PONTIAC, Mich.- In a new twist on documenting credit unions’ social activism, the Michigan Credit Union League is launching a broad-based campaign to get all 380 of its member CUs to compile a full list of charity and goodwill projects. The list, being gathered in lengthy surveys sent to CEOs in April as part of a “Community Reinvestment Initiative,” would help demonstrate to lawmakers and public policy makers in “quantifiable evidence” exactly how CUs impact the social and economic well being of local communities. The CRI project has been in the works for more than a year and is the product of a League task force which helped develop the survey. It’s not like this hasn’t been done before – CUNA’s Project Differentiation has a similar intention. Once the forms are completed and returned -hopefully by a large majority of CUs next month-a database will be produced showing every CU contribution and donation whether it be for Diabetes walkathons or days spent by staff manning food banks. “Elevating the importance of our social mission to a strategic level,” remains a prime goal to focus greater attention on CU accomplishments, wrote JoAnne Fillwock, chairman of the CRI Task Force, in an April 26 cover letter to Michigan CUs describing the survey which can be filled out electronically or by hand. When lawmakers “ask us how we’re different from banks, we’d have more than just anecdotal stories,” writes Fillwock, who also is president/CEO of Financial Plus CU of E. Lansing. All of the goodwill projects that CUs undertake are done “not because we are mandated to do so” but because they are an inherent part of “our reason for being-it’s natural,” she wrote. And yet in a message often repeated by the leadership of both state and national CU trade groups, individual CUs fail to trumpet their charitable achievements on their own. Citing the tax exemption battle with banks, the League said it wants to ensure the message of CU social goodwill is no longer missed and having a data file of projects to present to Congressmen or state lawmakers is vital. “At the state level this does compare to Access Across America and Debbie Matz’ ALS,” explained Patrick La Pine, League vice president of governmental affairs, referring to two NCUA social cause programs. In putting together CRI, the Michigan League, he said, “drew a little bit from here and a little bit from there” to develop the concept which admittedly raises the specter of a Community Reinvestment Act under which banks labor. “Look it’s better to be out front on something like this and simply share with legislators what we in credit unions already know,” said Connie Taylor, president/CEO of Rockford Community FCU. As a member of the executive committee of the Grand River Chapter, Taylor said she has been leaning on CUs in the Grand Rapids area to compile the mission lists and turn them in though they can be time consuming. The League Foundation has offered the smallest CUs help with compiling the financial data, said a spokesman. In her letter, Fillwock warned that “it will take 45-60 minutes to complete this survey” and that in filling it out “you’ll want to have your financial, lending and membership reports on hand.” “This does take a lot of time but now that we’ve cleared one battlefield-bankruptcy reform-it’s time we do something like this to prepare” for events that lie ahead, said Taylor whose CU listed such goodwill projects as picking up heating bills for the homeless and aiding in a Rotary Club water filtration project. Fillwock, the CRI Chairman, forecast the League venture could “create a model” for other states to follow in developing a social mission compendium. She also noted that the Task Force “tossed around a lot of names” before settling on CRI because “we decided to call it what it is.” La Pine said 60 CUs have now turned in their completed surveys with an expectation more will do so after the July 4 holidays. “So much of what credit unions do in loans to the low-income, financial literacy and other areas never shows up in annual reports and so we feel we need to show regulators and lawmakers what we are doing,” said La Pine. Ideally “we would like to get surveys back from all credit unions” but a realistic goal might be 75%. A major push for survey returns occurred at the annual meeting of the League last month in Grand Rapids when CEOs were asked to sign statements of commitments at a CRI booth. The commitment statement noted that in the wake of the attacks led by the American Bankers Association, “the significance of the credit union social mission has never been more important for preserving the credit union tax exemption and assuring a positive legislative climate.” The statement asks each CU to appoint a staff contact who will participate in one of six “CRI Working Groups” which cover various disciplines, or simply be a “champion for the project at your credit union.” One CEO, Diane Addington, president of the $524 million T & C FCU in Pontiac, said she is giving the CRI project top attention and on that score has named her CFO, Wilma Wells as “our liaison.” . T&C does conduct “one or more initiatives a month” she said and in 2004 did raise $163,000 in donations, a figure her CU is proud of. [email protected]

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