WASHINGTON-While CUNA’s Project Differentiation got off to a slow start, the rate of completed statements of commitment has increased since it was transferred to the Advocacy and Governmental Affairs division. CUNA Grassroots Manager Gretchen Graf and others in the leagues are crediting leadership by example with the increase in statements. “It was such a new program, it had a hard time getting going,” Graf said. Credit unions are great at what they do, but they’re too modest.” Project Differentiation entered the planning stages in 1998. By 1999 it had been implemented by the Project Differentiation Committee, which promoted the program through credit union development seminars and the leagues, but the ball did not really get rolling until Graf took it over at the beginning of 2001. As of June 2001, 644 credit unions had completed their statements of commitment, while 207 are in the process. CUNA’s plan is to get all 10,000-plus credit unions to participate. Even with CUNA’s promotion of the program, not even all of its board members have completed their credit union’s statements. The Project Differentiation statements of commitment can be used for a variety of purposes, Graf pointed out. The statements are useful for employee training, educating Congress, and showing regulators what credit unions are doing and what they are interested in. Many credit unions bring their Project Differentiation statements to Capitol Hill during their Hike the Hills. Graf said the response from lawmakers has been “very positive. They are very interested in what credit unions are doing.” Sometimes, it also serves as an educational tool for members who are not familiar with credit unions. “A lot of times they don’t realize the difference between credit unions and other financial institutions,” Graf commented. When banks became subject to community reinvestment laws, credit unions were exempt because they were already participating in these types of activities. Former NCUA Chairman Norman D’Amours made several proposals to document service to low-income individuals, all of which failed. Project Differentiation was intended to do the same things as D’Amours’ proposals, except on a voluntary basis. Finally, when NCUA Board Member Yolanda Wheat raised her community action plan proposal for community chartered credit unions in the field of membership and chartering manual, CUNA sat down with her and got the Project Differentiation statements written into the regulation as acceptable for meeting the regulatory requirements. Graf said that no one who has completed the exercise has been disappointed. “Everyone who has seen or participated in this program has said it was a worthwhile project,” she explained. Graf added that she has received no negative feedback from their members about it. CUNA has really been pushing the project through their network of leagues recently. The different state leagues have come up with a variety of ways to get more credit unions involved. The Washington Credit Union League has promoted completing the statement of commitment section-by-section, month-by-month until completed, Graf said. The state has more than 40 credit unions participating. The Ohio Credit Union League has promoted the program in every publication they produce, according to Ohio Credit Union League Chief Operating Officer John Florian. “Ohio has a strong foundation in social responsibility,” he said, which he credits with aiding the program’s success in his state. Ohio has the second most statements of commitment completed at 62 for a total of nearly 10% of all completed statements, and 60 more credit unions committed to finishing them. Ohio has approximately 600 credit unions within its borders. If social responsibility is not enough, Florian admits a little peer pressure does not hurt. Ohio lists the names of the credit unions that have completed their statements on their Web site. Also, most of the league’s board members have completed their statements. Additionally, the Louisiana Credit Union League Board of Directors recently adopted a statement of commitment to its members at its Annual Meeting this summer in New Orleans. “We believe that our Statement of Commitment to Members demonstrates our deep rooted belief in the credit union movement and a commitment to the philosophy that has made credit unions the financial institution of choice for more than one million Louisiana residents,” said Anne Cochran, President and CEO, LCUL. -

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