Community Engagement Ideas from Award-Winning Credit Unions

Credit unions have a proud history of community enrichment that goes well beyond member services. Given their origins as member-owned cooperatives with deep local roots, it’s no surprise that CUs and their employees are passionate about giving back. 

But, community engagement can also benefit the bottom line through increased employee engagement. Companies with higher engagement report less attrition and higher profits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management

Additionally, workforce consultancy exaqueo found employee engagement rises when a company considers an employee’s whole self. Meaning that “behaviors and values employees cultivated outside work had an intense impact on how they behaved at work,” founder Susan LaMotte shared in Harvard Business Review.

Looking for ideas to grow your CU’s engagement levels? We spoke with executives from iQ Credit Union in Washington state and Leaders Credit Union in Tennessee about how they support their communities — and the rewards they reap in return.

Download now: The Credit Union Executive’s Guide to Improving Retention with Employee Benefits

Building Community into the Business

Building a solid community presence doesn’t happen by accident. The culture of service present at Vancouver, Washington-based iQ, and Leaders, headquartered in Jackson, Tennessee, is embedded in their organizations through dedicated departments and nonprofit foundations.

In 2019, Leaders established the Leaders Education Foundation, a 501(c) not-for-profit that provides educational grants, scholarships and resources that support lifelong learning, workforce development and education.

Leaders also has a community engagement team focused exclusively on growing community visibility. Team members provide services such as free financial wellness programs, attend onsite events like health fairs and open enrollments and work with organizations’ human resource managers to help set up direct deposits and other programs. The team also provides volunteer hours for many local companies.

To keep abreast of hyperlocal trends and needs, Leaders has three regional advisory boards populated with representatives from businesses, branches of government, and not-for-profit organizations. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from [board members] saying one reason they’re so impressed with Leaders is that they see us out in the community so much, and in areas that make the biggest impact,” says Leigh Anne Bentley, Chief Marketing Officer

Like Leaders, iQ also has a separate, dedicated foundation, iQ for Kids, that raises money for local programs and organizations to improve children’s lives. 

Within iQ are additional employee teams dedicated to creating a better, more inclusive community. For example, the community impact team, part of iQ’s marketing department, creates meaningful local relationships through financial literacy programs for children and adults. In addition, all employees are encouraged to volunteer at events sponsored by iQ and have access to paid time off for other volunteer work that interests them.

“Best in State,” iQ Credit Union Finds the Fun in Giving Back

Thanks to its excellent customer service, Forbes has repeatedly recognized iQ as the No. 1 Credit Union in its state. The credit union, founded in 1940 by a group of teachers, now boasts approximately 340 employees, more than 94,000 members, and over a billion dollars in assets.

Along with grants for K–12 teachers, college scholarships and donations to organizations made through the foundation, iQ strongly emphasizes financial literacy and career preparation programs. High school students who join its campus branch program operate a functioning branch at their high school. These students have the opportunity to become paid interns at main branches, and many go on to work full-time for iQ.

iQ also sponsors Financial Reality Fairs, immersive simulation exercises that put teens in real-life financial situations to get them thinking about money management, budgeting and other financial responsibilities. In addition, younger kids can stop by iQ’s booth at the farmers market, where they learn money basics and earn a coupon to spend at produce vendors. Additionally, the credit union holds regular financial literacy events at bookstores and coffee shops for adults.

Further, iQ teams with local television station KGW8 to sponsor Good Things Happen spotlights, in which credit union employees participate in community giveaways or donations to local organizations. “The spotlights are a real benefit to those organizations, too, because we highlight them, and then they, in turn, end up with more volunteers and more donations,” says Danette LaChapelle, Chief Communications Officer.

Watch now: How Credit Unions Are Navigating “The Great Resignation”

Leaders Credit Union: True to its Roots, Focused on the Future

Founded by a teachers’ union in 1957, Leaders expanded in the ’80s and ’90s to include healthcare and communications. Today, around 185 employees serve roughly 70,000 members, and the credit union has approximately 850 million in assets. For three years in a row, American Banker has named it a best credit union to work for.

But, Leaders hasn’t forgotten its origins — much of its community involvement centers around education. For example, the Leaders Education Foundation gives high school seniors $25,000 in yearly scholarships. Its L.E.A.D.S. Educator Grant program offers teachers the opportunity to win funding for initiatives. It recently wrapped up matching donations for the Jackson Art Box program, providing free art supplies to students in the Jackson Madison County School System.

Leaders’ community engagement team teaches more than 50 literacy classes annually. In addition, employees regularly stock local blessing boxes. During the holidays, the Leaders with Love program allows each branch or department to select and carry out a community service project, such as serving lunch to firefighters or stocking a local food pantry.

A Win-Win for Communities and Credit Unions

Leaders and iQ executives agree that strong community involvement isn’t just good for the community — it’s good for the credit union.

“Having a presence out in the community definitely helps on the recruitment side,” says Erin Mitchell, Vice President of Human Resources at Leaders. “And on the retention side, I think it’s beneficial when folks can see the actual dollars that [the credit union] earns going toward things they’re passionate about.”

Adds Kari Stansberry, Chief Administrative Officer of iQ, “I think that employees want a sense of belonging and feeling like they can give back to the community. One of our operating principles is inclusivity. We have an opportunity for everybody.”

Excellent community outreach means happier, more engaged employees. And so does an outstanding benefits program. Schedule a consultation with us today to learn how self-insurance can free up funds for good works while providing high-quality, affordable benefits to your employees.