Mejia: Spurring Growth Through Community Investments
Credit unions that want to prosper must be willing to take calculated risks and make wise investments. For Mario Mejia, business development director at Interior Federal Credit Union in Washington, that means focusing on member eligibility, resources and financial literacy, and aligning the efforts made in those areas with a credit union's core mission and values.
“If you want a tornado you’ve got to kick up enough dust,” the latest Trailblazer 40 Below said. “To be a change agent you’ve got to ask why, be clear about what you want out of it and think of the long term goal. Approach business development strategically and look at the different angles. Walking through the front door is not always the most practical route to making something happen.”
Handed the task of building the credit union's business development department from the ground up when he joined the now $161 million institution, Mejia quickly found that due to government program changes and personnel moves, it was challenging to find the right contacts to build awareness of the credit union. Mejia wanted to get a grasp of everything the Department of the Interior does to understand how Interior FCU could help, and through his research, discovered that its more than 190,000 volunteers were what the DOI valued most. That revelation not only tied directly to the credit union's core – it provided a membership growth opportunity. All volunteers for agencies within the DOI and other select groups, who are dedicated to caring for the nation's national, cultural and historical resources, are eligible to join the credit union.
Mejia also launched a philanthropic initiative devoted to social responsibility, which focuses on co-sponsoring community service events. The program's goals are to increase volunteerism in the Washington metropolitan area, boost select employer group activity and support the DOI, while showcasing the credit union's cooperative culture. As part of the effort, he created an incentive for employees at the credit union to put in more volunteer hours – employees who put in the most time helping those in need are invited to lunch with the CEO.
“If I called the National Park Foundation and no one knows who I am, I won't make it past the gatekeeper,” he said. “But by calling the volunteer coordinator and letting them know we’d like to help and bring volunteers to their next event, now they want to find out more about Interior FCU. More business has come our way just by being out there digging in the dirt alongside other volunteers.”
By directing monthly philanthropic events, he has helped meet the DOI's No. 1 need while at the same time filling a void in the local community. Since launching the initiative, Mejia has connected 117 volunteers with various activities, who have contributed 397 volunteer hours at 30 events since 2014.
He also initiated partnerships with the Corps Network and Americorps to help bridge a financial literacy gap in the community, creating a program with a team of Interior FCU employees that each individual corps group can customize based on their specific needs. Participants have the option to go to the credit union's online education center and follow a web link that opens a page specifically for their organization, or house education center information on their own website. The credit union also offers financial seminars and video conference training sessions that enable corps leaders to teach the courses themselves.
Mejia, who is also an MD DC Credit Union Association Young Professionals Network advisory board member, has initiated a suite of young adult products and services at the credit union. Mejia has also added social media to the credit union's arsenal of tools to build relationships in the community.
A believer in grassroots advocacy, he actively engages members of Congress and their staffs by encouraging them to participate in credit union and credit union-sponsored events.
“Knowledge is power,” he said. “Legislators may not feel the effects of a credit union, but they need to be aware of how credit unions improve the lives of the people in their districts. It takes time, but we have to continue to be vocal. It's a matter of planting those seeds to help transfer our passion for the betterment of communities we serve.”
For the past two years, he has served as a leader for the annual credit union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race in Washington. In 2014, Mejia took the initiative to invite DOI Secretary Sally Jewell to participate in the race, serving as the primary point of contact for her office and security staff, and the race's director, PR teams, handlers and photographers during the proposal process. She accepted the invitation, and on the day of the race, he had the honor of serving as her handler, directing her activities, and managing her time and introductions, along with supplying talking points for her welcome speech. In 2015, he secured another presidential appointee at the DOI, Director Vince Logan, for the race, and served as a dignitary liaison and volunteer.
As far as Mejia is concerned, taking a “cooperative village” approach has made all the difference in distinguishing the credit union from its cacophony of competitors.
“I find that a mix of reality, simply being relevant to your audience and sharing personal stories as a way to make that connection has been effective for us,” he said. “Our greatest success is found in inspiring others or helping people by sharing our experiences or lessons learned so they can hopefully skip the pitfalls.”
He added that the industry as a whole has to be willing to set its own trends when it comes to delivering relevant community solutions rather than taking a “wait and see” approach. That way, he said, members become the voice for the industry as well as the resource their communities must tap into in order to thrive.
His advice for young professionals – and for the industry – is to “get out of your own way.”
“Nine out of 10 people work in default rather than by design,” Mejia said. “Why try to fit a square in a circle? Find what your niche is, leverage that to create opportunities within your current role, and odds are, it will lead to some of the greatest achievements.”
Mentoring tops Mejia's list of musts for every young professional, as it can lead to positive, long-term changes. While he has had many great mentors in his life, nothing has helped him grow and sharpen his skill set more than mentoring and teaching others himself, he said.