Morgan Sylvester likes to give away money.
The product manager of deposits and rewards for $2.2 billion asset Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union in St. Paul, Minn., likes any opportunity to help members save more, live better, and feel more cared for by their credit union.
“That’s what makes it worth it—to know that you’re making such a big impact on members who are very hard working,” she says.
So, to Sylvester, a somewhat labor-intensive grant program for middle- to low-income homebuyers seemed like the perfect opportunity to give members a little unexpected boost.
The credit union had participated in the grant program that offered $5,000 to eligible borrowers who remained in their homes for five years before Sylvester took it over.
The program had stringent parameters, including a salary cap and house value cap, and required applicants to spend about an hour of their time answering questions.
The narrow qualifications significantly limited the pool of potential recipients, and the credit union didn’t market the program heavily. Typically, it gave away about $15,000, and even that was a struggle, according to Sylvester.
Still, she thought the program was worth doing. After all, $5,000 is $5,000. She felt that amount of money in a lump sum could make a huge impact on people’s lives.
Once she took the reins, Sylvester dug a little deeper. She combed through applications to identify any members that met the strict criteria. She developed simple instructions, so members knew exactly what was being asked of them.
Then Sylvester raised the award goal from $15,000 to an ambitious $100,000. By June they were close to their target, so Sylvester doubled the goal. And by year end, the credit union had awarded $200,000.
Sylvester grows animated when she talks about the program, and she delights in the opportunity to call members about the grant.
“That is the most fun call you’re ever going to make on a mortgage,” she says.
She recalls one member who was speechless when handed the check. After several moments of staring quietly, he started talking about the improvements he could make to his home with the money.