Since 2004, State Employees Credit Union members have been showing North Carolina residents the power of a dollar.
“A dollar donated by just one person may not make a difference but when you pool those dollars collectively as a cooperative, it’s pretty powerful what you’re able to accomplish. It’s the same concept of how credit unions work,” said Mark Twisdale, executive director of SECU Foundation, the member-driven charitable arm of the $23 billion SECU in Raleigh, N.C.
Twisdale said one of the things the foundation is proudest of is that it represents the membership.
“Every grant we make is from the members and that can be a challenge in the philanthropic world as most represent themselves or a corporate entity, but we represent our members with every gift made,” he explained.
Approved in 2001 and officially launched in July 2004, the foundation was created to help identify and address community issues across North Carolina with the goal of benefiting every SECU member and their communities.
According to Twisdale, the idea has been to select those atypical, unique, high impact projects that will change the lives of members and their communities in the areas of housing, education, healthcare and human services.
To make it easier for governmental agencies and other nonprofits to partner with the foundation on future projects it has been structured as a separate 501c(3) charitable foundation. Funding for the foundation comes from SECU members' $1 monthly credit union checking account maintenance fee, which members voted to have routed to the foundation.
The monthly fee is considered a charitable contribution by the individual member and 99.9% of SECU members support the foundation’s work. The member fee generates some $800,000 a month, and to date $29 million has gone to scholarships and $27 million has benefited communities across the state.
“In terms of really reaching across the state, this has been an excellent way to make a difference while giving back to North Carolina,” Twisdale said.
While the foundation board, which consists of the SECU board members, officially meets in January and July to discuss which projects will be funded, there has been enough flexibility in the grant making process to also meet in April and October.
“It’s been closer to quarterly meetings than semiannual and the foundation board also receives monthly reports,” said Twisdale. “In fact we just approved a $250,000 grant for Biz Kid$.”
With a focus on selecting projects that not only reach all areas of North Carolina, but have the ability to be replicated in other communities, SECU’s 1.7 million members set the pace.
Project proposals are initiated though local SECU branch advisory boards to ensure resources are fairly distributed with final approval by the foundation board. Each of SECU's branches has its own advisory board of local volunteers who are representative of their community and are considered the credit union's eyes and ears in the community, serving as a liaison between the branch and its members.
In addition to some $4 million in scholarships awarded annually, other projects this year alone have ranged from a commitment of $1 million to the Crystal Coast Hospice House campaign to build the first inpatient hospice facility in the Crystal Coast area, to opening the SECU Cancer Center at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C. , which will help further promote cancer research in western North Carolina thanks to a $5 million foundation grant.
The five-story SECU Cancer Center houses all outpatient cancer services in one location, and through an established partnership between Mission Cancer Program and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill, provides cancer care for many western North Carolinians.
The foundation has also joined the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to support the UNC-TV series Exploring North Carolina to help produce the comprehensive educational program that highlights the state’s great natural wonders. The Emmy-nominated series first aired in 2005 and is set to finish filming its last full season in 2012.
As one of the most popular and most widely aired programs on UNC-TV, according to the foundation, ENC has become a North Carolina field guide for visitors and new arrivals to the state. The series also serves as an educational resource of North Carolina science and history for teachers across the state particularly with the opening of the Museum of Natural Science’s Nature Research Center and the SECU Daily Planet slated for spring 2012.
According to Twisdale, the SECU Daily Planet, the centerpiece of the NRC, will be a three-story multimedia program area that will employ cutting edge audio and visual technologies to provide a rich backdrop for live presentations on key environmental issues and recent scientific discoveries that will be accessible to students statewide.
“What we enjoy most that our members have given us the opportunity to make an impact and be a part of something bigger than we ever imagined,” said Twisdale.