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Community Involvement As Brand Building: A Conversation with SECU’s Jim Blaine

One of the things that has always impressed me about State Employees’ Credit Union is that from the standpoint of member service and culture, the credit union acts like a tiny shop. As most people know, SECU is instead one of the largest credit unions in the world, holding more than $15 billion in assets.

This culture of service and absolute dedication to the cooperative philosophy shines through in the credit union, from the membership at the grassroots all the way up the chain through its board and senior management.

Many of the ideas and much of the credit union passion that you might hear from the CEO of a small shop shine through in the few moments I got to spend with SECU CEO Jim Blaine. Jim graciously spent some time with me to reflect on the Herb Wegner Award the SECU Foundation received as the outstanding credit union organization.  

The SECU Foundation has only been around a few short years, but it has already left a tremendous footprint across all 100 counties in NC. The video interview focuses on the Foundation’s scholarship program, which has awarded scholarships to one student in every NC public high school for the past three years or so.

The Foundation has also embarked on some other outstanding projects that are making an impact in NC. Some of these projects are summarized in the video presentation below that we got to see at the Herb Wegner Awards in Washington, DC last week.

The leadership of the credit union views these activities as its advertising campaign. From my vantage point, I’d have to say that it’s clearly working. Every week when the newspaper clippings arrive in the mail, the activities of the credit union and its foundation get consistent mention in papers of all sizes.

The scholarship winners, which are generally pictured with a local SECU representative, get mentioned the most in papers across the State. At the same time, and I don’t have hard stats to back this up — I’d say clearly the newspapers and other media outlets have become much more likely to pick up press releases that come from the credit union over the past couple of years.  

As the notion of a national branding campaign continues to get kicked around, the SECU Foundation has put together an impressive narrative that suggests that collective philanthropy and community building will get the credit union movement a lot more mileage than a national advertising campaign.

What do you think?


6 Responses

  1. Wow, powerful stuff. My favorite quote is at the very end of the Jim Blaine segment: “The best way to advertise is to have other people tell your story.”

  2. @Morriss – Couldn’t agree with you more. He said so many great things, it was hard deciding what stayed in, and what was cut!

  3. I love the idea that such great work is built on around a single dollar.

  4. Incredible, the amount that one dollar can influence the communities view of the credit union is very powerful. Such a great idea.

  5. @Christopher & Andy: And what’s great about it is that the dollar fee shows up in online banking and monthly statements as “SECU Foundation,” so the member is continually reminded that it’s their dollar that is bringing all this about.

    Thanks for your comments!

  6. What I’ve always been amazed by is SECU’s ability (and insistence) that no matter how large they become, they will always behave like a true cooperative. Whether it’s surcharge free ATM’s, $4 million in scholarships awarded annually to NC high school students, or their payday loan alternative, SECU is an example all organizations, financial or otherwise, can learn a ton from. Philosophy, philosophy, philosophy. If yours is pure, there’s no reason to stray from it.

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