Giving Back: How Ally Got It Right

By Kate Young

Finding the right channel for your bank’s charitable giving can be a bit like finding the perfect gift for a loved one. After all, gift-giving—whether it’s personal or charitable—is an opportunity to create bonds, deepen relationships, and show who you are. Banks can’t afford to squander that—more than ever, a bank’s survival may depend on its ability to truly matter as a member of its local community.

That’s why it’s essential to have a community involvement strategy that fits your brand. Developing one is hard. But identifying what works when you see it in action is easy. In this season of giving, Ally Financial’s recent bicycle building event in Miami caught our eye.

A $157 billion online financial institution with no branches, Ally is hardly a community bank. But take a look at what Ally’s people did to make a community connection, right in time for the holidays. And consider how they nailed it.

They gave brand new bikes to kids in need.

Earlier this month, Ally held its Automotive Leadership Academy conference in Miami for car dealers who participate in its auto financing business. As part of this training, participants sat in on a panel discussion on the importance of giving back—then broke out into small groups to assemble bikes for kids. When the bikes were built and ready to go, conference attendees were in for a surprise: a busload of 22 kids from the local Boys & Girls Club arrived, and the excited children selected their new bikes there on the spot.

“This was such a heartwarming surprise for our kids,” said Ronny Vera, director of the Boys & Girls Club of South Beach. “There is a great need in our community, and we are thankful not only for Ally’s donation of bikes today, but also that the company is inspiring other businesses across the country to get involved and make a difference.”

Of course, this time of year, businesses everywhere sponsor toy drives and fund raisers. What makes this one stand out?

They scaled the effort to make a personal impact on everyone involved.

As a large bank, Ally has the advantage of a robust charitable giving infrastructure with well-developed strategies and programs. Jacqueline Howard, Ally’s director of Corporate Citizenship told us that “Ally supports a culture of giving back with 7,000 employees based around the country, who are encouraged to volunteer and get involved in company-wide giving initiatives.” So if you suspect they have the capacity to hand out hundreds of bikes across the nation, you could possibly be right.

But Ally also recognizes the importance of a local focus. By providing a hands-on team-building activity for conference attendees—plus face-to-face contact with the kids who received the bicycles—what might otherwise have been an anonymous mass donation became a potentially life-changing event for the people who were there.

They designed the effort to have a ripple effect.

Even though the kids involved were from the local Miami community, the conference attendees were auto dealers from all over the country. That’s not a coincidence.

Ally introduced charitable giving as a new topic for this year’s automotive leadership conference. The thinking was that charitable giving can help strengthen and enhance the reputation of dealerships in their own communities. The hope was that conference attendees would be energized by the experience, and inspired to continue a program of community giving in their own hometowns.

“One of our goals at Ally is to spread awareness to our dealer network about the importance of giving back,” Howard said, “not only because it has positive reputational and business impacts, but also because it’s the right thing to do. We want to encourage and support dealers in their efforts to give back, and this event was a great example.”

They chose an activity that reinforced their brand.

Why bikes? Why kids? In case a bicycle giveaway seems like an odd match for car dealers, and children seem irrelevant to banking, we asked Ally to break it down for us.

“The Ally Automotive Leadership Academy was focused on learning, education and leadership,” Howard said, “so we felt the bike building activity worked nicely with that focus. It was also a nice tie in for the holidays, to be able to give a gift to local children in need.”

Of course, any online bank with no branches faces the risk of losing its human face in the minds of its customers. One way to mitigate that is to send bank employees out into their local communities as visible ambassadors of the brand. As it happens, one of the basic tenets of Ally’s giving strategy is to match employee donations and support employee volunteerism.

They passed on the oversized check photo-op.

You know what we’re talking about: the classic photo of a bunch of suits holding a giant check. Whatever resonance that image once might have held has faded over time. Ally didn’t go that route.

Instead, get a load of these kids with their new bikes.

Do you remember what it felt like to get your first bike? Yeah. So do we. Who knew that a bank brand could be capable of replicating that feeling in others? Imagine what else might be possible if we put some careful thought into it.

Kate Young is the content editor of Email: [email protected].