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One of the advantages of being a smaller organization: personality. You are not a big, faceless conglomerate. You have target members, a defined tribe. And, if you’re like pretty much every credit union on the planet, you have a yen to build community, both inside and outside of your organizational walls.

How is this an advantage?

Just a few years ago, a little school supplies company called Yoobi was little more than a cool idea. But in its first full year in business, Yoobi generated an impressive $20 million in sales. How did entrepreneur Ido Leffler take his good idea and parlay it into a sizeable market presence? In addition to talented people and “kickass” products, Leffler says embracing an “awesome cause” made all the difference.

For every item Yoobi sells, it donates a second item to a struggling classroom or child in need. Yoobi’s mission is bold and simple: “One for you. One for me.” Want to see Yoobi in action? Follow the hashtag “#Yoobigives” for links to videos of kids’ boxes of Yoobi supplies at school. When items are purchased at Yoobi’s pilot retail store in Arcadia, Calif., donations are made at schools within a 10-mile radius – to reinforce the idea of community and connection.

“Somebody asked me a few months ago whether cause was a good marketing scheme, and I said, ‘Hell yeah, I wish we could do more of it,’” Leffler told credit unions at THINK 15. “The more we talk about cause, the more we sell. And as long as you’re transparent and as long as you actually do the good, magic happens.”

Are your cause marketing efforts as clear and successful? Although credit unions have been working in their communities for as long as they’ve been around, the brand equity that results is often a mixed bag. This is a missed opportunity. Your community citizenship is central to who you are as an organization. It identifies and attracts the people who comprise your community of members and staff.

How do you make the magic happen?

  • Be bold. Over 750,000 school children received free school supplies in the first 12 months of Yoobi’s existence.
  • Simplify your message. “One for you. One for me.” For every item purchased, a second is donated.
  • Share the success. You can’t watch Yoobi’s video of kids receiving donated supplies without wanting to join in the fun. Don’t report blandly on results: Let members see the payoff.
  • Make the connection. Causes that speak to your particular community reinforce your identity best.
  • Commit. Create your own cause or find one you can champion again and again, so that people associate your organization with your cause over time.
  • Reach out. Leffler suggests sending people out into the community to ask what the needs are. In addition to funds, think about offering the use of space or sharing expertise.

If you create a successful effort, consider taking it one step further by building a customer community around that cause or issue. Hosting a dedicated social space or regular gathering helps like-minded members build their own community within your organization.

The spirit of camaraderie that comes from working toward a common cause is something that doesn’t exist at every financial institution – and it’s something that your target members, your tribe, want to identify with. Use your community work to differentiate your organization. You may not be the biggest, but you stand for something.