CU4Kids Proves Cooperation Counts

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Cooperation is a guiding principle for credit unions, so it’s only fitting that credit unions have made philanthropy into a cooperative effort, raising money together to support their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, working through leagues and chapters in their regions for fundraising events and activities, and even serving on boards within Children's Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals.

“Credit Unions for Kids (CU4Kids) was created to fit the credit union model of working cooperatively,” says Nick Coleman, Director, Strategic Partners at CMN Hospitals. “Through shared marketing campaigns, successful fundraising, meeting about and planning events, credit unions collectively have raised over $10 million for their local members of CMN Hospitals through CU4Kids in 2021—and more than $165 million since CU4Kids was formed.”

Here’s why—and how—CU4Kids is celebrating the credit union cooperative spirit.

Cooperation Is Motivation

Jose Lara, President of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union in California, is the right person to talk to about cooperation. He’s been an active practitioner of it since his credit union career began 28 years ago: “I came up in this industry under the leadership of an icon in the credit union movement,” Lara explains. “He valued collaboration and would do things like send his leadership team, myself included, out to other credit unions to share ideas and problem solve.”

“Because of this, I learned to lead with a collaborative mindset, I’ve always been one to reach out to other credit unions to learn more about their approach—and I’m very receptive when a credit union executive reaches out to me. The cooperative nature of our movement is one of our key differentiators, and I’ve been pleased to promote it.”

In addition to serving on the Credit Union National Association’s board of directors and participating in a number of industry groups, Lara chairs the CU4Kids Advisory Committee at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), where he recruits credit unions to the CU4Kids cause and collaborates with the hospital and other credit unions, developing fundraising projects for staff and members. “I belong to a number of credit union groups,” says Lara, “and I’m always trying to insert CU4Kids into the agenda to encourage new credit unions to join.”

Working on the CHOC committee gives Lara and SchoolsFirst FCU a voice in selecting, planning, promoting and participating in CHOC CU4Kids events throughout the year, from the CHOC Walk at Disneyland to in-branch icon campaigns for members. Lara also points out that cooperation boosts motivation: “One of the things we do as a group is to set fundraising goals that we work toward together,” he says. “It keeps us focused on results, so whatever we do individually or as a group contributes to a larger objective.”

Not Your College Work Group

Marty Kelly and Megan Primeau work together at TruStone Financial Credit Union in Minnesota: They’re the EVP/Chief Marketing Officer and SVP/Director of Product Line Marketing, respectively. They also work together on the CU4Kids committee for the Minnesota Credit Union Network—and have for more than a decade. In support of CU4Kids, Kelly and Primeau have participated in a lot of activities, including Bowl-O-Rama bowling tournaments, Karaoke 4 Kids, even (at least in Kelly’s day) inflatable sumo wrestling.

“Megan and I are now practically synonymous with the CU4Kids golf tournament, we’ve planned so many of them. People will call us directly to find out when it’s happening,” says Kelly, who accepted his position on the CU4Kids committee when his boss retired 20 years ago. “Since then, I’ve never, never considered leaving this group,” he says. “I just enjoy it so much.”

Part of the joy is in cooperation. The members of the MnCU4Kids committee have fine-tuned their strategy and roles over the years so they operate effectively. “The CU4Kids committee is not like your college work group, where one person does all the heavy lifting,” says Primeau. “You know you have talent around you that you can rely on.” The committee has winnowed down its activities to a handful of meaningful—and enjoyable—events throughout the year. “By focusing our efforts and doing them really well, we’ve actually raised more money for the kids without spreading ourselves too thin.”

When Kelly first joined the CU4Kids committee in 2003, it consisted mostly of credit union leaders who served as mentors. Now it’s an opportunity to work with up-and-comers. “If I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of traditional networking,” Kelly says. “It’s the usual chit-chat and one-upmanship at a conference just isn’t that meaningful. When you roll up your sleeves and work alongside peers for a cause that you all believe in, that’s when you truly get to know and respect the good people of the credit union industry.”

A Template for Success

CU4Kids and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals clearly benefit from the cooperative efforts credit unions professionals make every day to recruit, plan, execute, fundraise and promote on their behalf. But CU4Kids hopes these opportunities pay dividends for volunteers as well.

“CU4Kids is one of the few opportunities credit unions have to cooperate on local, regional and national levels, where they can have fun, get to know each other and work together toward a common goal,” says Coleman. “And maybe learning to work effectively together on these projects can help credit unions when they’re cooperating on business goals and advocacy as well.”

“One reason the Northwest Credit Union Association loves CU4Kids is because it allows credit unions to work together in a fun and meaningful way that makes a difference for the hospitals, for the kids, and for their families,” says Troy Strang, President/CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), which represents more then 170 credit unions in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and that raises funds for eight members of CMN Hospitals throughout the Pacific Northwest. “That collaboration translates into how Northwest credit unions work together serving their members and communities.”

Credit union professionals share their cooperative vision on the CU4Kids Advisory Board. This group includes Brad Miller (AACUL), Brooke Van Vleet (InRoads Credit Union), Caroline Willard (Cornerstone Credit Union League), Chris Roe (CUNA Mutual Group), Darren Williams (Wescom Credit Union), Diana Dykstra (California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues), John Bratsakis (Maryland & DC Credit Union Association), Ron Amstutz (Desert Financial Credit Union), and Samantha Paxson (Co-op Solutions).

And two credit union leaders currently sit on the CMN Hospitals board: Bill Cheney, President and CEO of SchoolsFirst FCU and Todd Clark, President and CEO of CO-OP Financial Services.

“All of us in the credit union industry stay because we believe in the people helping people philosophy,” says Primeau. “Working together for CU4Kids just makes you feel good. If you’re not involved, you’re missing out on one of the core benefits of working for credit unions.”

Article by Nick Coleman, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

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