Community Service Is a Core Value

Hire people with a passion to serve others.

October 1, 2010

Who: Carrie Birkhofer

What: President/CEO, Bay FCU

Where: Capitola, Calif.

I’m proud of Bay Federal’s community service accomplishments: We won the 2010 Governor and First Lady’s Medals for Service Award in the category of California Small Business Volunteer Program of the Year. The award honors an outstanding small business with an innovative, high-impact employee volunteer program. The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County nominated us, in recognition of our volunteer program which has had a 100% employee participation rate for the past seven years. My employees provided the information needed for the nomination, but they didn’t tell me about it because they wanted to surprise me. I found out when I received the phone call that we had won. It’s a great honor.

My impressions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver: The award winners had a private reception with the governor and the first lady. They both spoke about the importance of volunteering and gave personal accounts of why it’s important to them. The first lady asked us questions about our best practices and commended each of us for our accomplishments. The governor shared that when he moved to the U.S. he mainly focused on body building and his acting career. He said he changed when he met Maria, and particularly when he got to know her father, Sargent Shriver, who was the founding director of the Peace Corps. He taught Gov. Schwarzenegger the importance of looking past the mirror and helping people on the other side.

The success of Bay Federal’s volunteer program is due, in part, to: Our seven core values that shape our actions and behaviors. The acronym for our values is PACIFIC, which stands for professionalism, appreciation, care and compassion, integrity, fun and friendly, innovation, and community. Since volunteering for the community is a core value, we seek to employ people who have a passion for serving others.

Staff enthusiasm for community service is infectious because: A group of employees who are passionate about serving others organizes the program. The team, led by our youth financial education manager, selects events for the credit union to sponsor, and each event is managed by one team member. The lead person works with a specific nonprofit organization to coordinate the event by recruiting volunteers, communicating information, and tracking results. The team measures each employee’s participation level and provides recognition and rewards at an all-staff meeting each December. Participation levels vary among employees and from year to year. We find that employees enjoy volunteering because it provides a deeper sense of self-worth through helping others.

Besides our community service record, Bay Federal is special because: The credit union is the largest, locally owned financial institution in our county. We serve 65,000 members within a population of 300,000. Our programs have a noticeable impact on the community. We respond quickly to members’ needs. For example, at the beginning of the recession, we were one of the first financial institutions in our area to develop and implement loan modification programs. I often explain to employees that we have the same $5 bills as the large banks; that is, our products aren’t different from other financial institutions. What makes us different, however, is our belief in the service-to-profit chain.

My management philosophy: If you take good care of employees and provide them with training and growth opportunities, they’ll deliver exceptional service to members, who in turn will do more business with the credit union and tell others about it. We extend this vision to our community by being good stewards to our neighbors.

My long-standing vision for Bay Federal: Grow membership one smile at a time. Our mission is to make a real difference in the financial lives of the people in the communities we serve. One of our strengths is that all employees throughout the credit union share the vision and mission.

Next: Required reading for CU executives

Required reading for credit union executives: “Inside Change—Transforming Your Organization with Emotional Intelligence,” by Joshua Freedman and Massimiliano Ghini.

Favorite movies: For inspiration, I love “The Blind Side,” because it epitomizes how one person can make a huge difference in someone’s life. For a good laugh, I love the classic, “The Long, Long Trailer,” with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, because life is a journey, so let’s enjoy it!

My greatest accomplishment: Balancing work and personal life. I have three children: a 16-year-old daughter, a 13-year-old son, and an eight-year-old daughter. Two were born during my tenure as the credit union’s CEO, and I took four months of family leave for each child. I understand the challenges working parents face, so I try to be sensitive to my co-workers’ personal needs. I’m passionate about children and education. I’m the founding director of a preschool in the area with a focus on parent education, I volunteer at my children’s schools, and I’m involved with the foundation of our local community college.

A typical morning before work: I wake up around 6 a.m., have a cup of coffee, feed my cat, take my dog for a one-mile walk along the ocean cliffs, get my two teenagers and my eight-year-old out of bed, read the paper, exercise on my elliptical, and get ready for work. My husband makes breakfast for everyone. We all leave around 8 a.m.

People who inspire me: People who are positive and have a can-do attitude. I love being around people who are willing to take action and risks in order to improve their lives or the lives of others. I’m fortunate since that describes the people I work with at the credit union. I’m also deeply inspired by nature. I love watching waves crash on the shore, as they have for millions of years. It reminds me that we’re only here for a very short time, so it’s important to enjoy each moment and not take life too seriously.

If I could do whatever I wanted to do every day: I am doing what I want to do every day. I love working at Bay Federal, and with my friends in the credit union industry. Our industry is going through a lot of change and I hope we never lose the special cooperative bond we have with each other. If I could try something new, it would be to live in the country on a farm. I spend so much time in my head, it would be interesting to be outdoors and to do more with my hands.

Favorite California destinations: I have many favorite places, so it’s hard to choose one. I love Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the redwood trees, and the beaches. But, if I had to choose one, it would be Carmel-by-the-Sea.