Pay It Forward: The Ripple Effect

Almost a year ago to the day, Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union unveiled a new type of promotion never before seen in the financial industry. They asked people, “If we gave you $10? What would you do for someone else?” For their answers, the credit union gave away $10 to peoplefree — with the assignment to “pay it forward.”

The credit union gave $10 to 182 people, awarding a $1,000 prize to one. For a $2,820 investment, the credit union yielded $1.3 million in tracked PR value.

Skip ahead a year, and you can see other credit unions have clearly taken note. At least three other credit unions — one in Canada and two in the United States — have recently deployed the “Pay It Forward” promotion. It would seem the “pay it forward” concept has transcended itself, creating ripples up through the industry and not just down from one credit union.

Servus Credit Union: ‘Feel Good Ripple’

The credit union then wants you to share your “feel good deeds” on their website. For each story someone shares, they are entered to win one of ten $500 donations. There’s already been over 180 “feel good deeds” submitted. You can read them by clicking here.

The initiative has its own dedicated microsite, Overall, the site delivers a contemporary take on retro-70s themes, subconsciously tapping our inner-hippie. The site is rich with creative, branded language like “keep the ripple alive,” and “let’s make ripples together.” There’s even a “Ripple Counter.”

servus-feel-good-ripple“We’re asking you to make someone’s day. Anyone’s day. All in the spirit of community. Help a stranger carry groceries to their car. Give a calling card to someone far from home. Volunteer to walk dogs for an animal shelter. Do something. Anything! Make someone feel good and inspire them to do the same for someone else.”

The site has built-in functions for people to share the Feel Good Ripple with others via popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Click on the hotlink to share via Twitter, and a new window will appear with an auto-populated tweet: “Join the movement. Make someone’s day and inspire them to do the same for someone else. #ripple”

“This concept of sharing reinforces our strong cooperative beliefs,” the Feel Good Ripple microsite says. “This demonstrates just how different we are from the banks.”

Servus Credit Union’s slogan is “Feel good about your money,” so there seems to be nice brand alignment with this promotion.

Tonawanda Valley FCU – Pay It Forward

tvfcu-pay-it-forwardThe credit union is deploying an almost identical version of Seattle Metropolitan’s original Feel Good promotion.

At a special event this Thursday (October 15th), anyone who answers this question on video gets $10: “If TVFCU gave you $10, what would you do for someone else?”

A panel will select 10 finalists, whose videos will be posted on the credit union’s website. The public will vote on the best idea, and the winner will be awarded “$1,000 to use however they wish in contributing toward their cause.”

Educational Credit Union – Pay It Forward

Same basic strategy here, only it’s $20 free, with the assignment to “create your ripple and pay it forward.”

educational-cu-pay-it-forwardVideo responses to the challenge will be posted on the credit union’s YouTube account. The video with the most comments will pocket $500 and receive a $500 donation to their charity of choice.

Source: Thanks to Market Insights Insiders for bringing these three promotions to The Financial Brand’s attention via their Twitter account.

Jeffry PilcherDon't miss The Financial Brand Forum 2019, the biggest and fastest-growing annual conference for senior-level executives in the banking industry. Join 2,000+ of the best and brightest in banking April 15-17, 2019 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Banks and credit unions that register now save $1,105.00 and pay nothing until next year!

This article was originally published on October 13, 2009. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Jeffry Pilcher says:

    The timing of these events was scheduled to coincide with International Credit Union Day, which is October 15. Do consumers care about Int’l Credit Union Day? No (despite all the effort credit unions put into it). But if you need a date to hold an event, I suppose Int’l Credit Union Day is as good as any.

    And you’re right Brady. There will be credit unions who deploy the “Pay It Forward” blueprint without looking at how it fits with their brand, their audience or their market. For some, like SMCU, it is a reflection of their true character. But for others, “Pay It Forward” could be more of a PR stunt.

    I wonder if Servus could get this guy to Pay It Forward?

  2. Thanks for writing about this Jeffry.

    In my mind, the most interesting aspect of these three initiatives is the fact that all three are launching or holding special events this week. I saw this and couldn’t help but think why now? And, why is all of this happening at the same time?

    After hearing about two of these (Servus and Tonawanda), I did Google search and learned about Educational Credit Union’s efforts and a similar effort from Summit Credit Union (Madison, WI) that was launched in May of this year. You can read more about Summit CU’s efforts on SMCU’s website here:

    While I can see the value here, and it’s obviously been successful for Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union, it does sound like this could easily turn into a bandwagon trend – where other institutions try to replicate all or parts of the initiative. Even within the three listed above, you can see the variances – some of which sound like they could really diminish the overall impact of the campaign – especially when you compare each to SMCU’s effort.

    I can see how replicating the SMCU Pay it Forward campaign could work in many other markets, but I’m concerned that marketers may try to apply the concept without making the direct connection with their specific markets. And as with any copy-cat effort, that can really mean the difference between success and failure.

  3. Christopher Morris says:

    Great post. Summit Credit Union here in Madison is also doing something similar –

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