Give It Away Now

by William Azaroff

I’m lucky to be able to connect with so many credit union people across North America and sometimes visit sister credit unions to see what they’re doing. And lately something has struck me as a trend. Credit unions give away a tremendous amount of philanthropic dollars for community benefit, and it seems to me the vast majority of these donations are given without any strategic thinking or expectation of results.


Credit unions are member-driven sources of community capital, and their mission drives virtually all of them to give back generously to their local communities. And philanthropy is good. But reciprocity is far better. If I give you a dollar because you need it, it inadvertently sets up a power dynamic between us, the giver and the receiver. It is better than not giving at all, but pure philanthropy often doesn’t cure societal ills – it only masks them.

If, instead of looking at these community contributions as donations, we look at them as strategic investments where we expect a return, it will change the whole dynamic. We likely don’t expect a financial return, but if we have strategies in place for our organizations, then we should expect the donations we give to further those strategies and our mission. As member-owned organizations, what are the greatest needs facing our members? As custodians of local economies where our members live and work, what are the places where extra capital injected into our communities can have the greatest impact? Create the most jobs? Lift the most people out of poverty? Teach the most people to better manage their finances? Help the most people to access affordable housing? Make our communities more sustainable.

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