Helping Credit Unions Tackle Weighty Societal Issues

The work credit unions do to support their members and communities is part of the “People Helping People” philosophy that’s in their DNA — it’s the true reason they exist.

Over the decades since their inception as non-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions evolved to meet contemporary expectations for member services that build financial health and increase vitality in the communities they serve. The spirit of stewardship instilled in them by their charters as cooperatively structured financial institutions continues to drive their intentional focus on providing true value to their members and creating a deep positive impact in their communities.

Increasingly, however, society expects credit unions to tackle some of the most challenging issues facing their members and communities, including buoying underserved and rural communities, blunting the affordable housing crisis, wrestling with the opportunities and challenges of the post-pandemic world.

“That’s a lot to ask of an individual credit union, especially a small one,” said Gene Pelham, Board Chair of the NWCUF and President and CEO of Rogue Credit Union in Medford, Oregon. “But by coming together and tapping into their innate collaborative and cooperative natures, credit unions have huge potential for having a deep positive impact on some of the most daunting challenges facing society today.”

By aligning the NWCUF’s strategic focus to help Northwest credit unions address such challenges collectively, the Foundation is helping credit unions magnify their positive community impact, said Sharee Adkins, Executive Director of the Northwest Credit Union Foundation (NWCUF).

“Our role at the Northwest Credit Union Foundation is to champion, expand, and accelerate your credit union’s hard work to foster the financial well-being of your members and the vitality of the communities you serve,” Adkins said. “We do this by leveraging resources—both from within and outside the credit union space—and by keeping our finger on the pulse of community and social issues that affect credit unions and their members.”

As a convener, Adkins said, the NWCUF can help credit unions working on similar challenges to join forces and expertise, leverage resources, and foster relationships with helpful or like-minded local or regional non-profits, government programs, and philanthropic organizations.

As an example, Adkins pointed to the Foundation’s initiative focused on increasing access to financial services in rural communities—where three Northwest credit unions are using NWCUF grants to conduct demographic studies and develop local relationships that will help them better understand the unique characteristics of rural households. By deepening their knowledge of rural populations, she said, credit unions are better equipped to develop and innovate financial services needed for these communities to thrive.

“Across Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, we are partnering with credit unions to develop, test, replicate, and scale innovative responses to uniquely rural issues,” Adkins recently told MAXX attendees, the NWCUA’s annual conference.

Northwest Credit Unions’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, convened by the Foundation and the NWCUA, is another example, Adkins said. The Task Force’s recommended best practices for credit unions looking to advance their DEI work as employers, financial institutions, and community partners already is helping credit unions develop policies for their organizations and memberships, no matter where they are in their DEI journey.

Workforce housing, where more than $800,000 in grant funding has been awarded to credit unions since 2018 to increase access to housing, and helping students with the cost of a college education through the Foundation’s MESA program are other examples of how the Foundation can help Northwest credit unions maximize their positive community impact.

“I am so proud of how Northwest credit unions have defined impact in such a holistic way, and with such significant positive effect on the people and communities you serve,” Adkins said at MAXX. “And friends, we have so much more to do together.”

Moving forward, Adkins said the NWCUF stands ready to explore ways to help Northwest credit unions maximize their positive community impact no matter what challenges they face.

“The Credit Union Movement is founded upon collaborative principles that helped it grow to include more than 8.1 million members in the Northwest,” she said. “By coming together and facing challenges as one, Northwest credit unions make amazing things happen for their members and their communities. The NWCUF would be honored and humbled to help them make the most of that work.”

To find out more about how the Northwest Credit Union Foundation can help maximize your credit union’s positive impact, please visit its website at NWCUF.ORG  or email the team at [email protected].

Posted in Foundation.