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.]