This article was originally published by the Northwest Credit Union Foundation (NWCUF) on November 9, 2021; Philanthropy Northwest has cross-posted it here with their permission. See the original piece on NWCUF's website.
Acting as a convener and intermediary grantmaker, NWCUF’s strategic focus centers on accelerating and expanding Northwest credit unions’ positive community impact.
As not-for-profit cooperative financial institutions owned by the very consumers they serve, credit unions are powered by a “people helping people” philosophy. It’s a mission that runs deep and drives everything credit unions do for their members and communities every single day.
The Northwest Credit Union Foundation shares that core mission and believes credit unions are uniquely positioned to be vehicles for positive change. NWCUF works with credit unions across Idaho, Oregon and Washington to build financial empowerment and expand access to safe and affordable capital for households and communities. Focusing on important issues such as workforce housing, rural access to financial services, and disaster response, NWCUF is actively pursuing innovative solutions to pressing issues facing the region.
Operating as an intermediary grantmaker, NWCUF partners with philanthropic funders, community organizations and the unique network of Northwest credit unions to create long-lasting, positive impact in the region.
“Our role is to champion, expand and accelerate credit unions’ hard work to foster financial well-being and make a tangible impact in their communities,” said Sharee Adkins, NWCUF executive director. “We do this by leveraging resources — both from within and outside the credit union space — and by keeping our finger on the pulse of community and social issues that affect credit unions and their members.”
For example, Sharee pointed to NWCUF’s initiative focused on increasing access to financial services in rural communities — where three Northwest credit unions are using NWCUF grants to conduct demographic studies and develop local relationships that will deepen their knowledge of the unique characteristics of rural households. The credit unions are using this data to develop innovative financial services today’s rural communities need to thrive.
Northwest Credit Unions’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, convened by NWCUF and the Northwest Credit Union Association, is another example, Sharee said. The task force’s recommended best practices for credit unions looking to advance their DEI work as employers, financial institutions and community partners already is helping credit unions develop policies for their organizations and memberships, no matter where they are in their DEI journey.
Workforce housing, where more than $800,000 in grants have been awarded to credit unions since 2018 to increase access to housing, and helping students with the cost of a college education through the NWCUF’s MESA program are a few more ways NWCUF partners with credit unions in the region.
Over the decades since their inception, credit unions have evolved to meet their members’ ever-changing needs. They continue to provide innovative products, valuable services and steadfast guidance to empower financial health and increase vitality in the communities they serve.
Increasingly, credit unions are expected to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time, including buoying underserved and rural communities, blunting the affordable housing crisis and navigating obstacles and opportunities presented by the pandemic.
“That’s a lot to ask of an individual credit union, especially a small one,” said Gene Pelham, NWCUF board chair and CEO of Rogue Credit Union in Medford, Oregon. “But by coming together and tapping into their innate collaborative and cooperative natures, credit unions have huge potential for having a deep positive impact on some of the most daunting challenges facing society today.”
As the social, economic and political landscape continues to evolve, NWCUF stands ready to help credit unions find meaningful ways to deepen their impact, improve the financial lives of their members and foster a brighter future for all.
“The Credit Union Movement’s collaborative principles have helped it grow to include more than 126 million members across the U.S. and 8.1 million in the Northwest,” said Sharee. “By coming together and facing challenges as one, Northwest credit unions make amazing things happen for their members and their communities. NWCUF is honored and humbled to help them make the most of that work.”
To learn more about the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, please visit its website at NWCUF.ORG.