Jim Nussle

When events rip up strategic plans, focus on the basics

Our basics are our core principles—why we’re here in the first place.

July 1, 2020

At CUNA, 2020 was the last year in our three-year strategic plan. With the constant support of our board, incredible work from our staff, and critical engagement with leagues and credit unions, we were on our way to hitting high marks across our strategic plan.

But then 2020 turned into a year none of us could have predicted. As we all cope with the immediate challenges and fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19), one way to stay balanced is to focus on the basics.

Our basics are our core principles—why we’re here in the first place. For CUNA, that’s to help credit unions support their members.

For credit unions, our movement’s mission of “people helping people” is the foundation of our purpose.

I’m not saying to forget your strategic plan. They are incredibly important in driving organizations forward and CUNA, for one, has benefited greatly from developing an association-wide plan.

But I do know COVID-19 has jerked all of us out of gear. While it’s been a shock, it’s also an opportunity.

In a crisis, priorities come into focus. All the stuff that muddles the waters when we’re chugging along just falls away.

I’ve seen just how quickly the credit union mission came into focus as soon as COVID-19 altered our lives. We didn’t need a COVID-19 playbook to jump into action.

Credit unions responded with “people helping people.” Our movement did what we do best: we listened to members and offered support.

CUNA estimates 80% of credit unions extended some kind of new loan for members impacted by COVID-19. So many credit unions offered skip-a-payment, loan modifications, and fee waivers, and facilitated thousands of Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses.

‘I’ve seen just how quickly the credit union mission came into focus as soon as COVID-19 altered our lives.’

The “people helping people” mission isn’t just about helping members, it’s also about our communities and our own employees. There are countless examples of credit unions donating masks and meals to essential workers in their communities—like in Detroit, where $400 million asset Diversified Members Credit Union donated $15,000 to the city’s Feed the Frontlines initiative.

“People” also includes our incredible financial first responders. None of the inspiring work gets done without the dedication and perseverance of credit union staff.

It was fantastic to see how many credit unions recognized that vital contribution through supportive policies like free lunches, flexible work schedules, and extra sick days for those testing positive for COVID-19.

In May, CUNA social media channels started #ThankYouThursday to recognize our financial first responders. The support from credit unions and leagues shows just how valued our workers are throughout the movement.

It’s not just credit unions that stepped up to support financial first responders and members when COVID-19 struck. The National Credit Union Foundation and league foundations quickly jumped into action—like the Iowa Credit Union Foundation, which raised more than $700,000 to disperse emergency relief grants.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, our movement did what we do best: we advanced communities and supported members’ financial well-being.

We may have had to adjust our 2020 strategic planning goals, but in times where the world feels upside down and businesses across the country are being crushed, it’s important to remember that if we return to our basic mission we’ll find a way to succeed.

As we get through the initial shock of COVID-19, we all have an opportunity to re-evaluate our strategic plans. The events of 2020 may have forced some changes, but the credit union movement’s priorities won’t be shaken by this crisis or anything we face in the future.

JIM NUSSLE is CUNA’s president/CEO.