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How to tell your CSR story

Smart strategies to emphasize authenticity over hype

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been called the ultimate marketing tool, a mega-trend, and a defining brand booster. After all, what’s not to love about responsible business practices? Though credit unions have long embraced social responsibility as an integral part of what they do, they haven’t necessarily leveraged it to build their reputations. Today, credit unions’ CSR and marketing departments need to be in sync, collaborating closeCSR_quotely to build their brand. The trick is to publicize CSR activities in new ways, cutting through the PR noise to tell authentic stories that resonate with clients (and potential clients). In other words, credit unions need to be deliberate not just in setting CSR goals, but also in publicizing CSR achievements.

Sarah Rea, senior manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Meridian Credit Union (250,000 members, $9.2 billion in assets) in Toronto, shares her insight on inserting CSR seamlessly into her credit union’s messaging, and how to break through the “we’ve heard it all before” barrier. Rea works with the Meridian team to set long-term CSR strategies (they currently work on a three-year plan). She stresses that although credit unions should not be bashful about promoting their CSR successes, publicity should never be the goal.

“A CSR strategy should never be launched just for the sake of marketing it.” She counsels that the key to long-term success is having long-standing goals, then giving enthusiastic employees the tools to share subsequent programs and achievements.


Sarah Rea shares six corporate social responsibility marketing tactics

  1. DON’T OVER-SHARE: It may seem counterintuitive, but reporting and marketing every initiative will turn people off. “Exaggerated reporting happens when an organization attempts to make a big splash without really having the right context,” says Rea. Tell your story when you have something important to communicate.
  2. START IN-HOUSE: Employees are delivering the CSR message and programs, so make sure they’re engaged in every campaign. “To ensure our employees own the programs, it’s key that they are the ones who actually deliver them,” says Rea. “Every program or partnership we take part in is employee-run.”
  3. INTEGRATE CSR AND MARKETING: At Meridian, the entire marketing department — CSR, internal communications, external communications and marketing, and product teams — work together. That integration allows for cohesive marketing, both internally and externally.
  4. BRAND WISELY: Design a brand, with its own logo and website, for major partnership programs. “For a program that is unique and targets a specific segment of the population, having its own website makes it easier to find … and also makes it easier for community partners to publicize,” says Rea.
  5. SHARE THE GLORY: Sure, it’s great to have the limelight for popular initiatives, but it’s more important that your programs are effective and far-reaching. Joining with really strong non-profits, other financial institutions, and government agencies can ensure stronger programs and enthusiastic partners to help you get the word out.
  6. THINK SMALL: Not every credit union is large enough to have a dedicated CSR department. Research your community and don’t be afraid to go it alone or join with a strategic partner to launch one impactful program that really fills a strong need. ◊