When The Going Gets Tough, Act Counter-Intuitively

Register now

When the economy struggles, the charitable world collectively shivers. Investment returns from endowments shrink, reducing foundations’ ability to make grants and provide needed programs. Corporate giving takes a hit as budgets are scrutinized.

But interestingly, individual giving increases during tough economic times.

How is this possible? There’s a counter-intuitive explanation. Working-class Americans and the working poor are America’s most consistent givers. Survey after survey shows that America’s least-affluent people give the highest percentage of their income to charity. In other words: those with the least to give actually give the most.

In speaking with my counterparts at the Filene Research Institute and the World Council of Credit Unions, we share concern about fundraising during this tight economy. Yet we’re bolstered by the fact that the credit union movement, because of its commitment to serving America’s working families, and because of credit unions’ people-helping-people philosophy, will–despite the economy–maintain and perhaps even increase support for mission-driven organizations serving the credit union community.

The purpose of this column is two-fold: First, assure readers that the American tradition of giving even during a tight economy is alive and well in the credit union community. Second, remind readers that the programs and services of the credit union movement’s charitable organizations are needed now, more than ever.

What Your Support Will Sustain

At the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), our lifeblood is the Community Investment Fund (CIF). More than 650 credit unions invest in CIF, which currently holds nearly $370 million. CIF interest sustains the work of NCUF and state credit union foundations to help credit unions better serve people of modest means and low-wealth households, to underwrite the Biz Kid$ TV series and other financial education programs, to train credit union officials in cooperative principles and credit union values through Development Education and Social Impact Management programs, and to make grants rewarding credit union innovations.

NCUF, state foundations, Filene, and WOCCU also get substantial support through corporate and institutional contributions and sponsorships from leagues, the Corporate Credit Union Network, system vendors, and credit unions. This direct financial support is vital to all our operations and is always appreciated, especially when interest rates are falling.

For instance, I was recently reading a Filene update and was once again amazed at the breadth and depth of their work. Filene’s mission couldn’t be more relevant and important during these topsy-turvy times: “to support research efforts that will ultimately enhance the well-being of consumers and assist credit unions in adapting to rapidly changing economic, legal and social environments.”

The ideas emerging from the credit union movement’s think tank are changing how we do business.

In fact, one Filene idea, REAL Solutions, has become NCUF’s signature program. Now 27 leagues are participating as REAL Solutions partners, helping credit unions all over the country provide best practices and innovations for serving and attracting members with low wealth and modest means. This includes Millennials–young adults age 18-30 who are looking for socially responsible, trustworthy institutions that offer convenience as well as cutting-edge technology.

Then there’s the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). Under Pete Crear’s leadership, WOCCU has made tremendous progress on many fronts critical to the credit union movement and relevant to U.S. credit unions. We hear a lot about the “global economy,” but as evidenced by the current global economic crises precipitated by the U.S. sub-prime mortgage mess, we are also beginning to understand that social issues are also “global.” In fact, considerable research suggests that if credit unions want to attract Millennials, they need to demonstrate their relevance to the global economy and global social issues.

Your continued financial support through CIF investments, direct contributions, sponsorship, and other means will help ensure that credit unions are:

* Increasingly relevant in the eyes of Millennials.

* Growing to meet the financial services needs of new Americans and rising numbers of households with lower wealth and modest means.

* Connected to broader global economic and social issues that are critical to the future.

“Non-essential” Expenses?

NCUF, state foundations, Filene, WOCCU and other charitable organizations serving credit unions depend upon support from the credit union system. In the for-profit world, organizations like these might fall victim to sharp-penciled CFOs and boards looking to cut “non-essential” expenses.

But therein lies the difference. I believe like working-class Americans who depend upon credit unions for affordable financial services, the credit union movement will respond in a philanthropically counter-intuitive manner. I believe the credit union movement will maintain and might even increase support for charitable organizations that help credit unions meet the needs of their members and communities now and in the future.

Nobody Ever Died of United Way!

I cut my fundraising teeth in the United Way system. In the mid-1980s I found myself responsible for raising over $1 billion annually from America’s leading corporations. Every year we had to re-convince CEOs, CFOs, and boards of the value of supporting United Way. Despite our success, I can tell you that persuading bottom-line-oriented business executives of United Way’s value was not an easy sell.

In fact we used to say the problem was, “Nobody ever died of United Way!” The benefits were not direct or clear. United Way did great things, but was two or three steps removed from public benefits. That’s not the case with the charitable organizations serving credit unions.

Thanks to your support, organizations like NCUF, state foundations, Filene, and WOCCU are creating value in the credit union community through programs, services, grants, philosophy training, global impact, research, innovation, and more. These organizations are helping credit unions leverage their unique attributes to take advantage of the emerging marketplace expectations around corporate citizenship, social impact and social responsibility.

Making the “Ask”

Making the “ask” is what fundraisers do. So I’ll close by doing that. On behalf of those who depend upon your support now more than ever, I’m asking you to act counter-intuitively. Find a way to continue and perhaps even increase your support of NCUF, state foundations, Filene, WOCCU, and other charitable organizations serving the credit union system. These organizations represent an intersection of ideas, innovation, and impact to the future of credit unions and the communities we all serve.

Steve Delfin is executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation in Washington. He can be reached at sdelfin ncuf.coop or (800) 356-9655, ext. 6769. (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.