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Credit Unions and Corporate Social Responsibility

What’s Wrong with Credit Unions and CSR

During one of our credit union brand development projects, the topic of corporate social responsibility arose, and I got push back from the CEO. “It seems like every organization says they are giving back to some charitable cause,” he said. “I don’t see the value in it. We’ve tried that before. We don’t get anything out of it. Sure, it may do some good for the community, but people are not loyal to us because of it.” I have to admit, he’s partially right. According to Aflac’s National Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, 66% of people say companies that pursue responsibility efforts do it only for good public relations. Another 49% believe a company is bragging when it talks about its responsibility initiatives.

Should we just pack it all in? Not exactly.

The credit union CEO’s pessimism mirrors that of the general public. When it comes to corporate social responsibly – even branding, advertising and marketing – we are all skeptics. When we interact with a brand, there’s always the question of, “Why should we care?” ThirdLove, a producer of bras and underwear, has a 60-day return policy. All gently worn bras that are returned are donated to their bra donation parties. To date, the company has donated more than $20 million in bras to people in need. Since Warby Parker was founded, they have operated its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” eyeglasses program. For every pair of Warby Parker glasses purchased, a pair of glasses is distributed to someone in need. According to the company, there are 2.5 billion people around the world who need glasses, but don’t have access to them.

Do we purchase from these companies because they give back?

Well… no. We buy from them because they give us what we want. ThirdLove was the first to trademark half cup sizes. In the eyeglasses world, 80% of glasses and sunglasses are controlled by a single company (Luxottica), and Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear monopoly. Plus, they gave us trendy designs and eyewear made of renewable, plant-based materials. However, the Aflac study also revealed that most people, 61%, say companies that pursue responsibility efforts do so out of a genuine desire to help others, noting, “Responsibility is not a coincidence, but something deliberately pursued, and the absence of that deliberate effort undermines the responsivity, if any, that is seen to exist.” Let’s go back to my doubting credit union CEO. It’s not that corporate social responsibility is a waste of time or effort, but it must be executed with authenticity and meaning. Yes, ThirdLove and Warby Parker give us what we want, but their competitive advantage is what we believe as their customers. We like the way their brands make us feel, and their CSR initiatives make us believe we are contributing to good in the world. Think about this: I’m willing to bet your credit union participated with, or considered partnering on, a Credit Union for Kids campaign. After all, credit unions are the fifth largest sponsor of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. I can show you credit unions that raised just a few dollars for the cause to those who made a profound deep impact in their community.

Why is there such a big difference?

There’s a difference between doing something out of obligation vs. passion. A brand becomes a symbol of trust. CSR can help strengthen confidence in your brand, but just like your marketing and advertising efforts, it must be done with authenticity. When selecting a corporate social responsibility initiative, consider how your employees feel, not just what your members may feel. Be unified and true in your mission. When you build a common ground, you enable loyalty, connection and love of your credit union.

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