WASHINGTON -- A new branding framework enlisting credit unions, state leagues and foundations nationwide to coordinate outreach projects, low-income initiatives and charity projects ranging from payday products to Children's Miracle Network is being launched this week at CUNA's GAC conference.
The high-level endeavor, branded as the "Real Deal" and spearheaded by CUNA, the American Association of Credit Union Leagues and the National Credit Union Foundation, encompasses projects big and small. Its core mission is letting the public and lawmakers know just exactly what CUs do to help the less fortunate.
"We're simply good at compiling anecdotal material on how we fulfill our social mission but there is no sure-fire means to collect, measure, and convey to the public all that we do, which is why we feel a re-branding is so necessary at a critical time for this industry," said Michael Mercer, a Real Deal coordinator and president/CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates.
Under the Real Deal framework, CUs are being asked to start compiling their social achievements and coordinate results with leagues on projects whether they be existing REAL Solutions ventures, BizKid$ financial literacy projects, or Make a Wish, as examples.
"There are so many tangible projects where credit unions, their management, staffs, and volunteers play a pivotal role in local communities that we need a better mechanism to ensure the message gets across," said Mercer.
Real Deal, which will have its own logo and be coordinated for project results at the staff level within CUNA and state leagues, will be formally explained and detailed during a break-out session on Tuesday at this week's GAC conference.
The session features CEOs from both big and small CUs outlining their participation in Real Deal and reviewing local initiatives.
The session will discuss how "successful strategies for future member growth and advocacy" can be broadcast in a more coordinated basis, said CUNA. The moderator will be Lois Kitsch, REAL Solutions National Program Director for the NCUF. A Real Deal booth also will be set up at the conference to hand out explanatory fliers .
The Real Deal concept, said Mercer, has been on the drawing boards for more than a year and follows conversations among league CEOs about ways to confront CRA-type challenges in the Congress that have surfaced over the years.
"This program kind of got its start with conversations I had with Dave Adams about how credit unions could respond in a more organized fashion to comments made by Bill Thomas," said Mercer, referring to pointed criticism of the industry's "modest means" service by former California Congressman William Thomas, who was the GOP chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. Adams is the president/CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League.
Mercer said he and Adams agreed that a more focused, collaborative approach among state leagues, CUNA, and NCUF on outreach was needed. "We knew something was missing considering the anecdotal notebooks" were not serving the industry well, he said.
Under the Real Deal format, as envisioned by its founders, "every credit union and league will be engaged at a high level" to develop models in any number of areas including lending, payday alternatives, financial literacy, community partnerships plus many more.
Leagues are being asked to name a "Real Deal/Outreach" contact person for the branding framework. "These individuals will be working closely with CUNA and NCUF staff in developing and encouraging outreach efforts," a Real Deal flyer read.
Eventually, said Mercer, AACUL and CUNA will accumulate reports from across the U.S. about the number of people being "touched" by outreach and partnership activities.
"Where possible," said Mercer, "we can estimate the tangible value" of programs directed at not only those of modest means but others as well.
"In time," said Mercer, "that becomes the REAL Story. CUNA will be the national 'story-teller' and leagues would be the storytellers at the state level." NCUF, he said, "will keep developing REAL Solutions programs and measuring the impact with those. You can start to see how the branding for this effort will come together."
In developing Real Deal, Mercer said he and other organizers "try to emphasize that the primary focus is, one, helping people to have the knowledge to make good decisions, and two, providing them tangible programs that make it possible to execute without getting ripped off."
With details to be worked on the mechanics of Real Deal collection and measurement, the president/CEO of one Georgia Affiliates' CU, Ruth Artis of the $35 million BOND FCU in Atlanta, applauded the branding concept as "something we struggle with every day" in conveying a community involvement message.
The fact is, she said, the employees of her community-based CU "do a tremendous amount of volunteer work, it is difficult to keep track of it all from partnering with food coops to financial literacy in the schools."
The problem is, she said, "every credit union customizes what it does in outreach to what works in its own community." It's sometimes hard to copy models in one community for use elsewhere and yet she understands the need for action, said Artis, who also is chair of the league's Philosophy in Action Committee.