How a Northwest CU is Supporting Black Communities In Seattle and Beyond

Seattle-based BECU has been on a journey the past three years to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.

“We’ve been doing work internally to ensure we are a more equitable organization, not just for our members but also for our employees,” says Gloria Dixon, Manager of Philanthropy at BECU.

In 2018, BECU kicked off its Belonging, Inclusion, and Leveraging Differences initiative. Subsequently, the credit union developed an internal dashboard to track employee representation, introduced respectful workplace guidelines for employees, developed a member code of conduct to ensure employees feel safe and empowered in their work environment, and hired a Vice President of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Jackie Martinez-Vasquez, to oversee further projects.

Then, in May 2020, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while in police custody. His death spurred renewed calls for social justice and inspired individuals as well as organizations to reconsider their actions and operations. At BECU, Floyd’s death prompted leaders to reach out to Black employees to inquire about their well-being and determine what BECU could do.

“They wanted to know our thoughts about the current climate, both in our personal lives as well as in our lives as BECU employees,” Dixon says.

Behind the scenes, BECU’s executives — including CEO Benson Porter and Chief Marketing Officer Tom Berquist — were discussing how the credit union could act as a catalyst for support of the Black community.

In short order, Porter put out a statement in solidarity with the Black community. BECU also started putting its money where its mouth was.

The Black Community Development Project

In August 2020, BECU began having conversations with two organizations that it believes strengthen both the credit union and its cooperative spirit: the African-American Credit Union Coalition and the Black Future Co-op Fund, which is led by four Black women CEOs. BECU is providing financial support to both organizations over the next five years.

“These were significant donations that supported the Black community and two groups that mean a lot to our credit union,” Dixon says.

In October, BECU announced a $5 million commitment over the next five years to support racial equity through its Black Community Development Project (BCDP). The project, a partnership between BECU’s social impact team and its Black Alliance Cooperative employee resource group, is a philanthropic fund that is managed by BECU’s Social Impact team.

The fund focuses on the overall health and well-being of the Black community and looks to support nonprofit organizations that are led by Black leaders and employees representative of the communities it serves.

In 2020, BECU created four categories for BCDP’s efforts: member-inspired nonprofit capacity building donations, community impact grants, corporate/credit union-inspired projects, and employee-inspired gift matches.

  • Nonprofit capacity building donations: BECU provided $150,000 to five nonprofits nominated by employees and members and narrowed down by the Black Alliance Cooperative. “These are organizations that are doing great work in their community, but they’re doing it on a shoe-string budget,” Dixon says. “These organizations rarely get access to philanthropic dollars.”
  • Community impact grants: BECU invited nonprofits focused on the overall health and well-being of the Black community to submit grant proposals and allocated $450,000 from the BCDP pool.
  • Corporate social and credit union-inspired projects: BECU donated to the Black Future Co-op Fund and the African-American Credit Union Coalition.
  • Employee-inspired gift matches: BECU matched employee donations 2:1, up to $100,000, to 10 nonprofit organizations.

Soliciting employee and member suggestions for nonprofits to support is a valuable part of this program, Dixon says, that both boosts engagement among these populations and brings awareness to nonprofits that might otherwise be unknown to the credit union.

“There is no one list of all the Black nonprofits in Washington,” Dixon says. “Some of them, due to their size, are hidden or their executive has another full-time job. Our employees and members open us to nonprofits we might not have found.”

And that’s important. According to a local study by the Black Future Co-op Fund, 73% of black-led nonprofits or community groups have fewer than five full-time staff, 44% have an operating budget of less than $250,000, 67% have three months or less of cash reserves, and 60% cite insufficient staff capacity as the primary challenge in securing funding.

Donations from BECU to organizations such as NW Tap Connection, Horn of Africa Services, Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club, or Our Sister’s House can have a significant impact on the nonprofits’ operations. That’s why, to some degree, their reaction to BECU’s funds tends to be astonishment, Dixon says.

“A lot of these organizations haven’t received funds from any foundation, let alone an organization like BECU,” she says. “We’ve heard from them that they feel seen, that someone has finally acknowledged them for what they’re attempting to do and are now supporting their work.”

These donations can also be the start of strong relationships.

Looking ahead, BECU is trying to reach as many nonprofits as possible through the BCDP, no small feat. In 2021, employees and members submitted 100 distinct nonprofits for the Black Alliance Cooperative to review, helping the credit union find new, primarily financial-health-focused nonprofits to support.

“We don’t want to miss the window to get dollars to organizations that would normally not have access to these funds but really deserve support,” Dixon says.

Additionally, Dixon hopes the BCDP will show the viability of BECU to the Black community, whether as a place to do business or as an employer.

Editor’s note: This article appeared originally on CreditUnions.com and is the intellectual property of CALLAHAN & ASSOCIATES. No part may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, published, or otherwise com­municated without the express written permission of CALLAHAN & ASSOCIATES.

Posted in CU Difference.