What does Vancity do in the community anyway?

A major project I’ve been working on for the past few months is spearheading the re-architecting and rewriting of all the content in the community area of vancity.com. It’s been a massive project because, well, frankly we never expained the myriad ways we do good things in our community everyday. A little gap I think.

In other words, the very reason I wanted to work at Vancity, and the main thing that keeps me excited to come to work everyday was almost entirely absent from our website. It’s a long story.

So, I’m so extraordinarily pleased to share with you our new MyCommunity area.

vancity.com/MyCommunity

Inside you’ll find out about our four pillars of community leadership (Acting on Climate Change, Facing Poverty, Growing the Social Economy and Being Accountable), what we do in our communities, why we do what we do, what financial products we have that help create positive change, how we help the not-for-profit sector in our local economy, what grants we give out and whole lot more. This project has been absolutely amazing, and I’m really excited about sharing it with you.

I’d love to hear what you all think, especially other CU folks.

Update on community platform.

I want to update my earlier post on using the social web as a community platform.

This morning we launched the Vancity Bike Share. In a nutshell…

Vancity Bike Share wants to see you to get on a bike, share it with others and spread the word about cycling. It is a chance to try alternative transportation, increase your daily exercise and share with your community.

We used ChangeEverything.ca as our platform to engage people and drive them to find out more and register. We ask participants to use the site to blog about their experiences with the bike, and also to find the person they want to pass the bike to after they’ve been riding it for three weeks. In addition to ChangeEverything.ca, we also used Facebook as a way to get the word out.

To be honest I wasn’t sure how it would go. Would people use these online tools to get involved? Could we use the social web to get people to take action? I hoped so, but I wasn’t sure.

But this event proves the power of a social network site. Within a week we had 23 applications to get a bike through the site, and the media attention has driven more people to the site to register and take part in the discussion.

Vancity has two factors working in our favour here: One is that we are local and deeply involved with the local community so the relevance factor is high. We tapped into issues (bike sharing and eco-friendly transportation) that Vancouverites care about and therefore the discussions on the site are meaningful to them. Second is that the values of Vancity, which are well known locally, fit with this initiative. People see it as genuine and trust the process. It doesn’t seem like ‘marketing’.

Asking some of the people who took one of the 40 bikes this morning, four told me they heard about it on Facebook. Amazing that at least 10% came from leveraging this social utility for free.

Read the bike share blog posts on ChangeEverything.ca.

Powerful stuff.

PS: I also need to say that Kate is my new favourite person!

Environmental sustainability as commoditizition insurance.

Wow, that title is a mouthful.

I’ve been thinking about Bank of America a bit lately. As most readers of an FI blog will undoubtedly know, they are making a $20 Billion investment in environmental sustainability over the next 10 years. The money will go to many different things: A big chunk of the money will go to lending to businesses looking to create a more sustainable enterprise. They will also take a more environmentally friendly approach to their own business operations. And lastly, and to me most interestingly, they are rolling out products that have an environmental focus like a WorldPoints Rewards for the Environment (credit card), The Green Mortgage Program and Environmental Home Equity Program.

Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like the things that Vancity, the company I am contracting at does. They have a Clean Air Auto Loan, a Climate Change Mortgage, a Bright Ideas Home Reno Loan and an enviroVISA. Why would BofA do this? I am going to assume that this is a genuine move. I can’t imagine that a company would commit $20 Billion into something they didn’t believe in from both a values and business point of view.

In a vertical where it’s nearly impossible to differentiate yourself based on products, this is a very smart move. If accounts, credit cards, mortgages etc are simply commodities at this point, no different at bank A than at Bank B, then BofA knows that it’s not going to keep or grow its market share by staying the course. It has to stand for something and have a brand that is different from the rest of the players on the marketplace. It will become the green bank, and make a big enough investment into that aspect of its business, that it can truly define its place in the market based, in part, on that.

It must have looked into the future and decided that the environment was going to become a critical issue for consumers over the next ten years and they wanted to get out front early and lead the way. It’s gutsy and brave at this point when so many Americans are still tuned out on the issue. It also has interesting repercussions for a company like Vancity. Granted, Vancity’s a regional player in a different country, but if, say, TD Canada Trust follows suit and does something similar, what would make Vancity unique in the eyes of the consumer? I had never guessed that a big company could compete with a credit union on these types of initiatives.

Now, to be fair, Vancity does all sorts of things around the underbanked and underserved and helping those in poverty start to build asset. But from a consumer point of view, they’re primarily known for their green initiatives. How long will that perception of leading the “green” way last, I wonder. It’s going to be a challenge for the business, but hopefully one that is very good for the environment. It’s especially a challenge that Credit Unions are going to have to start dealing with sooner rather than later.