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Beyond the Big Check: How to Engage Members Around Community Giving

Ashira Quabili joins The Remarkable Credit Union podcast

We’ve all seen the “Big Check” photos. Credit unions commonly post them to their websites and social media accounts to demonstrate their commitment to the community. While these photos are a nice way to show your members that you’re supporting great causes and local nonprofits, are there more engaging and creative ways to highlight your community partnerships?

Ashira Quabili, Marketing Communications & PR Coordinator for Freedom FCU (a PixelSpoke client), joins our podcast this month to talk about the credit union’s award-winning #FreedomToHelpChallenge. This annual social media campaign lifts up local nonprofits, actively engages current members, and helps bring new members into the fold.

Our latest episode of The Remarkable Credit Union tackles this month’s BIG question:

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for credit unions when it comes to engaging members around their community giving efforts?

 

Key Takeaways

  1. The #FreedomToHelpChallenge is built around engaging the members and potential members who share Freedom FCU’s values. By promoting volunteerism and great lesser-known nonprofits, the credit union has generated a ton of earned media, social media followers, and new member accounts.
  2. Members engaged with causes that resonated with them. Winners included a family that lost their child and turned that into support for families in the same situation, a barber who teaches his craft to kids from underserved communities, a group that helps to remove the shame from asking for help, and a volunteer club for local schools.
  3. The challenge has taught Ashira some best practices for social media campaigns, including:
    • Make sure to do your due diligence on hashtags to see if they are available
    • Have clear rules and disclosures to avoid getting in trouble
    • Contests and challenges are not a replacement for ongoing conversation and engagement with your social media followers
    • A little incentive goes a long way
    • Make sure to have anyone who likes or comments on your post be asked to like your page – it’s an easy way to grow your followers that people forget

Read the full transcript:

Cameron Madill:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing technology and community impact. Each episode we bring on guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual, and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative and magnify your positive impact in the community.

Cameron Madill:
Today’s big question. What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for credit unions when it comes to engaging members around their community giving efforts? Today, I’m very excited to welcome Ashira Quabili, who is the marketing communications and PR coordinator for Freedom Federal Credit Union in Baltimore, Maryland. Ashira has an MBA from Loyal University and a BFA in painting and art history. And she has wide ranging experience in teaching business marketing and philanthropy. Among other accolades, Ashira won a leading woman award from the daily record in Baltimore, Maryland. She has two kids, three and six. She just moved. This is proof that she has this artistic side. She just moved into a new home that she and her husband redesigned themselves. And she just got back from vacation in St. Martin. So I’m a little bit jealous, but I’m glad she made it out back to the US. Ashira, thanks so much for joining us today.

Ashira Quabili:
Thanks so much, Cameron. I’m excited to be here.

Cameron Madill:
So I’d love to just jump right into. I know there’s a lot of different things you and Freedom Federal Credit Union do overall, but you have this campaign which has been really successful and really meaningful, and it’s all built around this #freedomtohelp. Can you tell us a little bit about the freedom to help challenge how it came about and how it’s evolved over the past four years?

Ashira Quabili:
Yeah, of course. So the #freedomtohelp challenge, it’s a social media challenge or a social media contest, and it’s all around volunteering in our local community. So what we do is we ask the community to post pictures on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram of local volunteerism each week for six weeks, right around the holidays starts at the beginning of November and each Friday during the campaign, we hold a live vote on our Facebook page for a weekly prize. And at the end, there’s a 24 hour grand finale and the winning photo wins a $1000 donation for their favorite local charity.

Ashira Quabili:
The idea was actually born in a brainstorming session in the conference room. We were trying to actually mirror the success of another social media contest we began four years ago called the hashtag #summerfreedomFCU. We wanted to do something different over the holidays, something a little bit more genuine and meaningful. We already had a successful contest model. So all we really did was add in the credit union philosophy of, people helping people, to the equation and the #freedomtohelp challenge was born.

Cameron Madill:
And given that the credit union space is so dedicated to volunteerism and giving back. I’d love to hear, because you guys have won a lot of awards, including if [inaudible 00:03:13] is right, the MACQUEE Award from the Marketing Association of Credit Unions, their overall top marketing award. You’ve won CUNA Diamond awards. You’ve won some other awards locally. And so I’m curious, this has gotten so much buzz in the credit union industry. Why do you think it stands out and gets so much attention?

Ashira Quabili:
I think it is a really different kind of social media campaign than what you would normally see, especially coming from a credit union. The fact that it’s very nature encourages this high level of community engagement. It’s not your everyday financial literacy campaign. This is something that is truly meaningful to the community and it’s good from every angle. It’s good for the participants. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the credit union and thereby I think just its very nature is kind of an out of the box way to approach giving back to the community and combining that with a social media presence.

Cameron Madill:
I’ve spent a lot of my career in kind of the social impact sector of the for-profit business community. And one of the questions I always hear is, “Well, this is great and all, but why does this matter or how does this help the business overall?” And so I’m curious how you think, like from a strategic marketing standpoint, how does the freedom to help challenge fit into what you’re doing overall and what do you think of as the goals of this effort?

Ashira Quabili:
I think that’s a really great question. Cause all credit unions give back to the community. They serve both financially and through volunteerism. In addition to writing checks, we also sit on boards, we help fundraise, we sponsor, sometimes we host events and we do this because we truly want to. We’re also looking for new opportunities to make inroads with our target demographic.

Ashira Quabili:
So one prime demographic that I think most credit union marketing professionals are aware of are nonprofit volunteers and donors. We’re thinking like people who embrace that people helping people philosophy, right? They’re community oriented, they have disposable income because they’re supporting nonprofits. So they would make a pretty ideal member, right? But when you sponsor those events, it’s not really in the nonprofit’s interest to give you that access to their relationships, to their stakeholders. So how do you make those inroads in a meaningful way? So while that usually stops with the administrative teams of those nonprofit, what this challenge allowed us to do as part of our marketing strategy was to actually build those relationships with those donors, with those volunteers in a way that actually proves to them, we share their values in a genuine way.

Cameron Madill:
I love that. And so it sounds like a lot of it is kind of making it more of a reciprocal or mutual relationship versus just the credit union being a source of funding and volunteer hours for nonprofits.

Ashira Quabili:
Totally. I think you nailed it because it really comes across as, it’s good for us, yes. But it’s just as good for the people who are involved in the contest as well. So there’s nothing ingenuine about its nature, but it is helpful for our marketing strategy overall.

Cameron Madill:
Cool. I love that connection. It reminds me of an effort I worked on with a credit union like four or five years ago that primarily did low income lending. And so we did an event basically to help nonprofits or encourage them to move their deposits to this credit union because it was like, “Hey, we all have the same values.” And this credit union didn’t have enough deposits. And they were all banking with some mega bank they didn’t care about and they didn’t care about them. And I just think it was really powerful and important for credit unions because as financial institutions, there’s this natural sense, I think we all have that financial institutions have the money, right? They got the vault full of cash, but like that’s not actually like a win-win relationship. So I love the way you frame that.

Cameron Madill:
I’m curious maybe on a bit of a tangent. So I donated blood last week and I took a photo. This was to support a neighbor who is having… He has actually has transfusions. Doesn’t get enough and there’s not enough blood available. I took a photo. Could I have like hashtag freedom to help? And could I have won this contest? Or how do you, you must get some wacky entries I guess, right? Social media, literally anyone anywhere could use that hashtag. So how do you manage… I don’t know, are there any quirky stories you’ve got of people who use the hashtag or things that were unintended to regarding the core strategy?

Ashira Quabili:
Yeah. Now that you mentioned it, we have had a couple random hashtags usage. So the hashtag, it’s obviously a play on our name, right? So the hashtag freedom to help challenge were Freedom Federal Credit Union. We tried to get that extra bit of branding into the hashtag, which was good. We have a useful name for stuff like that. And of course we did our due diligence. Before you come up with a hashtag for any kind of social media campaign, you want to check it and recheck it across social media campaigns to make sure no one else is using it. It’s not some code name for something you don’t want to be associated with. So we let out there, we found a hashtag that worked for us. We have gotten a handful of strange entries, things that like somebody sent in like a picture of their garden, hashtag freedom.

Ashira Quabili:
I don’t know what this is, or a random picture of, here’s my book bag. People send in weird things and then there have been some people who’ve sent in good volunteer photos, but not in our community. We’ve had to be like, are you actually associated with any kind of nonprofit in the community we serve? And then that’s where your handy dandy rules come in. You always want to make sure before you run something like this, that you have a full set of disclosures and contest rules, you have thought of every little thing that could go wrong and will go wrong, make sure that it all fits into the guidelines. And you can always pull that out of your back pocket as needed. So we’ve had a couple instances where we’ve been like, you’ve got to go check the rules, my dear.

Cameron Madill:
So to clarify, I’m not eligible to win this contest is what I’m…

Ashira Quabili:
Unfortunately.

Cameron Madill:
All right.

Ashira Quabili:
If you lived in Hartford county or Baltimore county, you would be, but no. Too far away.

Cameron Madill:
I’ll probably have a stretch proving that. So cool. All right. Well, I always feel like social media brings up some real wacky stuff. So I always feel like there’s some good stories. I think this is always, really from day one with social media and one of the questions of what metrics do you use. So I’m curious how you measure the success or failure of the challenge. And it seems like it’s got a really obvious community. Good, as you said, but how do you measure that benefit back to freedom?

Ashira Quabili:
Yeah. While we run the contest on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and we even do a little bit on LinkedIn with it. We mostly focus our efforts around Facebook since that’s where all of our voting takes place. And it’s where we see the most engagement. Probably our biggest key performance indicator are new Facebook page likes. So we usually have a goal of obtaining like 200 to 250 new page likes over the campaign. And we’ve been pretty good at either meeting or sometimes even crushing that goal. We also look at reach, of course, how many people are posts reaching usually have a goal of around 5,000 people weekly that we hope to reach with the contest posts. And then we want to reach at least 10,000 people with our grand finale post, which we’ve always far exceeded.

Ashira Quabili:
And of course we’ve got a new business out of it too, often in the form of nonprofit business accounts because the people who this contest, this challenge speaks to the most is really our nonprofit participants, because they are able to gain so much out of their participation that they see us as a really genuine partner in the community. And that has often led to new business accounts, especially with the winners.

Cameron Madill:
That’s great to hear. And that was going to be my next question, I know that not everything can get measured through these digital channels and are there other ripple effects that you’ve seen, whether it’s new members or I guess, can you quantify approximately how many… What kind of lift you’ve in terms of membership or nonprofit partners.

Ashira Quabili:
Some of that is not quantifiable as you’re suggesting, it’s not always measurable, but for sure it’s a very shareable type of contest. It’s just lends itself to that. So we see that our reputation as an organization committed to their community has strengthened the shareability, make sure of that, but also more important are the benefits to those who participate. When we talk about ripple effects. I like to think that the most important piece is that the community gaining something out of it and that’s what keeps them involved and we get anecdotal feedback, but we’ve been thanked time and time again from nonprofits who have benefited from participating.

Ashira Quabili:
We’ve been able to secure, not just the publicity that the contest generates, but we’ve been able to secure media who have come in and interviewed our contest participants and winners. That’s been really encouraging, so they get not just the benefits of participating in this itself, but then even more ripple benefits to their awareness campaigns and their ability to grow in the community.

Cameron Madill:
I imagine this just really kind of says to your current perspective members that you guys walk the walk as a credit union. And I always think for me when I have a purpose driven organization, I’m working with, that when I see something like this campaign. That’s the thing where if I have a frustrating interaction, which is part of every business and there’s no business, that’s perfect, but those are the points where I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s not that big a deal.” I really resonate and believe what these folks believe versus a more normal business where they don’t have that kind of emotional and values alignment. And it just seems like you guys have found a really powerful way to… So often I think, you see Credit Union say like, “Hey, we’re local. We care about the community, but they have a hard time of showing that are actually like walking the walk.” So anyway, I just think that’s great the way you guys are approaching that.

Ashira Quabili:
Can I put in something, just one cool thing about this is that it’s not just about these big national charities. Like you mentioned about giving blood before. I mean, that’s an incredible cause. But one of the great things about something like the freedom to help challenges that allows those small, but mighty charities that are active in our local communities to be eligible for these prizes to win. And even if you look back at our previous winners, we have some ones in there that are, they’re little but mighty charities and their supporters are extremely committed. They’re ready to shout their praises loud and proud, but they’ve never really been offered a platform to do that. And this offers them that platform. Some of our winners would include charities like the Brandon Tolson Foundation. This is a family who, after their own tragic loss of a child works to provide support to families who have experienced their own sudden tragic loss of a child in their family.

Ashira Quabili:
They won our very first time when we did this challenge. The next year we had a local barber who helps teenage boys learn his trade instead of looking to the streets for monetary opportunities. Last year, we had a small nonprofit called Breathe 379, who focus on taking the shame out of asking for how help through their hope center. And then just last month we awarded a volunteer club from a local middle and high school from the Harvard Grace Middle and High School, who does this volunteer club and they create this really cool, inclusive bonding experience for students through service.

Cameron Madill:
That’s fantastic. Thank for sharing that. That was actually one of the things I was wondering is it seems like you’ve really created a way to level the playing field, which I think one of the things that social media does really well. So I know you sound like you’ve had this really robust engagement. You also have your summer challenge or at least had it. I’m curious when you talk to other credit unions that are struggling to meaningfully engage their members on social channels, what kind of advice would you give to them?

Ashira Quabili:
So contests and challenges like this aren’t really a replacement for your usual social media posts, but we have found that it’s been a great way to bring on a lot of new followers. So if you have a small audience to begin with. A couple years ago, back in like 2018, I think we only had a few hundred page likes and now we’re well into the thousands. So I think that if you’re going to attempt to do something like this, you’ve got to remember, well, once you bring on people, it’s sort of your job to keep them there and you got to keep them engaged with good content.

Ashira Quabili:
As for doing some sort of contest. I’d say a little incentive goes a long way. It doesn’t have to break the bank. So to speak, break the credit union, I should say. I want to do like a $25 or a $50 gift card somewhere, or a little basket of prizes, something, or like with the freedom to help challenge, we do a $50 gift card each week and we do a thousand dollars grand prize donation.

Ashira Quabili:
None of this is particularly expensive investment, but it’s fun for the community to participate in. And it’s staying tied to our brand. It’s staying tied to our philosophy. So it’s just about finding that window of we’re staying true to ourselves, but we’re making it fun for the community to be invested in. And I would say, don’t be afraid to let your hair down a little bit, as we certainly put a little bit of humor into some of our posts, especially around that grand finale. If you go back and search the hashtag, you’ll see some pretty creative things.

Cameron Madill:
First of all, I appreciate the plan. Yeah. I think having that kind of engagement with the folks that you bring on an ongoing basis is obviously really important that it is a social media relationship. It’s not like kind of a broadcast medium like email.

Ashira Quabili:
And one thing Cameron that people often forget to do is inviting people who like their posts to actually like their page. So many people don’t know this, but when someone likes a post on your business page, you can click on those likes and there’s little invite button to invite them to like your page. So if I’m leaving a little tip for those listening is don’t forget to invite those people to like your page, because that’s where you’re going to convert them into followers.

Cameron Madill:
I love that. Very simple and very helpful. Well, you told us some of the success stories. I just always like to hear if there’s any kind of failure stories. Sometimes we talk about all the awards and all the accolades, but for me at least, it’s my mistakes and failures that I learned a lot more. So maybe not failures, but is there anything that hasn’t gone so well either in the last year or in the previous years, where something came up that was unexpected and you learned and you kind of adapted.

Ashira Quabili:
So two things come to mind. One is take a break over Thanksgiving. I mean, we probably should have learned by year two that Thanksgiving was just not going to happen. But finally, in our fourth year we were like, we’re just going to not do this over Thanksgiving because the engagement was always low and people just wanted to be with their families. They didn’t want to be doing this stuff on social media. So I would say, be mindful of where the holidays fall when you’re doing a contest and that people, maybe 4th of July, people want to post pictures of fireworks and things like that. If you’re doing a contest around that, I’d say, sure, go for it. But for a lot of things, especially really family holidays, I’d say be mindful of that. You may not get the results that you’re expecting around those.

Ashira Quabili:
The other thing I think is just keeping it fresh. So we’ve been doing this for four years now. We’ve had sort of two different looks. During those four years, we started, 2018 got really great results. We ran a similar campaign with the same look, the same templates and marketing collateral the next year. And the results showed that they were slightly diminished. We totally refreshed it in 2020, got a really uptick in the results, they were great. And then we tried to run the same look in 2021 and again, some diminished results there. And I feel like that is likely the result of not taking the time to really refresh the look of the campaign each year. So I’d probably, when we come back in 2022, we’re going to have another refresh look to it. Keep things, looking new for everyone.

Cameron Madill:
It’s almost like you need to have multiple variants of your campaigns. No, no, probably too soon to make these COVID jokes. All right. Moving on. It’s actually like, I mean on the topic of, I think, I don’t know if this is dark humor, but right, it’s such a marketing cliche to say, “Oh, my campaign went viral.” And I’m like, “Does anybody want to have a campaign that goes viral when you’re in a pandemic?” Word choice changes.

Cameron Madill:
Anyway, I’m going to go in a similar kind of a lighter tone. I’d love to ask you some rapid fire questions so we can get to know you so you can let your hair down. Ashira, as you said, we have to do in our campaigns. This is your chance. So just quick fire rapid answers, whatever comes into your mind is totally fine.

Ashira Quabili:
Okay.

Cameron Madill:
What is your favorite movie?

Ashira Quabili:
My favorite movie.

Cameron Madill:
Yep.

Ashira Quabili:
Oh goodness. Artistic wise, I always love the movie Amelie. Just a really beautiful movie.

Cameron Madill:
That is a fabulous movie. I remember watching that at a film fest, I think, as a kid. All right. What’s your favorite meal?

Ashira Quabili:
My favorite meal would be my mom’s matzah ball soup.

Cameron Madill:
All right. I’m loving it. What’s a song you’re most embarrassed to admit that you actually like?

Ashira Quabili:
Oh goodness, you’re going to get me in trouble because it’s my husband who’s the music listener in the family. And I just sort of boff along to whatever’s on the radio.

Cameron Madill:
So you’re going to pass on this. Is that what I’m hearing?

Ashira Quabili:
I think I might have to pass on this one because I don’t know the names of any songs, I just sing lyrics badly.

Cameron Madill:
All right, sounds good. I’m not going to ask you to sing any lyrics badly right now unless you really want to. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received to share?

Ashira Quabili:
I think the best advice I’ve received is to listen, talk less listen more, make sure that you are hearing what your colleagues are saying and just appreciating what others are bringing to the table.

Cameron Madill:
I Love it. All right. And last question. If you had to wear a t-shirt for the rest of your life, with a single word on it, what would that word be?

Ashira Quabili:
Oh my gosh. Okay. I’m going to go with transform.

Cameron Madill:
I love it. That’s a high bar for the rest of your life, but you’ve got that reminder right there with you. All right. Awesome. Well Ashira, thank you so much. I’d love to just do a quick final take. Is there anything that you didn’t get to, that you want to share with our audience or anything you want to reiterate that we covered today?

Ashira Quabili:
I would just let the other credit union colleagues who are listening to this, just know that, this is definitely something that is doable for your credit union. Big or small, we’ve certainly seen copycats happen in our own community, not just even with financial institutions, but we’ve seen it from the nonprofits themselves, from other local businesses. And it’s not something that bothers us at all because it’s a compliment to what we’ve done, but it’s also just good for the community. So I think if you can mirror something like this, I say, go for it.

Cameron Madill:
Awesome. Well, Ashira thank you so much for joining today. It’s been a real pleasure for having you on.

Ashira Quabili:
Thanks Cameron, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. And our whole team at freedom is here. If anyone has questions or wants to reach out, we’re always happy to talk things out.

Cameron Madill:
All right, folks, thanks for joining another really enjoyable episode. I’d love to share my key takeaways. The first one was just this great campaign, #freedomtohelp was all built around the idea of engaging the members and potential members who share freedom’s values. And I just thought it was very smart that by promoting volunteerism and great less well known local nonprofits, they’ve gotten a bunch of earned media. They’ve really grown their social media followers and new member accounts. And then they’re kind of building that emotional connection and engaging with their target demographic. The kinds of people who are most likely to respond positively to a cooperative financial institution i.e. a credit union.

Cameron Madill:
I loved hearing the past list of winners. And I thought just the fact that they’re highlighting less well known nonprofits is probably a chance to build really passionate followers and fans both from within the nonprofits and the supporters of that nonprofit. When just hearing the stories about a family that lost their child and turn that into a nonprofit that supports other families dealing with loss. The barber who’s teaching is craft to kids from underserved communities, a group that’s focused on removing the shame for asking for help and volunteer club that works in their local schools. I just thought what a great group of nonprofits and a great way to be connected with them.

Cameron Madill:
And then lastly, I just appreciated all the best practices and tips that Ashira shared, just making sure that you do your due diligence on hashtags to see if they’re available and getting used for anything else. Having clear rules and disclosures, so you don’t get in trouble. And I thought her point that contests of challenges are not a replacement for ongoing conversation and engagement with your social media followers. There’s a great way to grow that and build that connection.

Cameron Madill:
I wholeheartedly agreed with her comment about how a little incentive goes a long way. Made me think of back when I guess my senior year of college, I volunteered on a business program that was all businesses that were, I think $50 million and revenue and up. And it was all the CEOs and we gave away free t-shirts from a local university. And it was like the biggest feeding frenzy I’d ever seen. Even super rich people love the free t-shirt. And then lastly, I just appreciated Ashira’s probably overlooked tip. I know it’s something I wasn’t aware of that anytime someone likes or comments on a post of yours, that you have a chance to just see who all those folks are, if they haven’t already liked your page and send them an invite, and that’s one of the best ways to grow your followers.

Cameron Madill:
All right. Thanks for joining us today for another great episode until the next time. I wish you the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

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