Credit unions seeking higher profiles in their local communities are increasingly starting their own foundations as ways to do well by doing good.
"We're seeing about two to three contacts a week from credit unions who want to ask us about what we were doing and how we got started," said Linda Rogus, executive director of the Northwest Federal Credit Union Foundation, headquartered along with the credit union in Herdon, Va., a Washington suburb.
Rogus, who said she was standing in for Northwest CEO and foundation Chairman Gerianne Burks, who was ill on the day of the interview, said the contacts came from CUs who were curious about why and how Northwest started its foundation.
"I can often tell where they are in the process by the questions they ask," Rogus said. "If they are early in the process, they will ask why we started the foundation. If they are further along, they will ask more specific questions."
Rogus said the foundation, which the $1.2 billion Northwest FCU launched as a tax- exempt organization in 2005, has about $140,000 in assets and exists as a separate organization from the CU. Members and corporations share in the support of the foundation, with the credit union picking up the administrative and operational cost and designating a portion of its fee income to help fund the foundation's programs.
Although Northwest FCU already supported the National Credit Union Foundation, Shannon Tackett, communications director for the foundation, said that former CEO Juri Valdov and current CEO Burks wanted the credit union to have a way to help the local community, as well as provide members with a tax-free way to make local donations.
And the foundation's efforts have flourished. Rogus reported that the foundation is a partner with the Fairfax County school system in providing financial education to students. One noted effort has been the Reality Store, a "simulation exercise" designed to help students understand the importance of budgeting and making wise financial decisions. The foundation is also represented on key school system committees by invitation of the school superintendent.
Other foundation activities have included adopting six soldiers stationed overseas and sending them care packages with 600 pounds of snacks, entertainment items and other necessities. The organization also hosts an annual dance for children receiving treatment at the Children's National Medical Center.
Bucky Sebastian, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation, said the foundation is aware that credit unions are starting local foundations and, on the whole, finds it healthy.
"We are interested in the development and have started a survey to find out just how many natural person CU's out there have started foundations," Sebastian said, adding that the move represents credit unions' contributions to the nationwide movement to support local charities.
He recounted how, when he was CEO of GTE Federal Credit Union, the credit union started a local foundation in order to help support an underserved area around its new headquarters.
"The area had been a key part of Tampa in the past, where a lot of wealthier people lived, but has since fallen into disrepair and poverty," Sebastian said. "What we wanted was an organization we could use to bring charitable and development work into the area."
While the credit union's foundation supported local organizations, such as a neighborhood Boys & Girls Club, it also contributed to some larger charitable causes, like relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami. "Some things are just so big that you have to do something," he said.
Sebastian said it would not be clear how the foundation might work with local CU foundations until after the survey was finished, but noted the NCUF had a long history of working closely with foundations attached to state leagues and associations on shared goals and efforts.