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WASHINGTON – Some credit unions need to better inform their communities about themselves and invite community input in order to expand their vision for helping members of modest means or nearby low-income areas, according to Gary Officer, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF). Officer recognized the credit union movement has an “extremely diverse collection of institutions” and noted that no two institutions are exactly alike. He nonetheless said that many credit unions have been slow to take advantage of opportunities for public and private funding because they have lacked the vision to see themselves serving nearby low-income areas or applying for those funds to do so. “As I told the Access Across America conference in El Paso” Officer said, “some credit unions need to think big, move past their old limitations on their work and set big goals, have big dreams.” Officer said adding that those dreams and big goals could guide and create credit union agendas. NCUA hosted a conference in El Paso, Texas, which brought together credit unions, credit union leagues, government agencies and nonprofit groups that wanted to focus opportunities to help the impoverished “Colonias” border areas along the border of Texas and other southwestern states and Mexico. The conference drew 120 attendees and Officer was one of its speakers. One way some credit unions could cultivate a bigger vision would be to tell more people in their own communities about what they are doing and what they can offer, Officer said. “I think as a whole credit unions have not been terribly good at telling our stories,” Officer said. “I think it’s hard for a community to understand what resources and opportunities a credit union can offer if they don’t understand what a credit union is or does,” Officer added. Once more communities are familiar with credit unions, Officer explained, then the credit unions can partner with organizations which can help them identify local needs and introduce them to the different parts of their untapped markets, he added. Credit unions need to think big about their opportunities and make community partnerships because the work of applying for and administering money from government agencies and private foundations demands credit unions have a vision that fits the effort. Most credit unions are very under resourced in this area, Officer noted. They don’t have a person on staff whose job it is, for example, to research and prepare grant requests. Even preparing grant applications is now a highly specialized profession, he added. Officer explained the Foundation was attempting to make the process easier for credit unions by providing them the resources they need to research funding opportunities and prepare requests. “A credit union may not have anyone on staff who is trained in researching and writing grants,” Officer said, “but we do. A credit union may not have the contacts that make getting questions answered easier, but we do,” he added. “What we don’t have is the knowledge of the individual credit union’s opportunities and needs.” So far the Foundation’s efforts have met with a fair amount of success on behalf of credit unions, Officer pointed out. The Foundation managed the applications of 22 credit unions in nine states that resulted in $1.4 million in money from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s First Accounts program and has applied for another $1.4 million through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and $3.5 million through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. With the Foundation’s ability to research funding opportunities and to guide credit unions through the complicated application and administration process, credit unions that begin to identify needs in their surrounding communities and develop efforts to meet those needs can have the programs funded, Officer noted. [email protected]

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