Cause Marketing and Credit Unions: Is Doing Good Good Enough?

08 Sep Cause Marketing and Credit Unions: Is Doing Good Good Enough?


Credit unions value the communities they serve and love “doing good.” It’s part of the industry’s historic DNA. People helping people.

My team has worked with dozens of credit unions. Every single one invests in their community and tries to tastefully promote its involvement and generate broader support for good causes. On occasion, we’ve even been enlisted to advise credit unions about expensive marketing campaigns proposed by outside creative agencies to grow membership through community involvement and cause marketing.

At that point the question becomes less altruistic and more about financial ROI: Is doing good good enough if membership growth is the objective?

One study we recently helped conduct showed that community involvement (giving to good organizations and causes, volunteerism, etc.) played virtually no discernible role in consumers’ choice of their financial institution.  Of 13 different considerations, it ranked dead last in terms of importance. For banking, at least, low fees, mobile banking services, service reputation and convenience are what matter most to consumers. This held true across demographics.

The study was surprising to our clients given that credible research consistently shows that supporting good causes and community involvement should positively impact companies’ bottom lines and actually drive the choice between two competing companies. According to Cone Communications/Ebiquity’s 2015 Global CSR Study, 90% of consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a good cause, all other things being equal.

Why then did our study, limited as it may be, show little to no relationship? A few possibilities:

Maybe doing good isn’t enough of a differentiator among financial institutions. We’ve worked with many credit unions and community banks. Every single one invests in and promotes good organizations and causes. In the case of credit unions, things may be largely equal in terms of doing good, and too many other factors are more important in choosing a financial institution.

Maybe credit unions should be more diverse and creative in the causes and organizations they support. Financial education is great and should be a part of a credit union’s mission, but it probably doesn’t differentiate your credit union from another. The same goes for supporting important and needed social services in a community. Maybe there are other opportunities to also pursue that creatively align a good cause with business goals. These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, especially since business success enables greater generosity.

Maybe credit unions don’t effectively promote the organizations and causes they do support. Are related marketing and PR efforts creative, engaging, altruistic and with a call to action? Or, are they boring, static, self-promoting and simply relaying information? And do the campaigns authentically align with a credit union’s long-term brand identity, or are they one-off ventures that in retrospect seem like bright ideas without brand connection.

Also, when it comes to good causes and consumer choice…

Maybe comparing financial institutions with other types of retailers is apples to oranges. It’s one thing to choose to buy a sweater from one brand over another based on a good cause. It’s a little different to wholesale switch financial institutions for the same reason. The bar for action is much higher, and the process more time consuming and complicated.

The fact is, investing in good causes that support the communities a credit union serves is a great thing, regardless of the financial ROI or impact on membership numbers. It should be done primarily to promote great organizations and causes and only secondarily to enhance a credit union’s reputation and bottom line.

From a practical standpoint, however, credit unions should be thoughtful before undertaking expensive cause marketing campaigns if the selling point is membership growth. Other types of campaigns may be a better fit.

Kurt Heath
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