Piedmont Advantage Credit Union’s roots are deep in the airline industry, but its commitment to giving back is no flight of fancy.
The 44,000-member cooperative commits serious time and energy to fundraising and community leadership in all its markets, giving both to local charities and nonprofits as well as to national causes in the credit union industry, such as the Children’s Miracle Network.
Founded in 1949 to serve Piedmont Airlines, Piedmont Advantage ($312.7M, Winston-Salem, NC) now serves more than 100 SEGs — including two regional airlines and employees of the former US Airways, now merged into American Airlines — as well as 11 counties in the Tarheel State.
Its causes are as diverse as its membership. They include United Way in each community, an autism agency in its hometown, child abuse prevention and support activities, and the USO.
The credit union, in fact, maintains a branch next to the USO in big, busy Charlotte Douglas International Airport and anyone can join the credit union with a $10 donation to the civilian military service group.
CU QUICK FACTS
PIEDMONT ADVANTAGE CREDIT UNION
Data as of 09.30.15
HQ: Winston-Salem, NC
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 3.77%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 6.50%
Making The Time
Writing a check or plopping collection jars on teller counters is the easy part, and Piedmont Advantage exercises selectivity in how much of that goes on. Tougher still is fitting the time into the growing list of demands on managers and staff at an active credit union.
There are a lot of activities across the credit union’s service areas, including such things as hot dog sales, vendor days in branches in which jewelry stores and bakeries sell their wares, jeans day, and Christmas ornament sales.
It can be challenging, but Piedmont Advantage makes it work.
“You know how it is in credit union land,” says Judy Tharp, Piedmont Advantage’s president and CEO. “I’ve been in this business for 37 years, and every year gets more complex. We have to get more out of fewer people. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Giving back is a priority, Tharp stresses, and the commitment begins at the top, including allowing the time to senior managers and others to work on social responsibility efforts.
“As our CEO, I make this a priority,” Tharp says. “There needs to be some fun in the workplace, and although it can be difficult to make that happen, these are opportunities to engage and get together and do something for the greater good.”
Our motivation is to help people and foster community. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because we are required to.
Extending Its Reach
Another major cause for Piedmont Advantage is the Reach program, an offshoot of the Victory Junction Gang Camp founded by NASCAR legends and their supporters to provide physically challenged and ill children a summer camp experience.
The credit union has partnered with its league’s Carolinas Credit Union Foundation to help raise $800,000 over the next four years to take the camping experience to hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across the two Carolinas.
“Our pledge to them — as the sole provider of funds for this project — is that we will raise the funds we promised,” says Lauren Whaley, president of the foundation. She says she’s confident the commitment of Piedmont Advantage and other credit unions will make it happen.
That’s one example of the power of partnerships when it comes to fundraising and giving back. There’s more.
A Little Help From Friends
Piedmont Advantage has averaged approximately $40,000 a year in total contributions in recent years. That jumped to $62,000 in 2014 when it had a chance to solicit contributions from its new credit and debit processors.
The Reach program takes the Victory Junction camp concept to hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across the Carolinas.
“The money is often there for the asking, or at least it has been for us,” Tharp says. “Leverage those relationships.”
Contract time is good timing for making the ask, she says, and the credit union always passes contributions directly through to the foundation, in the case of Reach and the CMN efforts.
As for staff and their friends and neighbors, connecting personal causes helps participation by making them relevant when it’s a staff member involved.
“What family hasn’t been affected by cancer?” Tharp asks.
Piedmont Advantage has a social responsibility team that “funnels the whole notion of giving back through a central group of people,” Tharp says.
“They have the accountability to keep things rocking and rolling,” she continues.
That team needs a strong leader who believes in giving back. Most recently at Piedmont Advantage, the team leader was the senior manager of mortgage lending, who received time away from regular duties to commit to the causes.
The credit union does not require participation in its social responsibility activities, but it does have a formal process to track what’s going on at the various branches so it can give credit where credit is due, and maybe do a little public relations work to call attention to itself.
Pound Your Chest. Someone Has To.
Piedmont Advantage uses social media, press releases, and other channels to publish its events and their results, and reaps many positive comments for its efforts, among its SEGs and local communities alike, Tharp says.
The process also provides positive reinforcement to the staff members who participate. Millennials in particular are attracted to the seven principles of the credit union movement and eager to engage, the Piedmont Advantage CEO says.
“Giving back programs are another vehicle for them to feel good about coming to work.”