Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?

I’m on the road a lot this time of year, visiting with a very diverse group of credit unions. We discuss a host of issues and, as you can imagine, there are many recurring themes ranging from competition to compliance. Mix economic uncertainty with the pressure of increased compliance costs and you end up with a lot of stress – and some very unhappy people. Most of you reading this are likely nodding your heads in agreement.

The blessing of being able to visit so many different shops is that I get to observe the “Outliers.” The Outliers are those credit unions who consistently have the happiest people and the best success stories to share. These are the credit unions that just can’t wait to tell you about the needs of their communities and what they’re trying to do about it; whether it’s collecting food for the local food bank, helping members overcome credit issues, or even making that $100 loan to help a very low-income member purchase a bus ticket to attend a family funeral. It’s not that this group is immune from the stressors of the day – believe me they have challenges just like everyone else. But it’s my belief that this group understands what defines them and it gives them the kind of happiness that springs only from selfless service.

After concluding a recent planning meeting with one of my favorite Outliers, I noticed that by the time I reached my rental car I had a large grin and was humming the lyrics of a great song that I have sung since I was a child. If we all asked ourselves these questions every day, the world would be a better place:

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?

Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.

Text and music: Will L. Thompson, 1847–1909

The best community-service Outliers are strategic with their focus. These credit unions know whom they serve and why. They are acutely aware of the needs (usually economic, but not always) of their membership and of potential members. The success and impact of their service is heavily weighted. It’s what they do – keep score – that makes them different, and it’s what makes them happy. This happiness extends from the front-line teller to the chair of the board. The Outliers have a thriving community service culture. It defines them.

Skeptics will probably say, “That’s nice, but it’s all about numbers, growth, profitability and our constant compliance vigilance.” To this, I agree that any community-service model must be sustainable and compliant. However, success today is measured by those who have figured out how to be truly different, and who have a highly focused, inspired and motivated team. It’s difficult to inspire and motivate on the numbers alone. When it comes to profitability and growth – especially in these troubled economic times – my community-service Outliers demonstrate that they are profitable, growing, and, most importantly, making a profound difference in their community and in the lives of their members.

It’s personal and community service that makes our movement clearly different and better. This level of service is not to be confused with the quickest transaction or loan approval. It means being there for our members in times of need. It’s helping them through a rough patch; it’s being there when no one else was. It’s true today, and it has been true from the beginning. Credit union pioneer Roy F. Bergengren said it best: “The real job of a credit union is to prove, in modest measure, the practicality of the brotherhood of man.”

Now, that sounds like something I’m willing to fight for – even if it means putting in more hours for compliance!