All Ships Rise with the Tide

I’m excited to share some progress updates on my project to empower non-profit organizations using our business acumen and experience. As I look at the progress that has developed over the past three months, I am both thrilled and disappointed. By nature, I am ambitious and impatient, but I also see that it has been a busy season between holidays and 2019 initiative kick offs. It’s been three months and I think I can sum up the progress as good, bad, and ugly.

Good news first, right?

Since November, I have been blessed to have several opportunities to advocate for the involvement and support of non-profit organizations. In addition to discussing the ideas with a few credit unions and Non-Profit Organization (NPO) directors, I have worked with three organizations in our community to develop a strategic plan, social media strategy, and event plan. In my Next Top Credit Union Exec (NTCUE) presentation, I mentioned that this idea could also scale into commercial lines of business; I worked with a small tree cutting business to develop a web and social media schedule to boost business before the busy season. All of these engagements taught me key concepts about how to scale this into our organization. Next, I will be working with a team here to understand how we can train and develop more team members to begin working in our communities.

Let’s start there with the bad

This “idea” became very large and overwhelming. As I continued to research the non-profit and not-for-profit world, there are so many needs. I found myself researching grant writing, executive director job descriptions, board governance requirements, statistics, demographics and an array of other random aspects of the industry. I also found myself diving into research about each industry and humanitarian cause for the organizations for which was I helping. (Side note: Facebook, Google and Amazon are really having a hard time figuring out my algorithm based on my searches.) In the end, I was left with a lot of information that was not useful due to my own lack of experience in how to apply this material. I was softly reminded to “stay in my lane.” In other words, a colleague helped me remember that I was not trying to be a non-profit expert; I was trying to help them with the skills and knowledge that I have already. I can be a better partner by offering skills that they may not have, not having the same knowledge as them. Now, I am focusing on enhancing the skills that we can help with as a credit union and preparing training and development to help other team members be effective community partners.

Here’s the ugly

There is not a clear way to estimate an ROI for community involvement or engagement and that makes decision makers in the finance and banking industry nervous. It makes me nervous. I can give you models of how this can bring in revenue or use staff time more efficiently, but at the end of the day, the income or expense is not a clear equation. I struggled with this concept as I was developing materials for the competition, wanting to see the ROI as a substantiation of the idea. It made me doubt my own idea at times. In most of the conversations since the competition, leaders have asked me about the ROI. During the presentation in Nashville, one judge asked me a question that has stuck in my head since. He asked how this could be a “strategic competency in your organization instead of a distraction?” A distraction. I did not take offense to this question; it simply gave me a valuable perspective that I had, foolishly, not considered. It challenges me, today, to make this a key part of our community involvement program in the future. I gave an answer around efficiency and staff buy in, which is a huge part of it, but I wish I could have clearly stated that helping communities could never be a distraction from our “real work”. It is what we were founded upon; NPOs are simply a new way to develop these relationships. Yes, we have to run businesses to remain strong for our members. Yes, we have regulations and legal demands to remain stable. But we are part of communities that rely on stable, strong organizations, other than us. Let us not be so focused on what we know about the banking industry that we forget to see new opportunities to impact people or drive business. Many of our organization are highly invested in community volunteerism, financial literacy, mentoring and other giving efforts. Working with NPOs to build their business acumen is just one other way that can be considered.

All ships rise with the tide.

Research shows that strong communities result in strong, stable families, which drive economic growth and prosperity. Let’s all work toward impacting communities using our capabilities and positions as business leaders to assist these organizations have the skills to succeed.

Lynette Cupps