A Decade of Change

Anyone connected to the cooperative sector in Ontario knows the past decade has been one of much change. The number of co-ops and credit unions has changed. Legislation and regulatory oversight have created new challenges. Technology continues to evolve at a blistering pace.

Change is driven by responsiveness to existing, or future unrealized customer needs.

A decade ago, we were known as Ontario Credit Union Charitable Foundation (OCUCF). Our CRA purpose read: “The Foundation provides funding to agencies delivering support services such as housing and food for the poor, children’s hospitals and health agencies, research organizations, scholarships, and bursaries for deserving students, family support and seniors’ services. The Foundation also provides funding to the co-operative development foundation in Ottawa to assist cooperative development worldwide, and the Red Cross for relief efforts worldwide.” There wasn’t too much we weren’t attempting to do. Our primary “service” was our matching program where credit unions would apply to the foundation to have their fundraising activities matched for their charitable works.

The Board, through their strategic planning efforts, realized the Foundation had to adapt to a changing world. Requests for matching funds were declining, the organization was not focused, either on purpose or geography. The establishment of memorial funds was less in vogue. Frankly, our relevance was dwindling. We simply could not continue to be all things to all people.

In 2015, we embarked on a fact-finding exercise to better understand how the OCUF could support our Ontario Credit Union partners. In speaking to over 70% of our stakeholders, they overwhelmingly told us to focus on supporting Credit Union’s in delivering support and services that were relevant to a younger demographic. Senior credit union leadership also expressed a desire to partner with the Foundation to build Credit Union awareness.

The Board made some key decisions. The first was to change our mission to focus on supporting youth education and leadership. In addition, we also change the name of the Foundation to remove “charitable” as it was redundant being a registered foundation (which is permitted to carry on a charitable purpose). Lastly, we limited our geographic footprint to Ontario.

What didn’t change was the Foundation supporting credit union philanthropic activities and administration of donor-advised and permanent capital funds. This service is available to co-operatives in Ontario! The two Bernie Daly funds established by GROWMARK are examples.

The CU Succeed Youth Bursary (CUSYB) program (pronounced see you succeed) was launched in 2016. It assists deserving students who actively give back to their communities by providing bursaries for post-secondary students for academic, technological, or vocational learning. Since its inception, the CUSYB program has provided $436,000 to 327 students. Our member credit unions increasingly are supporting and promoting the bursary.

In 2020 we clarified our value proposition: “Providing member Credit Unions an effective, professionally branded youth bursary program that helps increase awareness, attracts youth members and their families while reinforcing local community engagement, impact and contribution.”

So how are we doing? The denominator keeps changing with the number of member credit unions due to mergers and acquisitions, that said 79% of the credit unions in Ontario are members. In the past two years, we have welcomed five new credit unions. We continue to work at increasing that percentage. Feedback has told us our brand is well recognized in the Ontario credit union space. By all measures, the CUSYB program has been well received.

Are we there yet? Our work continues. In November the Board at their planning session will be looking at our progress against our value proposition, how our efforts can help increase awareness of credit unions to attract younger customers, and the creation of a new program we hope to launch in early 2022.

No one needs to be told the world continues to change. OCUF like credit unions and co-operatives must remain responsive to our member’s needs. It drives our compass.

[This article was initially written for the Ontario Cooperative Association blog.]

BC Disaster Relief Appeal

Our hearts go out to all those impacted by the extreme weather and resulting flooding in British Columbia. We understand there has been one confirmed death with that number potentially rising as rescue efforts continue.

With major highways washed out, the impact will be felt well beyond the interior of B.C. Major supply chains have dramatically changed, impacting the whole province and other parts of Canada. Truck are routing through the U.S. as the only viable option. The province has declared a state of emergency. If you are interested in helping those directly impacted, you can make a donation to the Red Cross. They have set up the B.C. Floods & Extreme Weather Appeal.

Some additional information many won’t know. The Abbotsford area was once covered by Sumas Lake and lies below sea level. The lake was drained and reclaimed in 1925 with the completion of the Vedder Canal and Sumas Pump Station, which diverted the Sumas River along four creeks. As well, 40 km of flood protection dikes were also built at the time. One of the reasons for this reclamation was the mosquito infestations were so bad due to the widely changing water levels of the lake. In fact school children would be kept home from school sometimes as long as six weeks, and livestock would die from loss of blood.

Within a few years, tens of thousands of acres of farmland were added to the Lower Mainland, becoming the Sumas Prairie of quilted, pristine green fields. This area of the former lakebed became some of the most productive farmland in Canada. 

This background information isn’t provided to undermine the severity of this disaster. A record 275 mm of rain fell in one day, after two weeks of rain having saturated the ground and surrounding mountains. 


The dying art of the handwritten card.

When was the last time you received a note, a handwritten note, inside a card saying thank you? Made you think, didn’t we?

In today’s world we are quick to fire off an email, or text message. And more and more of our youth say, what every you do, don’t leave me voice mail, I never listen to them.

How the world has changed!

Yesterday OCUF received the card you see below. Handwritten. Unsolicited.

Addressed to “CU Succeed Youth Bursary” which represents not just our Board, but the many credit unions, supporters, and sponsors that make the bursary possible. This card is for you.

Kaleb, we say thank you. Thank you for taking the time to express your gratitude in a way that left an impact in todays fast paced world. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of saying thank you. Your “reaching out” suggests your thoughtfulness will take you as far as you wish to travel in your post-secondary journey and beyond.

We liked the card very much. If you are interested, check out this website nativereflections.ca

What can I do?

Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day. Lots of orange shirts around. Many companies and organizations are closed to make this a day of reflection.

The day comes with many emotions, with many perspectives, and deep feelings. Not everyone is aligned in their feelings. It is unrealistic to believe we all will align.

We can choose to use the day to reflect and understand other’s points of view. Understand more about Canadian history. Perhaps it can be a day with less judgement and recognize we all share this great land we call Canada.

If you want to move past reflection, you might consider donating one day’s pay. The background on the initiative can be read here. Or you can visit their website.

CU Succeed Youth Bursaries Announced

We had 275 individuals register for the bursary this year with 118 completing the full application by June 30th. After much deliberation, and careful consideration, 69 applicants were chosen to receive a bursary award this year.

Our top recipient, Huynh My Linh D. (left) was one of the strongest applications we have ever received. Her community involvement, scholastic achievement and demonstrated need was recognized by the reviewers. Huynh My Linh receives our top award of $3,000. An equally impressive application came in a very close second from Silma M. (right) who is receiving $2,000. Six individuals tied for third spot, each receiving $1,500. Congratulations to Reauna V., Benjamin G., Zoe M., Jose N., Syeda Taliya R., and Lilly V. The remaining award winners each will receive $1,000.

We were delighted to have receive applications from members of 33 different credit unions, and award are going out to members from 28 of those credit unions. This is our highest participation rate yet. We extend our thanks to all the credit unions who promoted the CU Succeed Youth Bursary to their members.

A big thank you to the nine adjudicators who worked through 118 completed CU Succeed Youth Bursary applications. Congratulations to all the bursary recipients. We wish everyone who applied a successful school year ahead.

Bursary Boosters Bust Out

The 2021 Bursary Boosters came together to exceed the planned goal of $10,000 by reaching $11,236!

Congratulations to all our credit union friends and supporters who made this possible. Kudos to Northern Credit Union who raised an amazing $2,000 through a variety of different initiatives, one of which involved getting to throw a cream pie in one of the executive’s face. Tickets for that one sold faster than a Bruce Springsteen concert!

Alterna was also very much a grassroots campaign then not only raised funds, but awareness for the CU Succeed Youth Bursary. Different branches too part with Lakeshore West the number one fundraiser, followed closely by the Contact Centre and Bolton branch. All together over $1,500 was raised.

Kudos to our Gold Boosters, Alterna Savings, Ganaraska, Heritage Savings, Kingston Community, Luminus, Northern, Sudbury and Tandia. Special thanks to our Silver Boosters, Equity, Frontline and Oshawa Community!   

At the end of the day, the recipients of our CU Succeed Youth Bursary are the beneficiaries of your support, so on their behalf a hearty thank you!

Friend of the Foundation Inductees 2021

It was a pleasure for OCUF to announce the induction of two new “Friend of the Foundation” recipients at our Annual General Meeting.

Joel LalondeJoel Lalonde was the first inductee. Joel served on the OCUF Board for nine years. He was a strong contributor to the Foundations leadership and strategic direction. For six years as Secretary – Treasurer Joel ensured there was strong oversight of the Foundations finances. As Chair of the Audit & Investment Committee he was the key contact with our auditor.

Joel oversaw the move of our permanent capital funds to an investment management firm, Jarislowsky Fraser at the end of 2016. That move has been fortuitous as we have experienced a return of 7.2% since inception.

Joel, we welcome you as a Friend of the Foundation and thank you for your contribution to OCUF.

Our second inductee was Dan Coldwell. Dan completed nine years on the OCUF Board, the last six as Chair.

What can we say about this larger-than-life individual? Dan tirelessly prompted the Board to think bigger and to be better. Dan ensured good governance. He ensured every Director had an equal voice around the table. He challenged us. He led us through a metamorphosis, embracing the past, but knowing we had to change as our member credit unions were changing.

Under Dan’s watch OCUF recruited a new Executive Director, rebranded, and grown the number of member credit unions. Dan oversaw the creation of the CU Succeed Youth Bursary, and he attracted solid talent from the credit union sector to serve as Directors.

Dan thank you for your nine years of service, your commitment, and your passion.

Martin Gillis Receives 2021 Distinguished Service Award

OCUF is pleased to congratulate Martin (Marty) Gillis, WFCU Credit Union Board Chair on receiving the 2021 Distinguished Service Award.

This award recognizes the outstanding service to the Credit Union movement in Ontario beyond the level of the individual credit union. Candidates are nominated based on their commitment and demonstration of the extensive criterion, including Leadership, Advocacy, Accomplishments, Practical Experience and Meritorious Service.

Marty has been involved in the credit union system for nearly 50 years, and continues to exhibit outstanding leadership and professional standards that enhance the credit union movement. These various leadership positions in the cooperative system and his tremendous commitment, over the years, to local community organizations attests to this most deserving honour.

Marty is a long-time proponent for Board Governance having structured and negotiated numerous mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances within the credit union system. Marty’s ability to think strategically and to implement change without eliminating important credit union values and philosophies has proven extremely valuable for WFCU Credit Union and the system overall.

“Marty is a tremendous asset to WFCU Credit Union. His passion, knowledge and thirst for learning has proven instrumental as an advocate for the credit union system but more importantly his ever-mindful concern for our members, their families, and their collective wellbeing is what makes Marty an inspiring and deserving choice,” said Eddie Francis, President and CEO, WFCU Credit Union. “We are all very proud to have Marty as the Chair of our Board of directors, all of us are better because of his leadership and passion for our organization.”

Marty recognizes unique opportunities which continue to bring awareness and credibility not only to WFCU Credit Union, but also to the entire credit union system. Such opportunities demonstrate the financial strength and commitment credit unions bring to their communities. Marty has been a champion for numerous initiatives that have expanded visibility of the credit union brand and increased confidence in the financial services credit unions offer.

“OCUF is absolutely delighted to recognize Marty Gillis with the Distinguished Service Award. He joins a list of credit union legends, and so he should. For five decades, Marty has passionately promoted co-operative values. He is an icon in our sector, a strong ambassador, best known to walk the talk,” said Dan Coldwell, Chair Ontario Credit Union Foundation at the OCUF AGM.

The Distinguished Service Award was first introduced in 1979 by Central 1 and has been awarded to many celebrated recipients over the years. Marty now joins these exemplary figures in the credit union system and will be remembered for the difference he has sought out to make in the financial services industry.

YNCU Wins Outstanding Corporate Achievement Award

We are very excited to announce Your Neighbourhood Credit Union was the winner of the 2021 Corporate Achievement Award!

To say 2020 was a memorable year would be an understatement.

One year ago, we were a couple of months into the pandemic. Everyone was worried. Over the last year, credit unions have stepped up in their communities in extraordinary ways. This was evident as we reviewed this year’s OCAA submissions. At our recent AGM, Kevin Connolly who presented the award commented, “I can say on behalf of the adjudication panel, it made us very proud to be part of the credit union sector! The quality of submissions we received clearly showed credit unions concern for your staff, for your members and for your communities.” The quality and number of submissions received was fantastic. We thank all of those who put time and energy into sharing your story.

One submission was the unanimous choice of our adjudication panelists. YNCU was invited to submit a short video explaining their initiative, what it took to make it happen, and what the outcome was.

Click on the image to the left to see the video prepared by YNCU that outlines the program they created to help small business in the communities they serve.

I hope you were as impressed as we were with the outstanding impact YNCU had on their communities in 2020 and will have in the years ahead.

Former Board Chair Dan Coldwell, in a press release commented, “Adjudicating the Outstanding Corporate Achievement Award was more difficult this year. With COVID, so many credit unions in Ontario stepped up to help the communities they serve. The many submissions we received were shining examples of how credit unions looked after their staff, their members and the many in the community who struggled during the pandemic.  Your Neighbourhood Credit Union outdid themselves in the eyes of our panelists. A significant investment was made to help small businesses stay afloat during these very challenging times. The idea of establishing websites by geographic area focused on promoting small businesses, many of whom had never considered online retailing, was not only creative, but it was also brilliant. It was a lifeline. The fact this is a sustainable project is a bonus. Well done YNCU! You have made us all proud.”

YNCU provided a statement to be shared at the Annual General Meeting that read:

Your Neighbourhood Credit Union is honoured to receive this award. We are inspired by the community initiatives led by so many credit unions in the system. And we are thankful to have such a dedicated team of employees that want to work with our members to help our communities thrive. We hope you enjoy this glimpse of Shop Your Neighborhood.

Congratulations YNCU for your achievement.


Welcome OPPA Credit Union

A warm welcome to the OPPA Credit Union who has decided to become a member of OCUF. We are delighted to have you.

OPPA Credit Union was started by Ontario Provincial Police officers in 1971. They focus solely on helping OPP officers, staff and their families achieve financial security. They serve over 8,000 members with over $225 million in assets. The credit union is in Barrie and offers products, services and financial planning/investment advice second to none.

For those not familiar with OPPA Credit Union, this extract from their website may be of interest:

We understand and respect our members and the challenges they face in making their dreams come true. The life of a police officer is unique. Personal stress is great. We focus our business on helping our members and their families achieve their financial goals. And we’ve been doing it since 1971. In other words, we exist to improve your life. And, we’re better qualified than most other financial institutions to do so. Because we know what makes you special.

Over the past few years, in order to achieve our growth goals, we have organized our credit union differently from other financial institutions. We have not embarked on large-scale advertising. Rather, we have focused on building our business one customer at a time, by providing excellent service and value-added advice. Every interaction with our members is critical. That’s why we have dedicated Financial Advisors assigned to a specific group of members. They work hard to get to know what their members want and need.

Again, our sincere welcome to our new friends at OPPA Credit Union!