As the end of the year looms and a new year on the horizon, credit unions across the country are offering members a tangible piece of "the credit union difference:" annual bonuses.

Whether they be paying dividends on shares, issuing interest rebates on loans, or any of the myriad formulas credit unions are using to determine how much money they're going to give back to their members, this, perhaps even more than all the wonderful things that credit unions do in their communities, is probably the single-biggest way CUs can illustrate all of the movement's favorite mottos: "not for profit, not for charity but for service," "people helping people," "philosophy in action," "the credit union difference."

The good works that we feature in every issue of Credit Union Journal on our "Community News" pages are fantastic. One of the reasons credit unions aren't subject to the federal Community Reinvestment Act is because, unlike some other industries, credit unions tend to do the right thing without having to be forced to do it. That's what all of those wonderful charity programs and community involvement efforts are all about.

But as they say: money talks. And it's not just charities and would-be scholarship recipients who are listening. Every single one of those 100 million members is listening.. And every single one of them can become an evangelical opportunity.

There are credit unions out there that have been offering some sort of "annual give-back" from time immemorial and rarely miss a year. There are some that have just recently jumped on the annual bonus bandwagon. Some just quietly issue the funds to members. Others make as big of a PR and marketing splash with it as they can.

Among some of the credit unions that have already made headlines with news of their annual dividends:

  • Goldenwest CU, Ogden Utah, paid out more than $1 million in bonus dividends to members.
  • Founders FCU, Lancaster, S.C., awarded more than $5 million in loyalty dividends, bringing the total amount paid out over the last 22 years to $45 million.
  • Orion FCU, Memphis, is paying a 1% dividend to all premium checking account holders.
  • Workers' FCU, Fitchburg, Mass., is giving back more than $2.5 million to its members for the second year in a row.
  • Charter Oak FCU, Waterford, Conn., has awarded more than $393,000 in cash bonuses as part of its Gold Rewards program.

Yes, credit unions should be "living the philosophy" every day.  And many of them are, judging by the sheer number of press releases I receive on a daily basis detailing the various and sundry ways credit unions are giving back to their communities. But there is something to be said for making that once-a-year grand gesture
The "credit union difference" is comprised of a number of aspects and means different things to different people. Certainly, one of the most notable differences is that they are not for profit. Many point to the volunteer boards of directors. The tendency to charger fewer (and lower) fees, to offer better interest rates on loans and shares is another common selling point.

These are everyday things, and they're incredibly valuable. But it's a great time of year to pull out all the stops and give your members something to talk about. Think of it as putting money where your members are.

Give those 100 million mouths something to talk about, and you'll have discovered a gift that keeps on giving.

Editor in Chief Lisa Freeman can be reached at lisa.freeman@sourcemedia.com.