By Ray Birch
BOULDER, Colo.—One credit union hopes that by tying support for its foundation to debit card usage, more members will support the CU’s charitable arm.
That’s the thinking behind Elevations Credit Union’s new Elevations Local Change, a program that allows members to give back to the community by donating funds rounded up to the next dollar on purchases they make on their debit cards. Funds from the program go to Elevations Foundation, which donates to local worthy causes, the CU said.
VP of Community Affairs Dennis Paul described the approach as a “non-intrusive” means to garner support for it 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.
“We felt if were able to engage the membership in giving through our products and services, it’s a better approach than asking them to donate all the time, click on a button here, donate there—that wears thin on everyone. We don’t have to badger our members to contribute to the community.”
Members simply are asked once to opt in to Elevations Local Change.
“Members just swipe their cards and don’t think about this until tax time,” said Paul, who added that those who remain focused on the giving can feel involved with Elevations community support every time they use their debit card. “Our membership expects us to be involved in the community, and we are.”
Elevations Foundation provides funding for scholarships for higher education and community grants, supports local mental health and early childhood development programs, and promotes environmental education and sustainability.
Elevations CU conducted extensive research before launching the program, first consulting with the National Credit Union Foundation. Paul said ECU learned successful credit union foundations get members involved through products and services and avoid “bothering” members.
The $2-billion credit union also polled its members.
“We went to our member council to see what our members thought of the idea. We wanted to know if they thought the idea was crazy or if they would get behind it,” explained Paul.
The council polled a subset of the membership, and received an 8% response rate, with most saying they would support the concept. “An 8% response rate is pretty good for a survey. Our members told us they like the idea. We got the favorable response so we went ahead with Local Change.”
Local Change was introduced earlier this year and Paul said it is too soon for hard metrics.
“But what I can tell you is the response so far has been very, very good,” said Paul. “We are excited to see where Local Change can go. We're really taking this out to members through all of our channels— social media, our branches, our website…”
Paul emphasized tellers and the call center have been extensively trained on the program with FAQ sheets and talking points.
“We know this is the most critical aspect of Local Change, that our staff understand the program and speak fluently about it,” said Paul.
What’s Being Forecast
Paul told CUToday.info Elevations has estimated the average member monthly donation from Local Change would be $8, and that overall, a “very conservative” total donation from the membership for the first year would be $44,000.
He said the key to the amounts are the number of swipes.
“Each roundup can be from one cent to 99 cents, so we have taken an average of 50 cents per swipe,” Paul said. “The real driver, then, is how many times members use their debit card.”
If they choose, members can set a monthly ceiling on the amount they donate. Monthly donation totals are shown on monthly statements.
Next in line is adding credit card purchases to Local Change, said Paul.
‘Less Intrusive Approach’
Paul said the CU hopes the strong early response to Local Change indicates members prefer to support Elevations Foundation via a “less intrusive” approach.
“There's an ask on every corner, at every store, people get tired of that,” Paul said. “We believe this is the right approach to gain support from our members for our community work without having to hit them over the head with a lot of details and a lot of requests. When you think about it, they trust us with their finances, why wouldn't they trust us with their philanthropy?”