan Alternatives: Expect the unexpected. Think about things like where volunteers will go for inclement weather and what on-site coordinators should do if there are no-shows.
  3. Communicate In Advance: The day of the event will be busy enough without lost volunteers or confused expectations. Communicate with employees, organizations, and members in advance about what's going on and the roles they play.
  4. Follow-up For Feedback: After a big event, it's natural to want to step away for a breather. Don't forget to reach out to employees and organizations for their feedback on how the day went and thoughts on how to make it even better.

Altra’s day of service included two volunteer sessions, plus a motivational speaker and lunch at the operations center. With morning and afternoon sessions as well as limited slots available for each opportunity, it was important to make coordination efforts as easy as possible.

The credit union didn’t fully use its modest budget of $20,000 in that first year. After purchasing supplies, reimbursing some mileage, providing meals and snacks, and paying for speaker fees, the cooperative spent between $11,000 - $12,000. Of course, Hauser notes, even some of these expenses are optional for credit unions that need to run a day of service on a tighter budget. For example, a speaker is not necessary. And, depending on the organization’s needs, free sign-up software is available, whereas subscription-based services offer more bells and whistles. 

After the event, post-event surveys are an important tool in helping the credit union improve every Altra Gives Back Day. Employees provide feedback and suggestions so the credit union can refine and enhance the event in the future. Participants can even suggest additional charitable organizations as potential partners.

The Bottom Line

Altra has received overwhelmingly positive responses from many parties since the beginning. 

The day motivates and inspires employees to give their time and talent, not just their treasure. Many have commented about having their eyes opened to community needs they had no idea existed, and quite a few continue to volunteer on their own time.

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The local organizations that benefited from Altra Gives Back Day have shown their appreciation in myriad ways. Many have tagged Altra in their social media channels and some sought out board members to send more official notes of appreciation. 

At a statewide level, Altra was recognized with a Dora Maxwell Award in Wisconsin for its inaugural Altra Gives Back Day event in 2018. And, of course, positive press has followed. Most importantly, though, the day gives Altra an opportunity to live its mission and make a positive impact on those it serves.

“We believe in giving back to our communities,” Hauser says. “Altra Gives Back Day is a great opportunity to demonstrate what we’re all about.”

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