When Jersey Shore Federal Credit Union Board Chairman John DiNofrio was in the service, his father passed away and he was stuck in Spokane, Wash., without enough money to buy an airline ticket home. A credit union let him borrow the money to fly home, attend his father's funeral and return.
"It was my first experience with a credit union and thought it was kind of neat that a financial institution gave me, a kid without any credit, a loan to go to my dad's funeral," said DiNofrio. "I paid the loan off in full when I got back to Spokane, but it's something that always stayed with me."
Whether as a board director or even starting his own credit union, Linwood Community Federal Credit Union, with his wife Marianne, which operated out of his home for years until merging with FAA Technical Federal Credit Union, now known as Jersey Shore Federal Credit Union, DiNofrio has dedicated himself to serving the credit union industry.
"Honestly, it's selfishness that keeps me going," said DiNofrio. "It may sound corny, but I bought into the credit union philosophy of people helping people a long time ago, and it is really a very worthwhile cause that I get such self-satisfaction and enjoyment out of it that I can't help but be a part of it somehow. Simply put this industry has been good for me."
He credited that deep belief in the movement for helping him stay the course even after his first disastrous assignment as a board member.
"I was in charge of making the phone calls to members who were delinquent and my first call was to a woman who shall remain nameless but I barely was able to get out the reason for my call before she lit into me. She told me she'd pay when she was good and ready and kept talking to me as if I was something that crawled out from under a rock," said DiNofrio. "I was so upset and nervous after that call I couldn't even eat my lunch. I mean she owed the credit union but she said some things I can't even repeat. I just kept wondering what in the world did I get myself into? Luckily, I don't scare easy, and I decided to stay with it and from that moment on I've enjoyed what I do as a board member 99% of the time."
Dedicated to credit unions for some 44 years, DiNofrio has been involved as a volunteer at every level imaginable from director to board leadership positions. He served on the board of directors of the New Jersey Credit Union League for over 30 years, twice serving as board chairman. Over the years DiNofrio has also served as a chapter officer, on numerous state committees, national committees and as a national director for CUNA. He is also recognized as a major player in the establishment of the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation, where he served as chairman from 2003-2008. The NJCUF provides financial literacy, technical assistance to small credit unions, professional development opportunities and support for philanthropic activities, all in connection with the New Jersey credit union movement.
"I never learned to be quiet. Early in my credit union career, I'd go to meetings and couldn't keep mouth shut so everyone would say, 'Hey, let's give him a job' and that's how I end up getting in deeper and taking on additional duties and responsibilities," joked DiNofrio. "The foundation was something that always stayed in the back of my mind as something we should do, and it took some time to get it going, because we kept running into stumbling blocks. But, it in my mind at least, it was important to have."
DiNofrio's outspokenness is no secret to those who know him well.
"Mr. DiNofrio is and has been a proud voice in the credit union movement for the better part of his entire life, whether it be a loud, strong voice in Washington or as a compassionate leader at a credit union staff meeting," said Jersey Shore FCU Human Resources Manager Gayle L. Branca. "His dedication to the forward progression of the credit union movement is evident in his everyday leadership, dedication and commitment."
According to Atlantic City Firemen's Federal Credit Union President/CEO Steven D. Schlundt, DiNofrio's "knowledge of the industry and it's very complex issues rivals and many times exceeds that of credit union professionals"
"His dedication to the movement has no equal. He is there for the members of his credit union and credit union peers seven days a week," said Schlundt.
A firm believer in board member education, DiNofrio has completed every course offered under the volunteer achievement program and continues to complete new courses as they are available. He said it's also important to keep up on what's going on in the world outside of the credit union industry, and to that end, he reads as much as he can to stay on top of the latest in the financial services and technology industries.
"Every volunteer should be educating themselves. How can you make good financial decisions without having some idea of what the financial world is all about? The same goes for technology. As the industry as a whole offers members greater convenience through technology such as mobile banking, we have to become more astute about how we can help keep member data safe and secure," said DiNofrio.
Jersey Shore FCU CEO Virginia Williams said its DiNofrio's ability to view issues from all sides and adapt to the ever-changing credit union environment that makes him such an asset to the credit union.
DiNofrio said he's lucky to be a part of the seven member Jersey Shore FCU board because of their ability to work together for the good of Jersey Shore FCU's members.
"It is so important for members of the board to trust one another and put the egos aside," said DiNofrio. "Everyone has their own ideas coming onto the board, each with their own experiences, and you want that diversity and input but there is no room for a personal agenda. You can't let the politics get in the way of true progress. We're lucky in that our board has such a good rapport that we can get to the business of really serving our members."
He also firmly believes in the board not interfering with the day-to-day operations. To ensure that the board remains well rounded he does his best to switch committee assignments so everyone has an opportunity to gain experience in different specialties. He said he takes his cues from board members and that helps to encourage greater involvement.
In addition to attending monthly board meetings and committee meetings, DiNofrio makes it a point to stop by the credit union about three times a week to get a feel for what's happening from the member's perspective.
Despite the challenges of 2009, DiNofrio is cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry but says credit unions have to be more vigilant than ever.
"I think role of board's fiduciary responsibility is more important than ever these days, and that is why I'm disappointed in the buzz about placing term limits for board members. It is hard enough to get volunteers nowadays that what you're doing is basically limiting the number of good people who want to be there," said DiNofrio.
"Besides it takes a few years to acclimate. I agree that board diversity is critical, but I'm not sure term limits are the right solution. Would you get rid of a great CEO simply because he or she was limited to three or five years? I've always said when you start setting a time limit on CEOs, then you can do that same to board members."
He points to Jersey Shore FCU's own CEO.
"Our CEO has been fantastic and has been with us for a long time I'd hate to see anyone put a time limit on her ability," said DiNofrio. "Look the credit union industry is not what it used to be 20 to 30 years ago where the members would be worried about not paying back what they owe because their co-worker might know about it-that loyalty is fading so while credit unions are still better than banks, we have to provide the services our members want the way they want them to be delivered. The board and the credit union have to adapt accordingly."
He added there's enough facing credit unions now that board term limits should be low on the list of priorities.
"I'm extremely cautious of the political arena, and I have a feeling this administration is looking for tax money. And while credit unions have had great support in the past from both parties for our tax exemption, bankers may now position it as a political issue so we can't let our guard down," said DiNofrio.
He said the key is building awareness of the credit union difference.
"After all these years, I'm still surprised that a lot of consumers are not familiar with credit unions. Maybe it's the word union that is throwing people off, but for this industry to be stronger, we have to educate people about the fact they have an alternative to banks," said DiNofrio. "The reality is that the common bond is not as simple when we were just these one-shop credit unions. And the growing argument is that there's not a hell of a lot of difference between us and banks. We know there is a difference. There has always been all this chatter about a national branding campaign. And while I'm not sure if that is the best way to go, at this point, I think we should be pursuing anything that can help simply and clearly educate people on what a credit union is really about and explains there is a different type of financial institution out there for them. So, if it is done effectively at a state level or by individual credit unions, the time is now to build that awareness."