Many organizations shuttered doors and turned away customers in the wake of the pandemic. But the “Angel of the Year-Business” lived up to its title. Desert Financial Credit Union invested more than $5 million in 2020 to help members ($2,227,200), the community ($1,229,413) and employees ($1,815,279) during this time of need.
The state’s largest credit union and a member-owned cooperative, Desert Financial’s mission to share success fuels a robust focus on philanthropy and community engagement. When the pandemic broke, leaders decided to double-down on that people-first strategy and instead of scaling back, moved ahead with record giving back.
“As an essential service, it was important to do everything in our power to remain open,” said Jeff Meshey, President and CEO at Desert Financial. “It’s critical for people experiencing anxiety to know their finances are protected and accessible. So, we took measures to keep our branch employees and members safe while also creating more ways for them to make contactless transactions,” he went on.
During the pandemic, food banks in particular saw increased demand. “While so many people struggled with unemployment and reduced resources, we also took measures to help our members, community and employees meet their needs,” Meshey said.
Meshey says the health and safety of employees, especially those working in branches, was a top priority. Swift investments were made in masks, biohazard cleaning and enhancements to encourage social distancing. Employees were also invited to apply for special funding to help those struggling financially, and benefits to most employees such as personal time off were increased to improve work and family balance.
To help Desert Financial’s more than 350,000 members remain financially solvent and slow the spread of the virus, leaders at the credit union took swift measures including reducing or eliminating member fees, instituting senior hours and following all CDC recommendations for branch safety. Immediate needs in the community were identified and a $400,000 donation was split between four local food banks. Later a $100,000 donation to St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance was made during their annual turkey drive.
Desert Financial was the first major organization to make a significant donation to the Valley of the Sun United Way Covid-19 relief fund. During the balance of the year, the credit union continued to award scholarships; engage in Random Acts of Kindness, such as providing lunches for grocery and medical staff members; and Teacher Appreciation programs, such as Adopt-A-Teacher. The organization also sponsored two local blood drives and kept pace with employee volunteerism virtually. Support for partners, such as Phoenix Children’s Hospital and causes serving first responders, veterans, children and families, was increased.
“In a year like no other, we experienced record growth, so giving back with record generosity was the right thing to do,” added Jeff Meshey. “We heard about so many small businesses struggling, but so too are nonprofits, as donations have dropped while demand for services increased. We found more ways to say “yes” and looked for opportunities to meet the most immediate needs, such as helping students gain access to laptops to participate in virtual schooling.”
Meshey says in addition to the many donations, grants, scholarships, sponsorships and Random Acts of Kindness, he enjoyed making some holiday surprises too. At the end of December, he and the executive team chose 13 local nonprofits and made phone calls to announce surprise $10,000 donations for each.
The following breaks down just a few of the investments Desert Financial made in 2020 toward safety, relief and wellness:
• Up to 80 Hours of Sick Leave Accrual: $333,162
• Up to 400 Hours of Vacation Time Accrual: $113,000
• Connection-building Workplace Activities: $48,950
• Skip-a-Pay on Consumer Loans: $619,690
• Waiving Regulation D Fees: $595,000
• Suspended Excess ATM Usage & Balance Inquiry Fees: $405,000
• Local Food Banks Donation: $500,000
• Emergency Grant Fund for Partners: $150,000
• Lunch & Medical Supplies for Flagstaff hospital staff: $64,872
During this one-of-a-kind year, Desert Financial was also awarded three fitting honors: Angel of the Year–Business, One of Arizona’s Most Admired Companies Honoree and the number two spot on the list of Best Places to Work.
As a member-owned cooperative, Desert Financial shares dividends with its members, team and community. The credit union that cares recently launched a statewide charter enabling members from nearly every corner of Arizona to join.