Irish credit union assesses social return on investment

A study found that for every euro equivalent invested into Donore CU, €10 of social value was created

Donore Credit Union in Dublin, Ireland, has commissioned a Social Return on Investment study which found that for every euro equivalent invested into Donore CU, €10 of social value was created.

The study argues that – while credit unions are guided by co-operative values and principles, democratically owned and governed and committed to their local communities – articulating these concepts in “a clear, consistent and persuasive manner” can be a real challenge for the sector. The report aims to demonstrate the social impact and social value of credit unions.

The evaluation covered the period from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019, using qualitative and quantitative research. The first phase featured three focus groups one for members, one for volunteers and one for staff, as well as semi-structured interviews with 19 stakeholders.

A second phase involved quantitative research via an online members’ survey, which was also available as a printed survey in the credit union.

A total of 360 eligible responses were gathered, with respondents representing 8% of the total membership. The credit union’s common bond follows the boundaries of the catholic parish of Donore Avenue. To join, locals have to make a one-off payment of €1 and buy at least €10 in share. Respondents gave Donore CU an average satisfaction rating of eight out of ten. Around 53% of them felt that Donore CU provided them with a lot of useful information and advice, with a further 33% saying that they received some useful information or advice from Donore CU.

Another finding was that respondents tended to identify as members of Donore CU, not as customers, believing they had a stake in what the credit union did and that their voices were being heard. Members also said they felt understood by staff members and trusted them. They also said they felt proud in being Ireland’s first credit union. Respondents also said that being a member of the credit union provided them relief from money worries, this being the outcome that delivered greatest value.

Chief executive David McAuley said: “In 2020, we became the first credit union in Ireland to measure and report on our social impact when we released our Social Return on Investment Report. One of the results of this report is it allowed us to manage and focus during Covid-19, a period in which we have grown our loan book and retained full operations.

“By understanding and recognising our social worth we can focus on core values and it is these core values that remain attractive and wanted by members. Equally, we realised what unique values and attributes we had and the necessity to promote and publicise them.

“Credit unions face a lot of doomsayers and naysayers, however, when we appreciate and realise that core values are unique selling points and key differentiators and we are prepared to leverage off these, the possibilities are endless.”

The findings of the study will serve to inform legislators, policy makers and regulators about the total value that a small, local credit union can bring about.

Donor CU says it is open to discuss the process of undertaking a SROI study and the results of the study with any interested parties, both inside the credit union movement and outside it.