// December 6th, 2010 // No Comments » // Catalyst
Most reality shows offer up entertainment value but usually not a whole lot more, either for the participants or the audience. Yes, there are the occasional winners such as Susan Boyle whose life is totally transformed as a result – but for most, it’s the obligatory fifteen minutes of fame and then on to the next flavour du jour.
Which is why a programme currently running in Wisconsin caught our eye. It’s called Project Money, and although the scheme is being documented by local broadcaster WKOW, it’s primarily a marketing initiative run by the Summit Credit Union, a Wisconsin financial institution.
Project Money is now in its second year after a well-received initial outing. The project began in March 2009 with an invitation to local households in the region to share their financial challenges and dreams – and put themselves forward to be selected for a seven-month project to “to learn how to ‘do more’ with their money and achieve financial success in any economy.”
In the first year, the Summit Credit Union chose four participants that constituted a representative cross-section of their target markets:
a family of five busy remodelling their house and needing to get their spending under control
a young family who had recently experienced big life‐changing events requiring a big budget overhaul
a single‐parent family of two playing catch‐up on bills and mortgage payments following a divorce and layoff; and
a single, first‐generation college student working full‐time and struggling to dig herself out of debt
The objective of Project Money: for participants to increase their savings and decrease their debt (whilst learning good money management habits for life). The participant who achieved the greatest improvement in their financial situation stood to win $10,000.
Each of the participating families met regularly for seven months with a Summit Financial Coach whose role was to provide them with the plans, tools and advice they should need to accomplish their financial goals.
Their ongoing progress and unique stories were featured on WKOW Channel 27, on Summit’s web site and online blog, as well as in various media outlets and member communications.
The local community was also invited to take part in the Project Money challenge, through web-based tips, tools and challenges intended to help consumers achieve their own financial goals.
So what happened? The competition was judged a great success, and made a huge difference in the lives of the four family participants, as well as community members who followed their progress during the seven‐month‐long programme. Not only did they learn how to ‘do more’ with their money and achieve financial success, the four competing families collectively boosted their savings by $8,927 and decreased their debt by $32,712.
And the big winner? Single mom Rachel, who increased her savings by $3,316 and reduced her debt by $14,407. How did she do it?
“Throughout Project Money, I established many new habits, such as balancing my checkbook before I go into a store, delaying purchases to make sure I really needed it, grocery shopping instead of eating out, spending at garage sales or second-hand stores instead of at retail and — what made the biggest difference — living on what I make vs. supplementing my income with my credit card.”
And how did Summit Credit Union fare? Despite the economic chaos that was Fiscal America in 2009, Summit had a strong year and even made a profit. Project Money is indicative of the types of community support initiatives that the Credit Union (a financial co-operative) is undertaking in its region, often with excellent results.
From a marketing perspective, Project Money was right “on brand” for Summit. Community Engagement is at the heart of the organisation, and encouraging fiscal responsibility (whilst demonstrating the core skills of Summit advisers) resonated strongly with more commercial messages. No wonder Project Money is back again for 2010.