Passionate About Community

Success comes from forging relationships with members and local communities.

February 3, 2012

The 2011 winners of CUNA’s Community Credit Union of the Year Award have relied on dedication to credit union values and community involvement for their success. CUNA presented the awards during its 2011 Community Credit Union & Growth Conference in San Francisco.

Sticking to the credit union mantra of helping people at all times allowed $150 million asset Streator (Ill.) Onized Credit Union to reach its current level of community involvement, says Marketing Director Dana Stillwell. The credit union won a first-place award in the category of credit unions under $250 million in assets.

For $952 million asset Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, it’s been about forming relationships with the community and its members, according to Jayne Walshaw, marketing director.

Knoxville TVA Employees received its first-place award in the category of credit unions with more than $250 million in assets. Stillwell and Walshaw offer more insights in this interview with Credit Union Magazine.

CU Mag: What’s key to a community credit union’s success?

Stillwell: It’s really the philosophy of people helping people. But it’s also important that employees work together as a team between all departments, and that staff truly are part of the community.

Walshaw: Staff, on all levels, have to be willing and excited to serve the community.

CU Mag: How have you helped members get through the down economy?

Get Involved and Show You Care

“As financial institutions, we’re serving the members that live, work, or worship in our communities,” says Fidel Gonzalez, president/CEO of First Imperial Credit Union, El Centro, Calif. “We need to show them that we care by supporting different causes in which, in many cases, the members are involved.”

The credit union received an honorable mention for its work in the community in the under-$250 million category at the 2011 Community Credit Union & Growth Conference. In the over-$250 million asset category, BayPort Credit Union, Newport News, Va., earned the honorable mention.

But staff at both credit unions understand getting involved in the community helps the credit union, too. Gonzalez points out that supporting local organizations can be “one of the best marketing tools to promote your services.”

It’s also a way to help tailor the products and services you offer to the needs of your members, says Monte Crowl, BayPort’s vice president of marketing.

“We want to make sure we’re providing financial services and products that meet the needs of the people who are in the community,” says Crowl. “So a lot of what we do in the community is not only support community events, but in a way it’s also market research, because we really find out what’s going on out on the street.”

And in today’s struggling economy, credit unions must jump in to help out community members—sans politics.

“Work with community leaders on issues that can really make a difference,” advises Gonzalez. “Don’t make decisions about who to support based on politics or who they know. Instead, donate and participate where it’s really going to make the biggest impact.

Stillwell: We offer No Hassle loans to help members rebuild their credit, and payroll deductions for loans to help them stay on track. We also offer other payment plans for members having trouble paying—for instance, we accept Visa and MasterCard for payments.

Walshaw: We really try to look for solutions to members’ financial problems. We don’t want the car, or the house, or whatever they’re late in paying for. Instead, we look for a way we can help them, maybe by restructuring their loans or offering them other options like our salary advance loan, the skip-a-payment, or the BALANCE financial fitness program.

Other times we work with businesses in our area, with which we have relationships. If a business is going through an unsure time or laying off people, we’ll ask management if we can come in and be available during the employees’ breaks, or at least direct them to the branch.

CU Mag: Why is it important for a credit union to be involved in the community?

Stillwell: The community will stand behind you when you’re standing behind them. Our board, management team, and staff are extensively involved in the communities we serve. 

From being involved in church and civic organizations to sports sponsorships, the community knows who to come to when it needs help selling tickets, sponsoring an event, or even advertising for an upcoming event—us.

Walshaw: It’s the essence of the credit union philosophy: people helping people—and that’s the most powerful thing that credit unions do. Our branches are located in communities, and they’re really close to those communities and their members.

Our credit union has even been known to cook food for members who couldn’t on their own. And helping people always comes back tenfold.

CU Mag: What advice would you offer newly chartered or other community credit unions?

Stillwell: Never forget the definition of a credit union: a cooperative financial institution owned and controlled by its members, operated for the purpose of thrift, and providing credit at competitive rates and other financial services to its members. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box or be different—it’s good to differentiate yourselves from the competition.

Walshaw: If you have a large staff, sit down as a team to ask them what they feel most passionate about in the community. Let them decide what their major focus will be instead of trying to be everything to everybody.

If that’s where their heart is, then that’s where their passion is. When you light that passion, everything else just falls into place.

LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.