Mobilize a Volunteer Army and Solidify a Healthy Future

Volunteer efforts by the members, for the members, maximize a credit union’s resources.


Shortly after forming in 1979, New York's Guardian Angels became both the subject of admiration and controversy, as the unarmed volunteer group used its presence to protect citizens from violent crime. Many credit unions are now utilizing their own volunteer forces to protect members' financial futures by promoting the credit union movement. The member services and rates that set credit unions apart, hinge on their ability to operate in a financially responsible manner. Here, volunteers can make a crucial difference, lowering advertising costs, assisting employee efforts, and providing key services while keeping budgets in the green.

In the late 1960s, State Employees Credit Union ($19.6 B, Raleigh, NC) began experimenting with volunteer members for its branch advisory boards.

Today, SECU utilizes nearly 3,500 volunteers for everything from its grassroots advertising campaigns and advisory boards to loan review committees, says Leigh Brady, senior vice president of education services at SECU.

"It's easy to volunteer for something you believe in," says SECU member Charles Koonce, Associate Director of PGA Golf Management at Methodist University. "You give back to the community."

A long-term volunteer, Koonce served on some of the first SECU advisory boards in Fayetteville, NC, after being nominated for the position by a colleague. "The return I get outweighs the time I put in," he says.

SECU volunteers are managed by three full-time employees and a handful of part-time individuals. The group is mobilized and informed through mail, email, and phone networking as well as in-person educational events. "If it's an invitation to an event or something we want feedback on, we'll mail them," says Brady, who advises volunteer forces can also be utilized as focus groups. "We've got more than 3,000 people we can go to in a pinch and say 'what are your thoughts on this?'"

Branch managers send their area volunteers one press release per month, and a quarterly meeting with PowerPoint and branch manager presentations orients new volunteers. Volunteers are also given a reference advisory hand book and invited to a daylong annual meeting where SECU employees discuss volunteers' top three interests or questions about the credit union.

To find potential volunteers within your membership, "Look to your biggest advocates," Brady advises. "They are the ones who are coming into your branch or calling you or emailing you on a consistent basis."

Employees, branch managers and current volunteers can recruit new volunteers, and each new volunteer further improves your grassroots network. "If we need anything within our community or on the state or even the federal level, this [the volunteers] is a tremendous group of advocates," Brady says.

Brady cites SECU's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax assistance to members with low household incomes, as an example of volunteers producing affordable, effective PR. SECU expects the program, now in its third year, to process 30,000 returns, twice as much as the first year it was offered.

Brady says SECU's volunteers advertise the program, and mobilizing them requires "nothing more than me shooting an email to them saying 'we're doing this again.'"

Volunteers can also promote diversity and quality leadership in high ranking positions. "As a community charter, it's really important that our Board be representative of the community served," said Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, CEO of Travis Credit Union (1.6 B, Vacaville, CA) in a January webinar.

Realizing its Board of Directors lacked crucial diversity, Travis Credit Union launched its "Volunteer at Large" program in 2002. The program utilizes a skill and diversity matrix to refine the selection of volunteers while providing training and industry insight. This allows program graduates the chance to eventually join the supervisory committee or the Board itself and creates a smooth succession process in these key positions, Ouwerkerk says.

The volunteers on or waiting to join the supervisory committee or board include individuals with military, education, and healthcare backgrounds as well as the mayor of Vacaville, CA.