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Micro Community Grants Program Shows Power of Partnerships, Collective Philanthropy

If you’ve been to the Team Little Guy blog lately, you may have seen the recent video post about Fusion Warehouse in Anderson, SC. Carolinas Credit Union Foundation head honcho John Slack invited me to go to Fusion earlier this month for the dedication of a children’s center that was funded by a Micro Community Grant.

Fusion has only been open a short time, but it is already making a huge impact on the lives of teens in Anderson County. Young people are flocking to Fusion each weekend to have fun and make new friends. Fusion is also providing life skills training and even job training in trades such as welding … and soon, a service center to teach young people how to perform basic auto repairs and service.

The CCUF grant paved the way for the opening of the children’s play area. It will serve as a safe, fun environment for the kids of volunteers at Fusion, and be a spot for single moms who are studying for their G-E-Ds to drop off their little ones as well.

Beyond the grant, local credit unions are also stepping in to provide support to this wonderful non-profit agency. Upstate FCU in Anderson is opening a student-run branch at Fusion, and will also provide financial education classes to young people.

Our visit and video shoot came when Fusion was closed, which in one way diminishes the overall energy and excitement that must pulse through the place on weekends. Thousands of teens in Anderson County have made Fusion a regular hang out spot. By doing so, some are avoiding negative forces such as gangs.

Of all the things I love about my job and credit unions, stories like this easily rise to the top. Kudos to the CCUF … and to each credit union that is active in its community.

As John Slack often says, credit unions do stuff like this because it’s the right thing to do. Amen to that!


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?

What Credit Unions Can Learn from the “Huckaboom” and “Obam-e-non”

Its always fun when political pundits and their “conventional wisdom” get a swift kick in the pants as they did last week in the Iowa Caucuses. Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee defied the odds by winning impressive victories in the first real test of the 2008 presidential election campaign.  

It remains to be seen if either candidate can translate this victory into the nomination in their respective party. But a clear theme emerged in both Obama and Huckabee’s victories, and this theme is instructive for credit unions.

There are many factors that account for their victories, but in my view both candidates struck a hopeful vision of a united America that clearly resonated with Iowa voters. This vision called upon the idea of America as one community, not segments of people to be divided into voting blocs.

It’s that central idea of a united, optimistic America working together to solve problems that clicked with people in Iowa. 

There’s a powerful lesson here for credit unions as well: your membership is a community of people that collectively represents a tremendous human resource. How much of our marketing and communications emphasis is based on how our members are different from one another? Have we looked for opportunities to bring all our members together as a community in an effort to be change agents in the lives of others?  

Some credit unions are tapping into the collective membership to bring about positive change in the communities they serve. Some of these have been chronicled in this space and there are no doubt many others.

Writing a check to support community agencies is good stuff, but some credit unions are missing a powerful opportunity to bring members together by stopping there. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee reminded us all that people respond to the idea of community, of belonging.

My guess is that a visionary, authentic effort at communicating this same idea to members as part of a community building effort can resonate powerfully (and perhaps generate growth as a side benefit).

What do you think?

Filene i3’s Community Impact Center … A Lifeline for Towns Like Grover?


I grew up in Grover, a small town west of Charlotte and right on the border with South Carolina. My grandfather, like many people in Grover, worked at Minette Mills and farmed on the side to make ends meet.

It was quiet, but a cool place to be a kid. My friends and I would ride our bikes to my great uncle’s store. His store had a drink called “Buffalo Ginger Ale,” which basically was ginger ale with a really spicy kick to it. We’d see who could drink the most. Usually, it wasn’t me.

Next door to the store was Fowler’s Barber Shop, where I would get my hair cut. The owner of the shop had a parrot that would engage in lively conversation with the barber. The barber would say, “The preacher’s coming,” and the parrot would quickly reply, “You better sober up!”

Nobody had much, but we had enough. And parents had hope that their kids would create a better life for themselves.

Back then, making a living was all about what you could do. Back then, you could not finish high school and reasonably expect to be employable. Businesses like Minette Mills made that possible. That was the deal.


The deal was broken when globalization came to the economy. The mill is gone, and my great uncle’s store closed a long time ago. The Information Age came to Grover, passed through town, and pretty much sucked the life right out of it.

Of course, Grover is a drop in a tidal wave of economic change. There are hundreds of Grovers in NC … small towns with hard workers living in a society that now values what you know more than what you can do.

But in our information-based society, someone still has to do some heavy lifting. Towns like Grover have those kind of workers; they just need some help attracting the right companies.

Enter the Community Impact Center, which was recently proposed by the Filene i3 group. According to Filene, the CIC would be a national shared resource to help credit unions partner with public and private enterprises to engage in community development projects in the spirit of “people helping people.”

In short, it would bring together community building agencies, and entities that can leverage funding and other resources. The Community Impact Center would work with credit unions in underserved communities – places like Grover – to help those communities create economic opportunities. This in turn would also position participating credit unions as community builders, offering a clear point of differentiation. It would of course also open up new markets and new membership development opportunities for credit unions.

The i3 team that formulated the business plan for the CIC includes Dwayne Naylor, who used to work at Local Government FCU (so you know it’s a great idea right up front). In reflecting on the i3 group’s work, Dwayne said that the CIC would allow credit unions to work cooperatively to take more of a leadership role in the area of community development.

He noted that the CIC would pool credit union resources and leverage other funding vehicles – things like tax credits, foundation grants, and partnerships with organizations that have community building at their core. These CIC partnerships would add a knowledge base to the mix that credit unions do not possess.

Dwayne added, and I fully agree, that members expect more community leadership from their credit unions today. Writing checks to organizations that assist people who have slipped through the cracks is quite worthwhile — but the CIC would pool and invest resources in patching the cracks that people fall through.

It’s a Big Idea, and I hope people will give some serious thought about how to make this concept work.

Rebuilding communities like Grover is not an easy task. Many people have lost hope. They’re good people who deserve the chance to stop reflecting on the past, and get the tools they need to build a brighter future. For these people – my people – could the Community Impact Center be the way home?

Team Little Guy Blog Launched

If you were in attendance at the Annual Meeting in Pinehurst earlier this month, you probably heard about “Team Little Guy.” TLG is a group of twelve credit union runners who are going to run in the 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay Race in September.

As a biker, I have no idea why anyone would run 208 miles (even if twelve folks divide up the work with a nifty little baton).

Keep the baton, and please pass the phone so I can rent a car.

At any rate, TLG will be blogging about the experience of training for and running in the race. It’s a bit of a flier, but we hope to accomplish a few things …

  • It’s a way to thank our sponsors and share the experience with them (and let them hassle the team mercilessly).
  • It’s a way to spotlight the excellent work of the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation and the Micro Community Grants Program.
  • It’s a way for 12 guys who like to run to share their knowledge, and learn from other runners in the blogosphere.
  • With runners scattered all over the East Coast and Midwest (some of whom have never met), it’s a way for the team to build unity.
  • It’s also a way for us to learn more about Social Media.
  • It will also be an initial test of the “Big Idea” concept mentioned in this space previously.

If you are so inclined, please check out The Little Guy blog … and pass it along to the folks you know who are into running.