Lisa Totaro

A Source of Innovation

Crowd sourcing ideas from CU staff leads to new breakthroughs.

October 25, 2013

Content manager Lisa Totaro sensed that the nonstop flurry of short-term tasks assigned to the marketing department at Sunmark Credit Union in Latham, N.Y., hampered the group’s creativity.

Credit Totaro—who once interned at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum—for a grand-slam solution.

She recalled Filene Research Institute CEO Mark Meyer’s advice that credit unions must leave their comfortable but limiting cul-desac and get on the autobahn of ideas. So Totaro latched on to a concept that companies such as Google and 3M employ.

She implemented Innovation Day last fall, generating diverse ideas from her marketing team, and held another event last month.

“Innovation doesn’t always come from the top down—o?ften it springs from lower levels and moves up,” she says. "That’s a really good sign for the future of our industry.”

Participants must craft a project or idea in a single day, and present their creation the next morning to the rest of the marketing department.

One project that paid immediate dividends demonstrates how Innovation Day can circumvent a classic Catch-22: a productivity tool an employee knew would improve his efficiency—if only he had time to create it.

Another project will be unveiled soon: a “nontraditional employee communication channel” that cuts through the morass of emails, Totaro says.

Sunmark encourages innovation, as evidenced by “crowdsourcing” a wide variety of designs for a new website. Totaro’s team selected a Guatemalan designer’s layout in the open Internet competition.

“Lisa is the true defnition of a leader in that she always puts what’s best for the organization ahead of what’s best for herself,” says Cara Carlevatti, member development coordinator for Great Erie Federal Credit Union in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Totaro belongs to The Cooperative Trust and sits on the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council. She formerly chaired the Credit Union Association of New York’s Young Professionals Commission.

“I’ve had opportunities to grow, and I seek to create opportunities to help other people reach their potential,” says Totaro, CUANY’s Outstanding Young Professional for 2013.