T40B: NCUF’s Morris Makes Beautiful Music in Madison
What started as a temp job until a high school teaching position became available has led to an unexpected and rewarding career for Christopher Morris, director of communications at the National Credit Union Foundation in Madison, Wis.
That willingness to help led to many opportunities, including the creation of cuaid.coop, the first national online disaster relief fundraising system for credit unions. But it was taking part in the Credit Union Development Education training that made Morris a credit union lifer, he said.
“Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid and love it,” Morris joked. “At its core it’s a unique intensive training that digs deep in the philosophy and cooperative principles. I think once you really understand the history and the mission of the movement along with the inspiring stories of those people behind it like Louise Herring, that leads to passion and drives motivation to want to do more for the members and to help further the credit union movement as a whole.”
He added where else do you get to network and bond with people from around the world sharing and working together to find solutions to common challenges? He also suggested not being limited by titles or roles within an organization.
“We can’t afford to get caught up in silos, because good ideas can come from anywhere. This myth that credit unions are so small they can’t compete just isn’t true,” said Morris. “When you look at the work being done by the World Council of Credit Unions in Afghanistan and Latin America, and how credit unions in Africa are supporting development of small businesses, it’s just inspiring. “
He suggested credit unions focus on the advantages to being local, community-oriented cooperatives.
“Being a communications guy and credit union geek, I tend to focus on awareness of the credit union difference,” he said. “Consumers are upset with big banks and there’s a big push to buy local. So there’s a huge opportunity now for credit unions to tell our story of what we do and how we help make a difference in our local communities.”
Serving as a DE mentor and through his work in managing the program strategy, curriculum and operations Morris has found the value in fostering a culture where employees feel empowered to share ideas.
“The first part of being a good mentor is listening. There’s not just one way to arrive at a solution. The word ‘no’ is a big deterrent so be open to new ideas and even if it sounds crazy, be willing to explore it together,” he said. “Also when asking for input, pause and wait seven seconds before you continue speaking. After two to three seconds pass, people will speak up. It’s something my college professor said, and I’ve been getting comfortable with silence ever since. It works and makes it easier for people to share.”
Indeed, fostering a positive environment can go a long way in helping deliver relevant solutions, Morris said, adding that he believes credit unions in general may still suffer somewhat from the “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome.
“For the most part, most credit unions for example, are still first creating a product or service and marketing it,” said Morris. “Brent Dixon did a design thinking class for us and the process was eye opening because by looking at the need and how you solve the problem, is where true creativity and innovation comes in.”
It’s a concept he has been living as part of the musical duo, The Disclosures. During his spare time, along with Chad Helminak, vice president of development for the Wisconsin Credit Union League, the duo write, record and perform songs related to the credit union industry from history and philosophy to the present day issues. They have found music and comedy as a way to get the credit union message across many different venues.
The Disclosures recently released a financial education album for kids under 10 titled “The Secret to Being Rich,” which introduces important money lessons through fun, playful, toe-tapping songs.
“There’s something about music and humor that helps get the message across,” Morris said. “Three years ago, when the interchange was heating up, we wrote a song ‘Don’t Change Interchange’ and posted it on YouTube as a way to educate members to act on this important but complicated issue. It was shared by credit unions and leagues and got over 10,000 views. With the kids album, there are so many songs about ABCs and none about savings, borrowing or budgeting. We decided why not try to make our own.”
The risk paid off. It took over a year but the album is now available on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and at Madison’s Strictly Discs.
“I think one thing that has helped me grow and experience so much in such a short span of time is the idea that big things start small,” Morris said. “Even if it’s daunting, take that first step and get started. If you fail then learn from it, but you’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t try.
“Looking ahead at the bigger picture for the industry regarding the member relationship with emerging technology, are credit unions as a whole being proactive in delivering on consumer expectations and how they use financial services? Something that we discuss a lot at the Foundation is are credit unions being strategically philanthropic with causes that align with their brand and mission? How can we do a better job to build awareness?”
He said getting to the honest answers of such strategic questions will only help credit unions further solidify their place as the top financial alternative consumers want and need.
“What we do here at the Foundation, helping improve the financial lives of people across the country is so rewarding. We’re not on the front line like tellers but we’re still close to and a part of the good done by credit unions,” said Morris. “It’s funny but when I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to play music in some capacity and here I am doing exactly what I’ve wanted to do in the most unexpected way.”