No one need wait: the importance of credit union philanthropy

By Gigi Hyland, Executive Director – Anne Frank once noted, “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”

(November 10, 2014) — This quote is particularly relevant this time of year because November 15th is National Philanthropy Day® – a day set aside to recognize and pay tribute to the great contributions that philanthropy – and those people and organizations active in the philanthropic community – are making to improve our lives, our communities and our world.  It’s not only an official day, but also a grassroots movement — a movement to increase public interest and awareness of the importance of philanthropy, as well as knowledge on giving, volunteering and engagement at the charitable level so people can practice effective, impactful philanthropy.

For the National Credit Union Foundation, the credit union movement’s national philanthropic arm, National Philanthropy Day® is a day to underscore and celebrate credit unions’ philanthropic work. Think about it. Credit unions generously give, day in and day out, year after year, of their time, talent and treasure to make their members’ lives better and improve their communities.  They do so by donating backpacks at the beginning of the school year, supporting their local Boys and Girls Clubs, donating food to their local food pantry, collecting winter coats, and the list goes on and on and on.

To highlight the day, we’re focusing on how credit unions make a difference by volunteering to support financial education. At the very foundation (pun fully intended) of credit unions’ philanthropy is their commitment to provide financial education to their members. This is credit union DNA! Helping members improve their financial lives is what credit unions are all about.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on how small companies should give to charities. The article focused on the enhanced value of giving one’s time over contributions to make a difference. Here are some key takeaways:

  • “Why not just write a check? Owners can do that, but hands-on, face-to-face involvement can have even more impact, especially if a business can’t afford to make large cash contributions.
    • ‘It’s fine to just write a check, but volunteering and personal involvement provide a greater connection,’ says Russell Hodge, managing partner of philanthropy advisory Hodge Group in Dublin, Ohio.
  • Besides having meaning to an owner and employees, the cause should be related to the business.
  • Experts and entrepreneurs recommend that business owners ask workers for ideas on causes to support, to gain the backing and gratitude of employees. They also suggest that owners stick with organizations in their own backyard, since their efforts will be more visible to customers and employees.”

So how does this great advice relate to credit unions’ volunteerism around financial education? Well, we thought we’d ask our very own cherished National Credit Union Foundation Board to provide examples from their credit unions. Yes, we put them on the spot. But look at some of the examples we received back!

People’s Trust Federal Credit Union (Houston, TX; Angela McCathran, President/CEO)
Among the many philanthropic activities People’s Trust engages in, financial literacy is key. People’s Trust holds regular financial literacy classes in its community at local schools, the Downtown YMCA, Madge Bush Transitional Center, Houston Area Women’s Center, Burnett Bayland Park and Community Center, and the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans/Sanchez Charter School. In addition, People’s Trust has sponsored two Financial Reality Fairs in the Alief Independent School District. And finally, the credit union held a Sound Financial Strategies: 50+ Seminar Series every Tuesday during the month of October. This series of workshops included topics on elder abuse, Medicare/Medicaid, Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia, and investment services.

Alliant Credit Union (Chicago, IL; David Mooney, President/CEO)
Alliant has incredibly robust youth and adult financial literacy programs which we don’t have room to cover here, but here are a few examples. For youth, the credit union has a partnership with Des Plaines Public Schools and Operation HOPE to deliver financial literacy instruction to all middle school students in the Des Plaines school system. Alliant has been working with Des Plaines Public Schools and Operation HOPE since 2005.  The credit union teaches nearly 500 students a year. In addition, the ACU Foundation purchased full sets of Biz Kid$ (a Foundation partnership with PBS!) and donated them to 12 public libraries in the Chicago area. An example of Alliant’s adult educational outreach is that they’ve been a lead partner with the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation on “Joining Forces Mentoring Plus,” providing women veterans and military spouses with free assistance with finding and keeping civilian careers, including starting and growing a business.

CUNA Mutual Group (Madison, WI; Bob Trunzo, President/CEO) and CUNA Mutual Group Foundation (Madison, WI; Steve Goldberg, Executive Director)
CUNA Mutual Group Foundation is a founding member and major funder of the Dane County Financial Education Center, in partnership with Summit CU and University of Wisconsin CU.  The Center works with low-income residents, including unbanked households, to help them establish a banking/credit union relationship and personal finance skills in connection with their tax refunds.  This is part of one of the largest volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) programs in the U.S.  For the past ten years, the Foundation funded the Earn$ave program of Madison’s CommonWealth Development Corporation, which provides employment and money management guidance for local high school students.  A key feature of this program is an Individual Development Account for each participant at a local credit union.  Earn$ave received a Governor’s Award as Wisconsin’s best financial literacy program in 2010. On the employee volunteering front, CUNA Mutual’s actuaries team-teach the math class at a local middle school.  They use a variety of techniques to make math interesting for the students, including exercises involving interest rates, checkbook balancing, auto purchasing, personal budgeting and other real-life money management situations.  Student response has been extremely positive, and the teachers rave about our actuaries’ impact on the class.

Suncoast Credit Union (Tampa, FL; Tom Dorety, President/CEO)
Aside from their work in their student branches or school workshops, Suncoast does a lot around volunteerism through financial education. For example, every November, as part of the “Great American Teach-In”, they usually have about 100 employees volunteer to go into classrooms and talk about their career and the credit union difference. Throughout the year, they work with many youth groups such as Girl/Boy Scouts, detention centers, churches, summer camps, and so on to do tours of their branches and/or games and workshops with the kids to teach financial education. For college students, they hold informal financial workshops in student housing common areas. The workshops are very casual and they provide food and usually some type of door prize. It’s no surprise then that they are almost always packed!

It really is wonderful that there is no need to wait to improve people’s financial lives. Credit unions’ philanthropic contribution of volunteer time to help people manage their finances and achieve their financial goals is extraordinary. This philanthropy is integral to the different structure and social mission of credit unions compared to other financial services providers. So, on this National Philanthropy Day® 2014, we at the Foundation salute and celebrate all the amazing ways that credit unions improve the world through their philanthropy.

What is your credit union organization doing around financial education volunteerism in your community? Join the discussion or get ideas November 13, 2014 at 3 pm (CT) at the Foundation’s Twitter Chat on this issue. Click here for more information.

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