Developing generations of leadership

Melanie Murphy makes it easier for credit unions to assist members, grow leaders.

September 25, 2020

Reading Melanie Murphy’s resume is like encountering a seasoned Army veteran adorned with row upon row of bars and medals.

There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of the credit union movement she hasn’t been involved in.

Murphy got into the industry when she answered a newspaper ad. “I had no idea what a credit union was. All I knew was that I wanted to get into fundraising, and the job being advertised seemed to offer an opportunity to do that.”

She has never looked back: She’s now spent 30 years with credit unions, including as executive director of the Illinois Credit Union Foundation.

Her first big project for the foundation was implementing Teddy Bears for Kids, where Illinois state troopers were given small teddy bears to place in their patrol cars to soothe children who had just suffered a traumatic event.

Six years ago, she revived the Young Professionals Program she had started some years before.

“At stake was that C-level credit union leaders were nearing retirement age, which generated two major concerns: finding qualified successors and stopping young workers from leaving the industry for lack of opportunities.”

She notes that the Illinois Credit Union League is dominated by small credit unions. “Eighty percent of our members have assets under $100 million, and a majority of those are under $20 million.

“I see how determined they are to help their members without complaint or thought of reward. That’s how these small credit unions deal with their members,” Murphy says.

“Some are so small they can’t make major loans but will lend $300 here or $500 there to help members get through a financial crisis,” she continues. “They do this while trying to stand toe-to-toe against far larger banking industry rivals. For me, they are the Little Engine That Could.”

COVID-19 made the Illinois Credit Union Foundation reallocate its resources.

“That included pulling money out of our reserves—something we had never done,” she says. “It was gratifying when some larger credit unions responded to our efforts by contributing $83,000 to the pandemic fund which focused on the health and safety of recipients’ staffs—medical supplies, extra sanitation aids, PPE.”

In 2019, she launched the Illinois Sister Society, an affiliate of the World Council of Credit Union’s Global Women’s Leadership Network.

“Each chapter decides its own area of concentration,” Murphy says. “For us it’s advancing women into leadership positions across the credit union industry.”

The source of her incredible energy? “It’s easy when you are doing something you love.”

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