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How Credit Unions Can Catalyze Social Change

Sharee Adkins, GoWest Credit Union Association

Credit unions have long been enthusiastic champions of their communities, but can they be doing more? How can they think outside the box to catalyze social change?

Sharee Adkins, GoWest Credit Union Association Chief Impact Officer and Foundation Executive Director, joins us on this month’s episode of The Remarkable Credit Union podcast to share examples of how credit unions in her region are joining forces and tapping into the strengths of their core business competencies to tackle daunting social challenges.

She also addresses this month’s BIG question:

How can credit unions leverage grant dollars to proactively tackle the challenges facing their communities, and how can they most effectively market their impact?

 

 

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to help effect large-scale systemic change because they can leverage their heart for the community and the strengths of their core business competencies as member-owned financial cooperatives.
  2. The GoWest Foundation is a grant-making organization, but it sees its primary role less as a “traditional” philanthropic funder and more as a hub for credit unions to come together and do what they do best. It uses a collective impact model to address the major social challenges credit unions say their communities are facing, challenges which include workforce housing, small business support, and rural access.
  3. Credit unions in Spokane, Washington are a particularly powerful example of the cooperation among cooperatives principle in action. They came together to establish Washington’s first-ever land bank, which makes property available for low-income housing and represents a truly innovative and collaborative approach to affordable housing.
  4. There are so many ways that credit unions can leverage grant dollars — from regional foundations, from the NCUA, and from other grant-making organizations (hint: do a Google search!) — to deepen their impact. The philanthropy world is actually starting to look at credit unions differently and to recognize their potential for catalyzing social change.
  5. For their part, one of the single most important things a credit union can do is to simply show up in its community and take a seat at the table when discussions around big issues are happening. There are so many forms that can take, but it’s important from both an impact and a visibility perspective.

 

Read the Transcript

Cameron Madill:
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology and community impact. Each episode we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual, and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative and magnify the positive impact you have in your community. I’m Cameron Madill, CEO and one of the co-owners at PixelSpoke.

Kerala Taylor:
And I’m Kerala Taylor, also a co-owner at PixelSpoke and the senior manager of marketing. We’re so excited today to tackle this month’s big question, which is how can credit unions leverage grant dollars to proactively tackle the challenges facing their communities and how can they most effectively market their impact? I’m so excited to be joined today by Sharee Adkins. She is the GoWest Credit Union Association Chief Impact Officer and Foundation Executive Director, and GoWest was formerly known as the Northwest Credit Union Association and Foundation. Sharee is also certified as a development educator by the National Credit Union Foundation and previously worked at the United Way of King County. Sharee, thanks so much for joining us.

Sharee Adkins:
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Kerala Taylor:
We’re so excited to have you. And let’s start by learning a bit more about the region where you’re based. So a lot of us here at PixelSpoke are in Portland, Oregon, and I know that the association and foundation recently went through a name change in an expansion. So can you just start by telling us a bit about the communities you now serve?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, absolutely. So GoWest is actually the combination of two other associations, and that would be… It was the Mountain West Credit Union Association and the Northwest Credit Union Association. So if you look across the GoWest footprint that is now, and I always have to do it in my brain on a map, but that goes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona. And those are the six states that make up our region. It’s a little crazy to say this, but it’s been almost exactly a year, a month shy of a year since the merger was official. And it’s been such an awesome year. We get to work with about 300 credit unions across those six states that serve about 16 million members, and it’s really incredible.

You all know from working with credit unions as well how different each one can be and how different the communities are that they work in. And it’s inspiring to see what they do. And it’s also really incredible to see where they come together. So just they can be really different. The credit unions come together as an industry either in a region or across all six of our states. And when they do that, it’s just my absolute favorite thing. That’s why I love the work we do.

Kerala Taylor:
And it sounds like you’re just doing some really fascinating work and you have a lot of focus areas. There are three initiatives that caught my attention, which were workforce housing, small business support and rural access. So I’m just curious out of all the challenges facing the communities where credit unions work, how you arrived at these and what specific challenges do the communities in your region face when it comes to these focus areas?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ve been with the Association of Foundation now for a little over six years. And for a long time, our foundation operated like a lot of the league connected foundations offering scholarship support to credit union professionals, and we still do that. It’s still really important part of our work. We also do things around financial education. So we provide fight of reality, fair kits to credit unions across our six states and things like that, programs that exist for all of our credit unions to participate in. And then we have these big things, like you just mentioned, those initiatives around workforce housing, rural access and small business support. And those came from a number of years ago, five or six years ago, really sitting down and saying what are the things that are impacting the communities that our credit unions are operating in?

What are those questions? When elected officials and community members and members of credit unions come to their credit unions and say, “How can you help us with housing? How can you help us with these financial service deserts in rural communities? How can you help small businesses?” When those questions keep coming to our credit unions from so many different places and it’s in the swim lane of credit unions, right? This is their day in and day out work. I think that’s really what got us interested in seeing where can we as a foundation bring in this unique piece that then comes alongside credit unions, helps them leverage what they do day in and day out and their expertise, but think differently about how we can tackle those really, really big issues. Housing is an example. It’s not an easy thing to tackle. And when we started that work back in 2018, we started with a broader focus. It was affordable housing.

We wanted to see what we could do as a foundation to partner with credit unions in addressing affordable housing in their community. So we convened folks, started to have conversations and share examples of what are credit unions doing across the country and in Canada to address this in their specific areas? And what we found is that for us as a foundation, the unique spot that we can play a really important role in is around workforce housing. So you think about the housing continuum, and that’s everything from people who are experiencing homelessness and sleeping on the streets all the way to market rate mortgages, market rate rentals. We really think there’s an opportunity for credit unions to come alongside folks in that workforce housing band. And we’ve had a lot of great success, I think, in supporting credit unions who are thinking outside the box and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in that space. So yeah, it’s exciting stuff.

Cameron Madill:
And I’m curious, Sharee, I first met you, yeah, many years ago and I loved interacting with the then Northwest Credit Union Association. And it was like all roads led to Sharee, Jim Morrell at Peninsula was doing his affordable housing effort and anyway, all sorts of other good folks. And they kept saying, “Oh, you’ve got to talk to Sharee.” So it’s amazing how you and the foundation are at the hub of all these people doing all this great work. And you just talked about how you got to these three areas of focus, but I’m wondering if we can even step up a level of you guys just seem like you have this real focus on innovation and systemic change versus some of the more traditional charity work. And I think there’s obviously a place for both. But to get so macro, right? But how we think about a thing is really important, right? That mental model shapes how we view the world. So I’m curious, what’s your philosophy or approach to social impact that guides all of this?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, big question. And I think what it comes down to is a fundamental to my core, and this is true of everybody at GoWest, a fundamental belief in what credit unions are to our communities. And I think that that is really looking at charitable giving is a really important thing, volunteering is a really important thing, and I think credit unions are the best of it when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering. But credit unions are really special. The fact that they are not for profit member owned cooperatives doing this work in their community means that they can leverage their strengths of that day in, day out business competency and that heart for the community to really do incredible work. And so I think that’s really fundamentally day in, day out, it’s about… You mentioned I came from United Way of King County and I loved the work that I did at United Way in the human services side of things, looking at how we can, again, tackle these big issues in the community.

Coming into the credit union universe, there’s so much opportunity when you have access to capital and access to those financial services and just everything that comes with the credit unions, the way they engage in the communities. I think it’s a game changer and I think it’s underutilized in the community. As I’m out talking in philanthropic communities, as I’m out talking in the nonprofit community and just these other sectors that are focused on small business support, that are focused on things in rural communities, economic development in rural communities and workforce housing, man, I get sad that none of them are talking about credit unions as partners in these solutions until we bring that forward and such a missed opportunity, such a missed opportunity. So I get really passionate about it because I just think it really is the place where you can see large scale systemic change just because credit unions are these membrane cooperatives. There’s just a lot of opportunity with that.

I also think the foundation, thinking about how we serve as there’s some parts of the world where this is a very specific thing, so be careful how I use this language, but the collective impact model and the idea of a backbone organization. How can we serve as a hub for all of our credit unions to come together under a common goal around housing, around access in rural communities, and then go do what they do best in their specific communities with their specific members and rely on the trust they have, the trust they’re building in those communities, but all under this common goal. And we can help be that backbone. We’ve seen that around a lot of the work we do is just how do we keep folks coming to the table for the conversation and then use some grant dollars, because we are a grant maker, to help make that work possible. Oftentimes our grant dollars are in the form of loan loss, which again, if you’d told me back in my United Way days, I wouldn’t have really understood what that was.

But now I really see it as catalytic to the work that we do. So it’s all of that. I don’t know if that quite captures it, but it really is, there’s so much opportunity. And I feel humbled that I get to come alongside credit unions and that the foundation gets to come alongside credit unions in the work that they do, and then just what can we do to help them do more of it?

Cameron Madill:
I love that. I mean I think as you referenced, it’s a hub and spokes model, which is a perfect model for how you guys can maximize the impact of the credit union movement in your regions. And it’s funny, we just did our own community giving work this morning for PixelSpoke’s cooperative, and Kerala’s been leading this discussion of great, we have it written into our bylaws to give 10% of profits to give back, which is great. But at the end of the day, JP Morgan Chase can give a 10th of a percent and it’s still, what, a thousand times or a hundred thousand times bigger than what we can do. And so that the real opportunity for leverage and impact is through those partnerships and the unique skillset that we bring to the table. So I love that mindset.

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah. I have to say, I grew up in a family that had a specific amount of money that they set aside for charitable giving. I grew up in a family that volunteered a lot, and those things were important because they were how you saw our values show up in our community, but they were a part of this bigger thing about our family and who we were and what our values were. And I feel the same way about credit unions, right? Volunteering is amazing. Charitable giving is necessary and important. So I don’t want to at all suggest that those things aren’t important, but as part of this bigger picture, right?

Cameron Madill:
Yeah, absolutely. So one thing I was really curious was Kerala and I did some research before this and we see your updates come through, but we got to really stalk you a little bit. Hope that doesn’t sound too creepy.

Sharee Adkins:
Terrifying.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah. I just love the stories that come out of the work that you all do. So one we heard about was the Workforce Housing Project grant you gave the Mid Oregon Credit Union that incentivizes developers to offer more affordable rental rates. But just curious, either that or just I know you have all these specific stories, which are what we often connect to as individual folks of, any favorite stories about your work you’d like to share?

Sharee Adkins:
Oh, gosh, yes. So I think that story from Mid Oregon is really an incredible one. Another one that I love and it’s possibly because I just got to see a video of a person who was impacted and had their first mortgage, able to buy a home with it, Consolidated Community Credit Union, we were able to support them in an ITIN mortgage program that they were doing. We helped them with I think it was loan loss for an ITIN mortgage program and an ADU program, and just this wonderful story of a person who would not have been able to purchase a home had it not been for Consolidated taking that on, figuring out how to do that work and then really leaning into their community to figure out how to make it work. So that was really exciting. Another that I love is East Idaho Credit Union. We helped support them with some funding that made it so that they could do, I think it was, gosh, I’m going to get the name wrong, sorry, East Idaho.

I think it was a micro biz boost loan. I am getting the name wrong. But it really was small, small dollar lending to help folks in their community who were starting a business. And I mean small, $2,500, right? That made it so that a person that was starting a snowplow business could get what they needed to be able to do that. Or somebody who’s expanding, I think it was a snowmobile repair shop, right? Be able to get some of the tools that they needed to be able to expand. So for me, thinking differently about how we support entrepreneurship and small businesses in rural communities especially, and thinking outside of when we think of small business, what that means and how you can engage with your members in supporting their dreams, those are pretty exciting stories. And what’s really fun about working here in partnership with our credit union is those are just a couple and we get to see so many of them. So it’s really awesome.

Kerala Taylor:
Oh, I love hearing those stories. And I was nodding along and the listeners can’t see me, but when you were just talking about the collective impact model and common goals, I mean it’s just one thing I appreciate so much about the credit union movement is the collaborative spirit, which you would expect nothing less from a movement based on the cooperative model. But I feel like especially in the United States, we got so caught up in individualism and the business landscape is just always talking about competition, who are your competitors? And credit unions have competitors, but I feel like there’s this collaborative spirit that really transcends that.

I felt it myself coming off of a conference last week from the Marketing Association for Credit Unions, just everyone coming together to learn how to do their job better. And as a worker around cooperative ourselves, we’re just big fans of the cooperative principles. And I feel like you embody most all of them, but one I feel like you really seem to embody is the cooperation among cooperatives. So you’ve touched on this a little bit, but can you tell us a bit more about just some of the initiatives you’ve funded that have really brought credit unions together to tackle some shared social challenges?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe not funded as much because I think about our foundation’s work. A lot of what we do and the vast majority of where we spend our time is really in just helping bring conversations together and seeding opportunity, right? So I see we had a conversation with a group of credit unions the other day all about collaboration. Actually, it was called the collaboration showcase was the topic of the agenda for our meeting. And I was reflecting on that meeting, it was so easy to come up with things to talk about across the GoWeb’s region where we had examples of credit unions coming together to collaborate. It was not hard to find those examples because credit unions, and I think it’s so unique to that industry, they do that. They want to collaborate. They want to sit down at a table and say, “How do we come together and address this together?” So that just makes me so happy.

And there’s so much opportunity in that, especially when you’re talking about these things like what the foundation has is our identified initiatives. Workforce housing is no easy thing to solve for. And the same with access to capital and financial services in rural communities, right? All of those things are complex multifaceted issues that will really take all of us coming to the table with our unique set of expertise and interest and dollars and time to really make an impact. And so I love that credit unions are so willing to do that. When I think about examples, probably one of my favorite from recent memory, if you are not familiar with Spokane, Washington and the credit unions in Spokane, gosh, they are such an example of collaboration. And I think of a number of things over the past few years where they get together and say, “Hey, we want to do something together. Let’s go tackle this project together or let’s take this thing on.”

And we had a CEO of one of the credit unions there approach us, we’ve been talking with the Spokane credit unions about housing and how we can work together to address some of the challenges there and had the CO say, “I think we’ve got something that would really be meaningful,” brought us into the conversation, brought all of the other credit unions in Spokane into the conversation. And together, we stood up the first land bank in the state of Washington and then leveraged the GoWest Credit Union Association, and some of the credit unions marketing and PR capabilities were able to get the word out about it once the land bank became official. And it was so cool just to see once that announcement went out there locally in Spokane, every news station picked it up. And it was featured in a number of the print media there in town, and it just got legs that we didn’t really expect to see. And then folks came out of the woodworks and said, “Hey, I have land to donate to the land bank. Can I donate land to the land bank?”

And then in no time at all, because these credit unions had come together and said, “This is something we can own uniquely, we can partner to help stand up this land bank and then once it’s formed, we can help partner in a number of ways on the other side of it to help them build the housing that people in our community need,” and just really inspired folks in the community to come and say, “Hey, I think you could fit 10 houses on this property, do you want it?” Which is a bit surreal just to see that generosity from the community. And I think what’s special in that is if you look at the credit unions in Spokane, they’re not all the same. They don’t all have the same assets and membership and charter type or any of that, but they are all at the table. And we don’t have clear, clear answers today about okay, this credit union’s role is going to be exactly this going forward and this credit union’s role is going to be this other unique thing.

But we do know that within all of that, there is a role for smaller credit unions, there’s a role for larger credit unions and they’re willing to sit at a table and explore what that can look like, what does it look like for a group of larger credit unions to come together around some of the more complex and larger financing components of this? And what does it look like for others to support the homeowners through that process? And there’s a lot of opportunity within that. But I think that that example really illustrates something I’m proud of with the GoWest Foundation and the role that we’ve played. Again, grant dollars to help stand up the land bank, but I think more than anything it’s been spending time in conversation with those credit unions and with the partners that they have about what’s possible. And then just seeing the credit unions come together and collaborate, it’s just really incredible work.

Kerala Taylor:
I have to say hearing about and reading some of those stories, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I love to hear about credit unions working together. My next question is something I always love to ask, I worked for many years in the nonprofit industry. One nonprofit I worked for had a wonderful vision of a playground within walking distance of every child. And the idea was that if we achieved that, we would no longer have to exist as an organization. We would’ve nailed it knowing we probably weren’t going to, but it was a wonderful vision. So yes, we know there’s always going to be social challenges to tackle. But for the sake of dreaming a little, what would it take for the GoWest Foundation to say, “Okay, we don’t need to keep working, we don’t need to keep making grants, we don’t need to keep collaborating with credit unions. It’s all solved now.” What does that world look like to you?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah. So I think the foundation shares in the GoWest Credit Union Association’s vision in that we want to see an environment where all consumers, and we mean that both as individuals and small businesses, broad sense of the term consumer, but where all consumers can choose and do choose not-for-profit credit unions as their partner to achieve their financial dreams. And that is how strongly we feel about credit unions and what they can do to help individuals and to help local economies. So yeah, I mean I really do feel like that is at that point where that’s what available to every single person across our community, what could change, right, if we’re thinking about these membrane cooperatives as that source of capital and financial inclusion and all of that. So I think that’s a part of it.

And certainly there’s a lot that can be done around housing and I think in a perfect world, people would have access to housing that made sense for them and then have the financial tools to be able to make it work for them in future. And I think in rural economies, folks being able to, again, access capital where they’re working to start up a business that’s going to keep their family in that community long term. And yeah, I could go on for days about what that dream state looks like, absolutely. But I absolutely believe that credit unions are central to that dream state.

Kerala Taylor:
I love it.

Cameron Madill:
So Sharee, I’d love to chat a little bit about grant dollars. I was thinking about I read this really interesting book called The Small Big about five years ago, written by, believe it or not, Steve Martin. Not that Steve Martin though, he’s some English guy. He was a great speaker, saw him at a conference, read his book, and it was all about these behavioral economics examples of how you can do this little thing and get this big impact. And it affected all of us because that’s what we’re all looking for. As I mentioned a little while ago, we’re not JP Morgan Chase, we don’t have a gazillion dollars we can just throw at something. So from that standpoint, having seen so many different initiatives, I’m curious what advice you would give to a credit union that says, “Hey, how can I get some grant dollars and just absolutely maximize the value of that for social impact in my community and my membership?”

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And I would say for any of your listeners who are in the GoWest region, if they haven’t connected with the GoWest Foundation team, they should because I’ve lived in the world of grant making and used to be a grant writer, so I was on the other side of that for a long time out seeking grant dollars from funders. And it’s an intimidating space at times, right? You can’t just start today and apply for a CD5 grant tomorrow, right? There’s a lot that goes into that. So just encouraging folks to start where it is perhaps a little bit easier to get into that space. And I would say thinking of your credit union maybe differently than you have in the past and what you can offer the community and thinking outside the box about the fact that there are funders out there and social impact investors out there that absolutely do see credit unions as the way for them to accomplish their social impact goals in the community. And so then just how do you position your credit union in those conversations?

So start with the GoWest Foundation if you’re in the GoWest region. And there are other lead connected foundations, I would encourage you to reach out to them as well. We offer grant dollars to our credit unions, and like I said before, for things like loan loss, helping buy down interest rates but also match dollars and a whole host of different things. I would love to talk with any credit union about that. But there are so many other places. NCUA currently has a grant round open and some of those NCUA grants for low income designated credit unions are pretty simple. The application process is really simple and you wouldn’t necessarily think that, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking at just getting into a applying for grants. And then I think the other piece is probably in your local community, you’ll be thinking about who are those players in your local community that are showing up and trying to impact change in your local community?

And how do you come alongside them in conversations and help just introduce yourself and your credit union to the work that’s being done in a broader ecosystem? I think oftentimes credit unions could do more to sit at those tables where the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors and government sector are talking about how they can come together to create change. So I encourage folks to sit at those tables because oftentimes, those conversations are where the complex work is discussed and where there is an opportunity for credit unions and opportunity for grant dollars. But I also put on my old United Way grant writer hat, one of my favorite tools really was Google for looking at whether there were grant opportunities. Yeah, I know. Very sophisticated tool. But really looking at who are the funders in your footprint that are funding nonprofits to do financial empowerment work, because they are?

And then how do you look at yourself and say, “What are we offering the community? What could that grant support really help do more of? How can we build out our own capacity with grant dollars?” I think looking at what folks in the philanthropic sector are doing around social impact investing could be interesting for credit unions as well. And I do think philanthropy is starting to look at credit unions differently than they ever have before where CDFI used to have been maybe the filter that folks in the philanthropy space would’ve said, “Oh, okay, well it’s a CDFI, we can support them in this economic development work and this community development work.” I think now you are starting to see a shift where they are understanding credit unions differently and what’s possible with credit unions, but that really comes with credit unions being willing to talk about the things that they do and the way they serve their community.

So we’ve got to do more of that, right? We have to… I think the pandemic was a great example of that. How do you position credit unions as the solution provider in these times of need so that folks who are making decisions about how dollars get dispersed really can think of credit unions right out of the gate and say, “Gosh, I wonder if the credit unions across this state would be able to help us,” again, in that hub and spoke model, if you think about all the credit unions operating in a state or in a given region, you can get deepened rural communities. You can get deep into urban communities and across different I think demographics if you think about all of the credit unions collectively and how you can work across all of them to get work done.

So I think this is a bit rambly, but another piece of that is for a credit union looking to seek grant dollars, and credit unions do this so well, but thinking beyond your own institution to who are your other credit unions that you could partner with and collectively come together and say, “Here’s a thing we want to do,” and be able to have that conversation with funders in philanthropic community about what’s possible. There’s so much that I could say about this, but that’s a bit of where I think there’s opportunity. Also, one last thing I’ll say is something we’ve done is serve as what’s called a fiscal sponsor for credit unions. So oftentimes, in the philanthropic space, the funder is limited in only supporting 501(c)(3), which our foundation is a publicly supported charity of 501(c)(3). And so they can’t make a grant to a credit union by their own restrictions, right?

So we’ve been able to serve as a fiscal sponsor where we’ve received those grant dollars very technically, we are the recipient of the grants and we are on the hook for ensuring that whatever the grant is going to support gets accomplished and all the reporting gets done. So there’s some behind the scenes work that does have to happen there, but just encourage credit unions where that might be a barrier to reach out to their state foundations and see if that’s something that they can do as well, because it’s been a great way for us to partner with credit unions and be able to get dollars to them so that they can implement a program in partnership oftentimes with nonprofits in their community and just be that conduit.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah, that’s a great point. The fiscal sponsorship angle, particularly for short-term projects or as you said things where it’s just got to be a 501(c)(3) is so powerful. And this Google you say, is this an app or… No, I’m kidding. But it’s always a good reminder of have you Googled that? Because there’s usually a lot of good stuff there. All right, I digress, back to our main topic. So one of the fun things about being at PixelSpoke is our clients are credit unions, but as an entity we pertain to these communities of worker co-ops or I really think of them as social enterprises, social impact businesses. And I’ve often seen this dynamic where I’d go into these groups and people would be doing amazing impact work and they’d be really shy about promoting it, because they’d see, “Oh, it could be more, it could be better, it’s not perfect.”

And then they’d see someone who, to be a little blunt, they think some other company or entity is a schmuck, they’re not really doing any good work and they’re promoting the heck out of it and getting all the credit. And so I just felt like this always led to we need both, we need more impact and we need more marketing, right? Because the whole point is this is a system where those things feed upon each other and collectively create even more impact and good in the world. So I know we have a lot of credit union marketers in our audience and I’m curious, any ideas you have around how credit unions might get more awareness in their communities for the good work they’re doing either in partnership with an entity like the GoWest Foundation or just in general?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, And I mean I think there’s so much that can be done there and credit unions aren’t great, right, necessarily about shouting from the rooftops about the great work that they do. And I think it comes from a place of humility and authenticity that I love about credit unions, right? And I think there’s a way to tell that story that is authentic, that is genuine, that isn’t markety, that really does convey what it is their credit union is in their community. But I would say more so than that is really on the side of showing up in the community and building that trust and being there at all the tables, which I know can be really overwhelming, but in your community as a credit union, there are so many unlikely circles that credit unions can show up to where really, really important conversations are happening and where you may have to sit through a handful of meetings where you’re like, “Is this valuable for me?” And trying to get a sense for what does this mean long-term?

But really sitting at all those tables in the community and building that trust and that network across the community so that when you do tell the story, folks are like, “Oh, yeah, for sure.” It’s a confirmation of what folks already know about you. I think it’s really important. And I do think in GoWest, we at the association and foundation have been working on economic and community impact reporting where for us it’s about how we can aggregate across our six states data and have that data available that tells the story either at the regional level, at the state level, or a legislative district level, or for a specific credit union. But we’ve never lost sight of in all of that, being able to walk into a conversation and say, “Here’s the economic impact credit unions are having in your region and here’s a story of a member that was impacted by this small business loan in this rural community that was made possible by this credit union,” right?

I think being able to tie those two things together is important. So that authentic engagement in the community and then how you couple the data for us at least at the association level with those authentic stories I think is really powerful. But I do think credit unions need to do a bit more of telling that story of how members have been impacted by what they’ve done. And so often at the foundation, we uncover… Credit unions are just doing amazing things. We come across stories from credit unions where we say, “Oh my gosh, tell us more about what you’re doing.” And I know you’ve experienced this as well. And then they talk through this they had a need in their community, they sat down at a table and together with somebody else said, “Okay. Oh, yeah, let’s put this loan program together, or let’s put this product together. This makes sense.” And then they go off and they do that work and think nothing of it.

But it really is the incredible powerful amazingness that is credit unions coming to life through that little program. So thinking about those unique things that a credit union does and how you tell that story. I know I’m speaking to the experts on this, so I don’t know that I have a lot of great advice to give as much as I do. I love, love, love what credit unions are doing in their community and just want for that message to get out more and more so that when… I would love nothing more than to walk into a philanthropic forum, right? Or into a nonprofit space and say, “Oh, yeah, I work with credit unions,” and have people jump up and down saying, “Oh my gosh, credit unions, aren’t they the best?” So we’ve got a ways to go before in those circles that I’m in where folks even know what a credit union is, and that would be awesome to someday get to a place where folks knew what a credit union is to their community and were also there as ambassadors for credit unions.

Cameron Madill:
Awesome. I love that. Yeah, we could do a whole podcast on… Kerala’s an expert in that stuff. So I’m not going to ask you any more three and a half minute questions, Sharee, we’re going to do some rapid fire questions. You ready?

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah.

Cameron Madill:
We’re aiming low at this first one. If you could wave a wand and change one thing in the entire world, what would it be?

Sharee Adkins:
Well maybe that sounds silly, but less snark and less sarcasm, fewer hot takes, more empathy. I’ve seen this in my own community and I think we see it across our country, just it’s hard to continue to have empathy. So I think you said not a three minute response, but I do less snark and less sarcasm. As funny as those things are, I mean the best comedies, right, are based around snark and sarcasm, but just it’s easy for people to harden their hearts I think against others when they approach the world with too much of that.

Cameron Madill:
That’s a great answer. Yeah, there’s some really interesting research that nothing is more corrosive to love than contempt, and there’s an argument that the internet is designed for contempt. So certainly support your wand, now your wand is self-destructed, unfortunately. So good work. What is your favorite movie?

Sharee Adkins:
So such a nerd, I’m going to admit it. I love all movies by Hayao Miyazaki. So if you know who Hayao Miyazaki is, I love, love, love… I really did not want my kid to watch Disney movies growing up because I couldn’t stand them personally. And so he watched My Neighbor Totoro and other movies by Hayao Miyazaki. So if you don’t know who that is, go look him up. And they’re a little different if you’re not used to them, but they’re the best.

Cameron Madill:
All right. I thought you were going to say Top Gun or something, but all right, I’m learning new things. What is a place you’d like to visit that you’ve never visited?

Sharee Adkins:
I would say Ireland, never been to Ireland. The people there look lovely and like they’d be so much fun.

Cameron Madill:
All right. And lastly, what is a song that you’re really embarrassed to admit that you like jamming along to?

Sharee Adkins:
I am a big T Swift fan. Love Taylor Swift. And maybe not embarrassed, I’ll own it because I do love her so very much.

Cameron Madill:
A little less obscure than your favorite movie. All right, good.

Sharee Adkins:
True. It’s true.

Kerala Taylor:
My kids went through a big Taylor Swift fan, so I was rocking out to her on many car rides. I am also not embarrassed to admit that I like her.

Sharee Adkins:
I lover her to death,

Kerala Taylor:
Yeah. All right, Sharee, let’s do our final take. We’re just curious, is there anything you didn’t get to or anything that you’d especially like to reiterate for our audience?

Sharee Adkins:
I think the only thing I would share, and it’s something that our foundation team works really hard to do, is just in all of the work that we do, finding the opportunity and knowing which ones to continue to pursue can be tricky. And I think having a curiosity around just the world around you that forever their curiosity and questions and interest in the things around you just open up so many doors. And so just would encourage all of our credit union folks who might be listening and looking at how they can get into grant work and how they can do more of the social impact side of things. That curiosity leads you to so many places. So just that open mind and open heart about what’s possible. Yeah, that’s what I would like to leave everybody with.

Kerala Taylor:
I love it. One of our core values here at PixelSpoke is curiosity with a purpose. We’re big fans of curiosity. Well thank you so much for joining us. I learned a lot and we appreciate you being on.

Sharee Adkins:
Yeah, thank you.

Kerala Taylor:
Thanks so much for joining us for another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. I really appreciated our discussion about both maximizing and marketing impact. And I have to say it was hard to choose just five takeaways to hone in on here, but I’m going to give it a shot. Number one, I really loved what Sharee said about how credit unions are uniquely positioned to help affect large scale systemic change. And that’s for two reasons, it’s because they can leverage their very authentic heart for the community, and they can also leverage the strengths of their core business competencies as member-owned financial cooperatives. Secondly, I was just so impressed by the work that the GoWest Foundation is doing, and yes, it’s a grant making organization, but it sees its primary role less as a traditional philanthropic funder and more as a hub for credit unions to come together and do what they do best.

I loved how Sharee talked about the collective impact model and how they’re leveraging that to address the major social challenges that credit unions say their communities are facing. And these are challenges that include workforce housing, small business support and rural access just to name a few. Number three, credit unions in Spokane, Washington are providing a really powerful and inspiring example of the cooperation among cooperatives principle in action. Sharee talked about how they came together to establish Washington’s first ever land bank, and that makes property available for low-income housing and really represents a truly innovative and collaborative approach to affordable housing. Number four, we talked about how the GoWest Foundation is departing from the traditional philanthropic funding model somewhat, but it is still a grant making organization. And there are lots of ways that credit unions can leverage grant dollars. That includes regional foundations like GoWest, also the NCUA and lots of other grant making organizations out there.

Sharee’s hint is start with a Google search. You might find something surprising. And the philanthropy world, it sounds like, is actually starting to look at credit unions differently and to really recognize their potential for catalyze and social change. And lastly, for their part, one of the single most important things a credit union can do is simply to show up in its community. There’s a famous old adage, 99% of life is showing up. I think it applies in this case. It’s just important to show up and take a seat at the table when discussions around big issues are happening and there are lots of different forms that can take, but it’s important from both an impact and a visibility perspective. Well thanks again for joining us today for another great episode. And until next time, I wish you the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

 

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