Laying the foundation for a Foundation of your own

When attending industry events and conferences across the country, we often get asked how we started our credit union’s nonprofit Foundation. The best way to explain how we did this is to start our story from the beginning.

Coastal leadership saw a need for philanthropic giving to organizations that were impacting our members and the communities they lived in. One of our guiding cooperative principles is concern for community. Giving is a perfect opportunity to care for our community. So, we created our Foundation in 2011 with assets donated by an affiliated organization. Initially, we structured our Foundation as a donor-advised fund within the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation and relied on them for our administrative needs.

After a few years, we knew we wanted to take the Foundation to the next level, provide more giving opportunities, and create more impact for our employees and members. Here’s how we did it.

  1. Built a roadmap

Our credit union is intent on giving back to our communities and we knew there had to be a more structured way to do this, so we started the Coastal Credit Union Foundation. We wanted to use the Foundation as an extension of our existing corporate philanthropy efforts, and we were funding the Foundation with donations from Coastal in the very beginning. We put together a thoughtful roadmap to help us better understand where we were at the time in 2011 and the direction we wanted to take with the Foundation in the future. The roadmap served as an excellent planning tool for us to understand and grasp the true potential of the Foundation.

  1. Held strategic planning sessions

To get started, we held several strategic planning sessions led by the then-CEO of Triangle Family Services who also served on the board of the Foundation at that time. This helped us define what our mission and focus areas should be. We held strategic planning sessions again a few years later to bring forth and refine what are now our current focus areas. The strategic planning sessions, married with the roadmap, helped bring the Foundation to the next level. These planning sessions also helped us narrow our strategic giving priorities. Because of this, we have identified that the Foundation’s top priorities for community focus are non-profit projects that work to support financial education, increase affordable housing, promote financial well-being, and improve access to resources.

  1. Refined the funding model

As part of our strategic planning sessions, we decided to create a new funding model that still funneled in the donations from our credit union, but we also tied it to our member debit and credit card use as a way to connect our members to our philanthropic efforts. By tying our donations to a member activity, we could achieve this goal. Doing this also significantly boosted what we have been able to donate. Each time a member uses their debit or credit card, we take a penny from the fee we receive from the merchant and donate it to the Foundation. It may seem like a small amount, but those pennies add up to more than $300,000 each year to help the communities we serve.

  1. Challenged our team to think bigger

Five years after launching our Foundation, our board challenged us to do something big and exciting with the Foundation. We held more strategic planning sessions and decided to host an event that we called the Power of Sharing Gala. The Power of Sharing Gala was created to bring together all the nonprofit organizations and local businesses we partner with to highlight their collective efforts. The Foundation, along with our community business partners, teamed up to award individual and collaborative grants to these deserving organizations. The Gala not only highlighted the Foundation’s efforts, but more importantly shined the spotlight on the incredible impact that these nonprofits have had on our communities.

  1. Assessed plans for the future

Most recently, I was appointed as the executive director of the Foundation, and we applied for our 501(c)3. The most significant reasoning behind wanting to make the Foundation our own 501(c)3 is that members and employees can donate to our Foundation and receive tax benefits. It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to be part of something bigger and see the grant funding happen because of their donations. Having our own 501(c)3 structure also gives us a lot more flexibility and better supports our long-term vision for the Foundation.

Going forward, we will continue to look for organizations to support that are marking impacts in the communities we serve. We partner with these organizations not only for grant funding, but also to provide volunteer hours for our employees, opportunities for education, financial services and more.

As a grant-awarding organization, we identify submissions of the highest quality when supporting specific causes. Since inception in 2011, the Coastal Credit Union Foundation has provided more than $5 million in community grants. We are proud to share that we have pledged $1 million a year from Coastal to the Foundation for five years, which will help us continue to expand our impact across our footprint.

Emily Nail

Emily Nail

Emily Nail, CUDE, is the Vice President of Cooperative Strategies and Executive Director of the Coastal Credit Union Foundation. She collaborates across cooperative industry lines to share ideas, create innovation ... Web: Details