Founded in 1951, Rivermark operates as a not-for-profit financial cooperative that is owned by members and managed by a Board of Directors. Unlike traditional banks, Rivermark — and other credit unions like it — focus their strategic vision on its members. “Although banks offer many of the same financial services as a credit union; we are inherently opposite in our structure,” said Hayley Andrews, Rivermark’s Community Development Specialist. Rivermark is a not-for-profit cooperative, which means all the interest and income the credit union gets from mortgages, auto loans, and other financial accounts get transferred back into benefits for its members. Because of its commitment to its members and the community, Rivermark has continued to grow for nearly seven decades and now has seven branches across Oregon.
In addition to their success as a financial institution, Rivermark has a rich history of volunteerism and giving back, which makes them a huge asset to the Portland community and the NobleBridge initiative.
RIVERMARK'S HISTORY OF GIVING BACK
“Since we are a co-op,” Andrews shared, “it’s vital to our success as a credit union that our members are happy and financially healthy.” This is more than just a simple statement; it’s a guiding principle in all that Rivermark does (and they do a lot). The credit union has an extensive philanthropic portfolio, which includes raising money for small businesses, breast cancer research, schools, hospitals, and numerous other causes. The Rivermark staff are also devoted volunteers.
According to Andrews, one of the biggest volunteer relationships the credit union has is with the Oregon Food Bank, which provides over 55 million pounds of food to people in need each year. Rivermark has a designated coordinator at each of the food bank’s district centers, and their job it is to plan Rivermark’s group days at each location. Thanks to this relationship, Rivermark staff contributed over 105 hours of service and helped repackage 20,000 pounds of perishable food in 2018.
Rivermark is involved with other organizations doing good in the Portland area, too, including Junior Achievement’s BizTown. They also created a Warmth Drive in connection with Join PDX and managed to donate over 3,000 warm clothing items between members and staff in 2018. The credit union’s staff also volunteers to restore and protect Oregon’s nature parks and waterways, and partnered with Friends of Trees in 2018 to plant native trees and shrubs in Powell Butte Nature Park.
Because the staff is passionate about food security and providing meals to local families, the credit union also partnered with their local NBC station to run the Great Food Drive, an event that runs every March. “It’s more and more successful every year,” Andrews said. “We put food donation bins in all locations and accept monetary donations to the Oregon Food Bank’s account. It’s amazing to see the community pooling resources to make a huge collective impact!”
But Rivermark staff don’t just go out into the community to give back; they also volunteer on their very own turf. Rivermark’s headquarters now offers “Crafter-noons,” which allows staff and credit union members to get crafty while supporting a cause. Some Crafter-noons, members hang out while knitting and crocheting hats for preemies in neonatal intensive care, but other times they have painted canvases with the theme of diversity and inclusion. These canvases will be sold at future events to benefit an LGBTQ alliance and the Rivermark Community Fund.
Rivermark also created the Rivermark Community Fund, which has provided grants to nonprofit organizations that support small businesses via access to capital and other resources that improve economic vitality in the community. The Rivermark Community Fund was created in 2016 and, in 2017, a $20,000 grant was given to The Next Door and their Promoting Prosperity Program, which provides education, business planning resources, and guidance to help Latino entrepreneurs set up or expand their businesses. They also provide assistance to entrepreneurs by helping secure funding to make their dream a reality. The annual golf tournament, which supports the Fund, takes place each August. As of August, 2019, Andrews said the credit union is on track to hit $30,000 raised — an impressive number to be sure. That money will be used to support a new focus for the fund: housing affordability and access.
As if all of their community engagement wasn’t enough, Rivermark also believes in improving the financial literacy and financial wellbeing of their members, as well as people in need.
FINANCIAL LITERACY PROGRAMS WITH RIVERMARK
“Among the 220 staff at Rivermark, there is a huge wealth of knowledge in money matters,” Andrews said. Because of this, the credit union chooses to put that expertise to good use through financial literacy programs. To maximize their reach, Rivermark has joined forces with Financial Beginnings, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that enlists the help of financial professionals and connects them with school and community organizations. “Using the Financial Beginnings framework and curriculum,” Andrews explained, “we can go in and make an impact right away.”
The best part of working with Financial Beginnings, Andrews added, is that the organization offers a range of programs for a wide spectrum of individuals — from kindergarteners to at-risk youths to economically vulnerable adults. Financial Beginnings also works with organizations in prisons and jails to help increase financial literacy among incarcerated individuals. “We love being able to put our knowledge of budgeting, borrowing, savings, and how to live a financially healthy life to good use,” Andrews said.
On top of their work with the Financial Beginnings program, Rivermark also recently held a “Financial Fitness Fair,” which was entirely free to anyone in the community. A speed dating-style roundtable, experts from different fields in finance held conversations with community members about home-buying, investments, fraud, banking, credit-building, and more. The fair served as “a one-stop-shop” to answer people’s burning questions about money. Participants were given a passport and if they collected signatures from two experts, that passport served as their raffle ticket. The turnout was massive, and many people walked away with information they could use in their own financial lives — something the credit union is incredibly passionate about. The team hopes that this event turns into a seasonal affair, with more and more people from the community coming to learn. To do so, Andrews has been focusing on building a culture of volunteerism, and the structures to support it.
CREATING STRUCTURE AROUND VOLUNTEERISM
In 2016, Rivermark began focusing on corporate volunteerism and creating structure that enabled their employees to work within the community. Prior to this, Andrews said employees gave back mostly through individual volunteering, but now — especially with the help of her position as Community Development Specialist — she and the Rivermark team are better able to mobilize group efforts. “We doubled our volunteer hours in the past two years, and I hope to double it again this year,” Andrews shared.
To better empower Rivermark’s staff to give back to the community both in groups and as individuals, the credit union now offers 16 hours a year of volunteer time off (VTO) to all staff. Employees can use it however they’d like, whether it’s for a nonprofit with 501(c)3 status or for a less formal need they want to fill in the community. “[VTO] is a fantastic way for the company to say ‘thank-you’ to those who are already volunteering, and it’s a nice incentive to encourage those who haven’t volunteered before to get involved,” Andrews stated. “The VTO really helps mobilize people to engage in collective activity for a good cause.”
In addition to offering VTO, Rivermark also surveyed employees to get a better sense of what charitable causes are close to their hearts and what organizations they would like to support through volunteering. Andrews then took that feedback and manually searched for opportunities, adding them to Rivermark’s internal calendar. This made it easy for staff to accommodate volunteering into their work weeks, but the process of searching for opportunities was time-consuming for Andrews.
It also didn’t build strong relationships within the community as quickly or effectively as she had hoped. That’s why Andrews and the Rivermark staff were so excited about NobleBridge and the access it provides to NobleHour, a volunteer tracking tool. “Now our employees can have the ability to search for opportunities, Andrews explained, “[and we can] get our nonprofit partners on there so we can have a consolidated resource.”
When asked why Rivermark decided to use NobleHour Andrews responded:
It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for us. I’m building out our volunteer program now, and we were looking for a platform to track hours and impact. But nothing had as robust a program or geo-location… It was a pretty easy decision.
Organization-wide, Rivermark is hoping to double their volunteer hours in 2019. She’s also excited about the opportunity to create a stronger network of nonprofits and co-op credit unions. Using NobleHour, Andrews is making it easier for the Rivermark team to track volunteer opportunities, communicate with partners and fellow credit unions, and generally make more of a difference in the area. She’s also incentivizing the staff to track their hours. She does so by randomly logging in to her NobleHour dashboard to see who has tracked their hours. Whoever has most recently added hours gets a gift card. It’s a simple way to touch base with the organization’s impact, she said, and it’s a fun way to get people on board.
After about six months of using NobleHour, the credit union has logged 407.50 volunteer hours, totaling $10,363 in economic impact. These numbers put them in the running for most engaged partner in NobleHour’s volunteer challenge initiative. If they win, Rivermark will be able to choose an Oregon nonprofit to receive a $10,000 grant — something Andrews says the entire team will be motivated to win.
RIVERMARK’S ONGOING COMMITMENT THE COMMUNITY
There’s no denying that Rivermark is committed to giving back to the community. But Andrews, whose role is devoted to building Rivermark’s engagement within the community, knows that this level of generosity is just the tip of the iceberg for the credit union’s staff.
As Andrews said herself, Rivermark is so much more than a credit union: “Instead of an industry,” said Andrews, “we consider ourselves part of a co-operative movement.”
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By NobleHour Staff:
Director of Marketing
Allison is the Director of Marketing for TreeTop Commons, and its products; NobleHour and Collaboratory. A Portland native, Allison volunteers regularly for community nonprofits that support sustainability programs, and at her childrens’ school teaching art literacy.