Deborah Donnelly

A designer of disruption

Deborah Donnelly believes diversity of thought is a credit union strength.

September 25, 2020

Deborah Donnelly’s decision to scrap a career in interior design for one at BECU in Tukwila, Wash., has enriched the careers of young credit union professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interior design in 2008, at the start of the Great Recession—not a great year for a degree fully focused on disposable income.

“It was such a great experience to join an organization that truly made me feel like I belonged,” Donnelly says of $22 billion asset BECU. “From there I grew, and people took risks on me as a young professional and helped me grow as a leader.”

She started as a BECU call center representative and today is senior manager of learning and development. Donnelly leads a team of nine who train and develop nearly 300 employees involved in the operations of two call centers.

“We’re setting the stage for who we are as a credit union,” she says. “There’s a lot to uphold in those first few days and weeks of somebody’s employment with us. 

“That’s the legacy I want to continue for all of the people who join us.”

But it’s not just newcomers who get her attention. Donnelly has taken a special interest in developing the careers of young professionals (YP) at credit unions.

She is a 2019 YP Lead with the Northwest Credit Union Association and launched a young professionals group at BECU in July—even in the midst of a pandemic.

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For Donnelly, who has interacted with young professional groups in the U.S. and overseas, involvement by up-and-coming staffers is critical to the industry’s continued vitality.

“The credit union movement has always been a disruptor in the market,” Donnelly says. “If we don’t continue to engage the next generation and allow it a seat at the table, we risk no longer being relevant.

“There is something powerful in having the diversity of thought in how credit unions run and how we innovate,” she continues. “I believe in having both the wisdom of experience and youth involved.”

Donnelly is also taking a new look at how BECU trains call center team members to de-emphasize traditional training methods.

“We’re exploring more adaptive learning, where it’s more hands-on and self-paced and engaging,” she says. 
Donnelly plans to “do this in a way that can honor the experience that people come in with and allow them to learn what they need to learn,” she adds.

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