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Kindness, Wine, Women and Wealth – A Winning Combo


In an age of economic uncertainty, a little kindness goes a long way.

Last year, staff at Alberta’s Lakeland Credit Union (10,975 members, $608 million in assets) decided that International Credit Union Day, held Oct. 18, should be celebrated with more than just balloons and miscellanea. The idea, says Melanie Bossence, manager, brand experience, was “to let people know all the things that credit unions do.”

What might be the best way to promote not only Lakeland’s brand but the credit union spirit? Random acts of kindness, staff decided. So, for two days, they heaped goodwill upon members and non-members alike in the two communities they serve: the town of Bonnyville, about three hours northeast of Edmonton, and the nearby city of Cold Lake, famed for its Canadian Forces Base (CFB), training grounds for CF-18 Hornet jet fighters.

First, the credit union gave away free coffee in the morning at A&W Restaurants in Cold Lake and Bonnyville. They also undertook a large project for the Bonnyville and District SPCA, collaborating with the local co-op to bring in two tonnes of gravel to recondition the main dog run. Volunteers helped lay the gravel.

The credit union also gave away gasoline cards to fuel up at the local co-op’s gas station, while clothes were collected and donated to the Native Friendship Centre. Staff played crib with the residents of a local retirement home and a stuffed animal toy drive was held for the hospital. Pet food and toys were also donated to the humane society in Cold Lake.

Over the two-day period, eight separate acts of kindness were filmed then broadcast on Lakeland’s social media channels Oct. 18.

The impact, says Bossence, far outweighed the relatively small expenditure in time and money, bolstering the credit union’s reputation for community volunteering, scholarships and donations. It emphasized, she says, that Lakeland is deeply entrenched in the community and “here to help out.”

This credo has been the springboard to other marketing endeavours. Lakeland is in the second year of its Wine, Women and Wealth events, a broad and a comprehensive financial literacy initiative. The evening lectures — wine and beer are both served — focus on the unique investing challenges and needs that women face in a milieu that can be intimidating. “This is our way of reaching out to women to encourage them to take power of their own finances,” says Bossence, whose credit union executive is more than 50 percent female.

Lakeland’s financial literacy programs extend to primary and high school pupils, presenting the internationally acclaimed Moon Jar program for youngsters as well as the credit union specific Each One, Teach One for older students.

Being a trusted adviser has been a panacea for members in Bonnyville — a place heavily reliant upon the fossil fuel industry, which took an economic hit in mid-2014 when petroleum prices crashed. (For members in Cold Lake, the Canadian Forces Base provided a cushion against the downturn.) With members under financial pressure, marketing has become even more important, says Bossence. “Now that money is tight, we really have to market more, saying, ‘we’re here to help and we’re here to guide you if you’re having troubles.’ We have to let people know that we’re here and all hope isn’t lost — let’s see what we can do.”

Although economic times may be grim, the marketing message needn’t be. Bossence says that the credit union’s campaigns, internally generated to maintain a grassroots sensibility that locals can relate to, are designed to be engaging, memorable and “fun for everyone. If we enjoy putting it out, they tend to go over well with the community.”

For Lakeland, marketing is an intertwine of various strands: literacy, support for women, integration into the community and solid advice — in good times and bad — with a dash of kindness thrown in for good measure. ◊

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