MANCHESTER, Conn. (9/30/15)--Joanne Todd, president/CEO of Northeast Family FCU, Manchester, Conn., is a self-described “credit union person.” But she could be just as accurately described as a “co-op person.”
Todd’s belief in the credit union member-centric cooperative way of doing business led to her involvement with a local food co-op. Her story serves as a lesson in how a “credit union person” can demonstrate her commitment to the cooperative business model.
Cooperatives, like credit unions, are formed and operated to meet the needs of their members. They leverage the combined strength of their members’ buying power, much like credit unions pool members’ assets and resources to offer financial products and services. They exist for the benefit of their members, not shareholders, and like credit unions, they are not-for-profit.
The Willimantic Food Co-op is among the credit union’s 185 select employee groups, but its relationship with the credit union and Todd individually is even closer. Todd serves on the food co-op’s board and acts as treasurer.
“At some point early in my credit union career, I was starting to explore more about credit unions and co-ops,” she told News Now. “I didn’t start out aspiring to be a co-op person, but along the way I learned more about cooperatives, cooperation among cooperatives, and the cooperative principles, so I thought I really should learn more about this local food co-op.”
Todd “jumped at the opportunity” to serve on the co-op’s finance committee and assist with its strategic planning.
The relationship has been mutually beneficial, Todd told News Now. She brings a level of financial expertise and previous knowledge of cooperatives to the Willimantic Food Co-op.
At the same time, she has learned valuable lessons about member engagement from her work with the food co-op. “They have members who are very committed. Even though food is a commodity, like financial services, food is a little easier to differentiate. They’ve got members who are very tuned into the politics of food, and that level of member engagement is harder for us to achieve at the credit union,” she told News Now.
Todd believes she serves a civic good in furthering the cooperative effort in her local community. “To me it’s vitally important for our community to have a locally owned, successful business that offers healthy, high quality food,” she said. “It’s a special place in our community.”
She also believes more credit unions can learn from similar types of relationships with co-ops. “One of the ways we can differentiate ourselves is by identifying as co-ops and constantly trying to tell our members that they are our owners,” she said. “Members of the food co-op become members of credit unions because they believe in co-ops, local ownership and local control. They are good and loyal members because of that philosophy, so in that way it is a differentiator.”
Todd takes every opportunity to educate her members on cooperatives. As examples she cites the credit union’s annual report and annual meeting, which she said both provide “a natural framework” for showcasing the cooperative difference.
“Co-ops represent a different way of doing business,” she said. “That model offers us both opportunities and responsibilities. It’s something that has to be nurtured and cared for.”