Northwest Credit Union Foundation Looks to Expand Its Role in 2014 and Beyond

Northwest Credit Union Foundation board members and guests gather in Seattle to celebrate 2013’s successes and plot a course for 2014 and beyond.

Through scholarships, grants and innovative programming, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation touched the lives of thousands of children and adults in the Pacific Northwest last year. So what’s on tap for 2014 and beyond?

“We’re looking forward to continuing to offer valuable resources and funding that help our credit unions and nonprofits better serve our communities and contribute to building a strong regional economy,” says Kim Vu, the Foundation’s executive director. “And we’re going to do it by working in collaboration with our community stakeholders to create meaningful impact through disciplined evaluation and strategic partnership development.”

That’s the message Vu delivered to the NWCUF board during its annual strategic planning session in Seattle, where an impressive list of accomplishments from 2013 put an exclamation point on the organization’s mission to develop leaders and cultivate opportunities that improve the well-being of Northwest communities.

Those accomplishments also laid the groundwork for taking the Foundation’s mission to the next level in 2014. Among the highlights:

  • Fairshare contributions to the Foundation increased by 15 percent in 2013, to a total of $380,000;
  • Foundation grants totaling nearly $117,000 had a direct impact on consumers, communities and small credit union development, and scholarship awards of more than $132,500 contributed to the professional development of 129 credit union professionals;
  • Financial education programs like Junior Achievement’s JA Finance Park and the Foundation’s own signature Financial Reality Fairs taught basic money-management skills in immersive simulations that asked more than 1,000 students and teachers to work their way through everyday budgeting challenges.  The programs provided added value to schools, educators, parents and students, and introduced the next generation of members to the benefits of credit union membership; and
  • Working with Credit Unions for Kids and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the Foundation leveraged grant funds to help credit unions raise millions of dollars that impacted the families of more than 150,000 sick children — and the people working to make them well — through a variety of fundraising and outreach efforts.

Vu, who is also the Northwest Credit Union Association’s vice president for community investment and social impact, raised the Foundation’s profile in 2013 when she was appointed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to be credit unions’ representative on the board of the Financial Education Public Private Partnership. FEPPP promotes financial education in grades K–12 by providing professional development and instructional tools for teachers so that they can teach personal finance in their classrooms.

Michael Brown, vice president for community leadership at The Seattle Foundation, shares his community insights at the board retreat.

Vu also joined Social Venture Partners to gain a strong understanding of the local venture-philanthropy community and personally volunteer her time and talents, and the Foundation became a member of Philanthropy Northwest, a regional association that serves more than 150 foundations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

“It’s important that we step outside the credit union movement, learn about what is happening in our region and engage in community conversations with other foundations, nonprofits, businesses and local officials,” Vu says. “By doing so, it allows us to build and leverage key partnerships to have an even greater impact. And that results in more positive outcomes not just for credit unions, but also for the overall community.”

Those kinds of partnerships will be crucial in 2014, Vu says, as the Foundation continues to amplify its role as a central hub for connecting credit unions to the community. To that end, the NWCUF will continue to expand current relationships and explore new ventures with a variety of organizations, from The Seattle Foundation and Juma Ventures to Junior Achievement of Oregon & SW Washington, GLOW and Everfi, a nationally recognized online financial-education learning platform.

All of those partnerships will funnel into three main focus areas in 2014 and beyond, Vu says:

  • Asset Building: Reaching out to underserved communities through financial education can catapult individuals and families out of poverty. Vu says the Foundation will focus on financial literacy for children and adults, with an emphasis on K-12 public education and college prep. The Foundation has already updated the curriculum for its Financial Reality Fairs, and Vu is working on a plan to make it easier for credit unions and communities to host their own fairs;
  • Economic Empowerment: Communities thrive, Vu says, when their residents have access to housing and the ability to gain the skills they need to get a job or start a business. The Foundation will therefore focus on small-business development, workforce development, and affordable housing; and
  • Cooperative Development: The Foundation recognizes that it is part of an even larger movement — the cooperative movement — and “that’s a strong community in the Northwest,” Vu says. “We want to ensure we not only support the sustainability of our credit unions in the region, but also that we support our fellow cooperatives who share the values of the cooperative principles. All ships rise when we work together in partnership.”

“We want to unleash the power and potential of every credit union and every credit union employee to impact their community,” Vu says. “We want to be able to say, ‘Here’s what we set out to do, and here’s the difference we made.’”

To do that, the Foundation has partnered with Profits4Purpose to help credit unions effectively manage their community-engagement programs. With Profits4Purpose, the Foundation has created a streamlined application process for grants and scholarships and an innovative online platform that will improve the Foundation’s ability to recruit and manage volunteers and promote volunteer opportunities. And most importantly, credit unions will now have a tool that provides an efficient system for tracking and reporting the impact that credit unions have on the communities they serve.

“Credit unions do so much for our communities, and we want to be able to help them share that,” Vu says. “Tracking and reporting this type of valuable data helps us show the value of what credit unions do for our communities, not just with our members, but also with other community stakeholders like state and federal legislators.”

(Watch for more information about how individual credit unions can leverage the Profits4Purpose platform soon.)

Vu asked board members at the Seattle planning session to serve as advocates and evangelists for the Foundation. Nurturing relationships with community organizations and leaders inside and outside the credit union movement — and increasing awareness of 2013’s successes — will help the Foundation expand its reach in 2014 and beyond, she said.

“We have built strong momentum in 2013 with our strategic vision,” Vu says. “My hope is that our Northwest credit unions and members will feel inspired enough to join us in moving forward to make a big difference in our region.”

 

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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