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Community Spark Award: What We All Could Learn

By September 18, 20204 min read

In 2020, Social Assurance launched its Community Spark Award to recognize banks and credit unions making a significant difference in their local areas through unique community support, volunteerism, philanthropy and development initiatives. Through deliberation from our internal committee, we chose two winners and 12 finalists to receive this community recognition. Although each finalist and winner developed unique initiatives to meet the needs of their communities, there were common themes through all of them. Below is a list of initiatives, their impacts, and what we all could learn about the good that comes from when financial institutions work with their community partners.

COVID-19 Support

COVID-19 has been a heavy weight for many businesses and individuals. From forcing organizations to shut their doors to millions of Americans unemployed, the pandemic has touched everyone’s life in some way. The most common theme in Community Spark Award entries was the focused support for those impacted. Whether this was through donations, grants or drives for assistance, time and time again, communities came together to support one other.

Key Takeaway

Be there for, and count on, your community when it matters most. The best of us comes out when we all work together.

Small Business Assistance

Nearly half of all businesses that have closed during the global pandemic have shut down for good. Declining (or even stopped) revenue streams month to month made it hard for many establishments to stay in operation. Sensing this hardship, Community Spark Award applicants showed many creative ways they are helping businesses tackle this unique problem.

Our winner, Michigan State Federal Credit Union, launched the #MSUFCUEatsLocal giveaway. This encouraged the public to submit a photo for their favorite local takeout for a change to win two $25 gift cards, one for themselves, and one to pay forward. They gave out over 183 gift cards to local restaurants during this campaign. This translated into a further $4,200 in revenue for local restaurants.

Alliance Bank started its cash mob to help local businesses experiencing slow traffic. The bank heavily advertised on businesses’ social channels, giving away vouchers, coupons, and more for members of the public to participate. Alliance bank estimates that its three Cash Mobs for local organizations have had receipts, on average, of $375. It hopes to continue this help by holding more cash mobs – eventually, having one at local businesses in each of their seven market areas by the end of 2020.

Key Takeaway

We’re not alone in our desire to help others. By working together, we can work toward making a bigger difference.

Individual and Family Relief

With an uncertain job market and online learning for children, families and individuals have had to adjust to a “new normal” quickly. As a result, mental health and financial support took central focus for financial institutions in 2020. By listening to the specific needs of the community, entrants of the Community Spark Award demonstrated how to provide assistance at critical points of need.

Our runner up, Drake Bank, launched its COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide $500 grants to community members struggling financially. In one case, a grant was provided to family so that they could purchase a laptop for their children’s online learning. Drake Bank helped over 155 people make ends meet by pooling together $80,000 from the directors of Drake Bank, its staff and other community members

Western Vista Federal Credit Union created its “Signs for Seniors” program. With many local graduates forced to miss out on important milestones like graduation, touring colleges, and finishing their last year of school with their teachers and friends, WVFCU invented an opportunity to celebrate them. Through partnerships with its local utility company, the school district, the city government and the Downtown Development Authority, this initiative hung banners on street poles for every graduating senior high school student.

Key Takeaway

No impact is too small. Every effort makes a difference for someone in our community.

Non-Profit Partnerships

Financial Institutions and non-profits have a long history of working together to help their communities and this year was no exception. Many financial institutions stepped up their commitment to local partnerships by providing additional support.

Altra Federal Credit Union partnered with Great Rivers United Way to help host a virtual event called Raise Your Glass at Home. This event had two hosts that transitioned between recorded and live elements, including restaurant pairings and music. This was a fundraising event that also provided viewers a virtual reprieve from their quarantines. At the end of the event, Altra Federal Credit Union ended up doubling its fundraising efforts compared to the in-person event of 2019.

Sanibel Captiva Community Bank recently relocated its operations center. This created approximately 2,700 square feet of available office space. It decided to donate this, rent-free, to two Southwest Florida nonprofit organizations – The Southwest Chapter of Blessings in a Backpack and the Southwest Florida Symphony. This enabled these organizations to save on costs and focus on providing needed community assistance.

Key Takeaway

Working with community partners can help you find new and innovative ways to help others.

Read about all 12 of our finalists, along with our two winners, by visiting Do you have some awesome community initiatives or events coming up that you want to share? Tag us @SocialAssurance so we can highlight you