With a philosophy of “people helping people,” community outreach and charitable giving play critical roles in a credit union’s overall strategy. Credit unions of all sizes strive to engage their members and community through various initiatives and events, with some being more effective than others. So what does it take for your credit union’s charitable giving to make a real impact? According to our “C.U. on the Show” guest, every credit union should make critical decisions when developing and scaling their charitable giving to create a more meaningful and sustainable strategy.

Jama Campbell, senior vice president and executive director of the State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation in North Carolina, joins Doug on the show. Jama has worked in various roles at SECU for over 25 years before leading its foundation in 2015. She helps guide the credit union in furthering its commitment to North Carolina citizens and ensuring its footprint is felt throughout the state. She shares with Doug how SECU developed and refined its approach to charitable giving and made the decision to create a dedicated foundation. She also provides early-stage recommendations for credit unions at any size and level of charitable giving, such as identifying focus areas, choosing a funding model, and developing giving criteria that goes beyond financial giving.

How to Choose Focus Areas and a Funding Model

After years of refining the SECU approach and realizing real impact with members and in the community, Jama shares the keys decisions SECU made and the questions credit unions should answer when starting or expanding their charitable giving:

  • What does your credit union want to achieve in the community, or what needle does it want to move? Jama shares how SECU consulted with board volunteers and branch managers to get a pulse on the needs of its members and community to finalize its four focus areas of education, healthcare, housing, and human services.
  • How will you fund charitable giving initiatives? Jama explains that choosing a funding model will depend on the resources and scale of the credit union. For example, some credit unions will directly fund charitable giving, and others will engage their members and employees for support. She shares how the SECU Foundation uses monthly maintenance fees from members to fund its projects. By creating a consistent funding source for the foundation, SECU was able to create more buy-in among members and enable its team to spend more time focused on giving.

How to Build Giving Criteria
Once your credit union identifies focus areas and a funding model, the next critical step is to develop giving criteria. Jama shares that deciding who gets assistance should align with your charitable giving tenets, help filter requests, and ensure you work with the right organizations and partners. For example, after 18 years in service, the SECU Foundation has clarified its giving criteria, designed templates to help manage the significant requests it receives, and formed more creative ways to give.

Jama explains that one of the hardest parts of running a foundation is saying “no” to organizations in need. However, SECU has found new ways to give back and help beyond financial gifting. For example, the credit union can provide more assistance through no-interest loans than a donation as part of its housing focus. It has also leveraged an extensive network of professionals to help connect organizations with the expertise and resources they need to grow and build a sustainability model—something of tremendous value to the organizations and communities it serves.

Stream the episode to hear more about SECU’s approach to charitable giving and the resources available to other credit unions, plus learn:
How the number of charitable requests, momentum, and size of your credit union can help determine if a dedicated foundation makes sense
The various projects SECU supports, including scholarships, capacity building, and internships, to help inspire your credit union’s focus areas
How your credit union can kick off with a strong project that galvanizes your staff and community

Listen to the episode now.

Jama Campbell, State Employees’ Credit Union, and the SECU Foundation are not affiliated with or endorsed by ACT Advisors, LLC.

Audio Transcription (pulled from the podcast)

Doug English (00:00)
My guest on today’s podcast is Jama Campbell. Jama is the senior vice president and executive director of the SECU Foundation at State Employees’ Credit Union. In this episode, we discuss charitable foundations, including how to determine your foundation’s focus and funding, how to decide who gets a grant or loan, and how to leverage the power of your network to help organizations grow and ensure their sustainability.

All right, Jama, welcome to “C.U. on the Show.” We’re delighted to have you with us today to talk a little bit about charitable intent, charitable giving foundations in the credit union space.


Jama Campbell (00:43)
It’s wonderful to be here with you, Doug. Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to really highlight the work of the SECU foundation—to really talk about how this mission, this work is so important for other credit unions, all of us working in the same field and trying to really give back to our members and our community. So thank you.


Doug English (01:03)
So tell me in the first place, how did you get started working with credit unions? And what is the work that you do today?


Jama Campbell (01:10)
Well, I started with State Employees’ Credit Union 27 years ago, so I have been around for a while. And I’ve always worked here at SECU, worked in the branch network for a number of years, and have even been in our internal audit department. So I’ve seen a lot of different areas of our credit union. And I think working within branches throughout different regions of North Carolina I really got to know a lot of our members, a lot of our advisory board members who are our volunteers for State Employees’ Credit Union, and get involved in a lot of different communities. And I think that has really helped guide the work we’ve been able to do here at the foundation. I came to the SECU Foundation about seven years ago. And I was really the first full-time employee of the foundation. Prior to that, it was led by folks who were wearing many different hats within SECU. And so when I came, I think the focus from our board at the time was they really wanted a dedicated representative at the foundation focused on this work. And I’ve been very fortunate over the last seven years to assemble a really talented group of folks who are very energetic, very curious, and always challenging me and the processes here. So we have a wonderful group, and we’ve been very blessed.


Doug English (02:40)
So let’s start out with the basics. And I’d ask you to think very broadly as you answer these things, because obviously SECU is a humongous credit union. And you guys have scale that is unusual. So when you think broadly about why credit unions would want to form a foundation, how does that work?


Jama Campbell (03:00)
I think that is a really key question, why form a foundation? Why does this feed into our mission? And I have the opportunity to talk with a lot of other CEOs and executive leaders of credit unions about this very topic. Why do this? Because there’s a lot of work that goes into this, a lot of resources, a lot of focus time. But I think this really feeds into our core mission of giving back to our membership. It gives us an opportunity here at SECU to really showcase what our credit union is all about. Our philosophy of people helping people, the credit union philosophy, and our foundation really embodies that. And it’s tangible evidence for us and communities all throughout North Carolina of the work we are doing to support the needs of folks throughout the state.


Doug English (03:51)
So how do you decide what your foundation is going to focus on? What is the strategic connection between the foundation and the credit union?


Jama Campbell  (04:01)
That’s a great question. You know, I think that’s one area we really, I say, our founding fathers nearly 20 years ago got right from the beginning. I think they reached out to our advisory board members throughout North Carolina. They reached out to employees to find out what are the focus areas, what do we want to achieve? What needle do we want to be able to move in the space that we can move in? And you really can do it at any level of funding with a lot of focus and strategy. And at that time, we decided we wanted to fund in four key areas. And we also decided what scale of funding we wanted to provide. We wanted to fund geographically all throughout North Carolina mentioned those four key areas of funding for us; it was education, healthcare, housing and human services. And interestingly enough, all those four key areas are still today just as relevant today as they were nearly 20 years ago when that decision was made. So we knew very early on the areas we wanted to focus on, and the types of grantees we wanted to work with. And we also kind of embedded within that criteria for our grant making an interest in working with organizations that are supporting our public school systems, our universities, our community colleges, and other state agencies. Because again, going back to the core membership of State Employees’ Credit Union, we’re here to serve our state employees and their families throughout North Carolina.


Doug English  (05:31)
So I want to go back to that, deciding on those four key areas. Was that a top-down process so the board and the executive team decided on that? Or was that something where you went out to your members and your branch staff relationships and then it bubbled up? Which way did it come?


Jama Campbell  (05:51)
That was actually before my time here at the foundation. But for this, I can best recall, we heard rumblings about the creation of a foundation before we ever did it. And I know even as staff—and I was in a branch at that time—we were asked questions; folks would reach out to us and say, hey, we’re looking at doing this, what are you seeing in your communities, and then we had an opportunity also to talk to our advisory board members about it very early on. And in fact, once we actually decided on those four key funding areas, our executive management for the foundation, our board, actually asked for ideas for funding from different advisory boards throughout the state. An example of that would have been the first teacher housing project we funded with a 0% loan out of Ahoskie, North Carolina. And that idea came from our advisory board in Ahoskie saying we have no housing for teachers. So what can the SECU Foundation do to help? So some really phenomenal ideas have come from our membership, our volunteers throughout the state, and it really still continues to guide our work today. I think the one thing we have learned is you cannot set it and forget it; you have to go back, you have to retool, and you have to refresh your approach over time.


Doug English  (07:13)
So let’s go to funding—there are various funding models in the industry. Talk to us about the SECU method of funding and what you know about other methods of funding your foundation?


Jama Campbell  (07:27)
Yeah, well, you know funding is core, Doug. I think that’s one of the first things you really want to think about: What are we working with? What are our resources? And who do we want to engage with funding? We made a decision—our CEO at the time, Jim Blaine, and our board at the time—made the decision that we would take the $1 maintenance fee from a checking account that we’d had for years, and all of our members who have a checking account have this one core checking account. And they shifted that dollar from resources for the credit union over to the foundation. And we let our members know what we were doing, we explained the fact that the dollar would go to funding the work of the foundation. And we had a wonderful response from those members. And even today, of those members with checking accounts who are funding our foundation, over 99% of those folks are happily giving to the foundation that $1. So that $1 each month from each of our members funds everything we do. And that has helped us as staff really focus on the grant-making side not on the funding side. So that was a key decision made very early on. The other piece of that consistency and funding for us, we know what is coming in. So we were able to run programs year after year after year with the intent of realizing we can continue to provide these dollars. A great example of that would be scholarship programs. We know we’ve got those resources and funding coming in so we can really commit to those programs. Now we commit year to year. But once we’ve gone out there and we provided this large-scale funding, folks are looking for that in those communities. So those programs have really become staples in communities throughout North Carolina.


Doug English  (09:27)
Now, I know you’re involved nationally with other credit union foundations. What other funding models have you seen and do you have any ideas you can share on that?


Jama Campbell  (09:38)
You know, everybody just takes a different approach and I think it really depends upon the scale and the scope of the credit union. Some credit unions, actually some boards and CEOs, will agree to apply funding directly from the credit union to the foundation and fund it, say year after year. Other credit unions are looking at really engaging their employees and their membership for that funding and really reaching out to folks, providing opportunities for giving at different types of events, so it’s very creative. I think everybody is doing it just a little bit differently. But one thing I see consistently is the importance of the participation of employees and members, and really getting the word out there about what you’re looking to achieve, what you’re looking to accomplish with your foundation; that really galvanizes support and gets folks really excited to participate.


Doug English  (10:37)
Let’s dovetail to the mission of the credit union and figuring out what you’re going to be about with the foundation. And starting from there. And then the funding, obviously, you guys have the $1 per member per month model. And I understand there’s a credit union foundation networking group that credit unions can look at to learn more about other methods of funding. Do you know about that? 


Jama Campbell  (11:00)
We do work with several groups, and I can provide you some links to those groups to give to your listeners. I know the first group I reached out to a few years ago was through Callahan and Associates, and I got to know a lot of folks throughout the country, at different stages in their development with credit unions. I know some were considering foundation work, they were considering creating a foundation. They were maybe trying to decide other ways that their credit union could participate in philanthropic giving. So I think I’m hearing more and more in these conversations more folks who are interested in this work and different levels of participation, whether they decide to create and fund a foundation separately from the credit union or they’re looking at amplifying their philanthropic work within the credit union itself.


Doug English  (11:59)
So let’s say you figure out how you’re going to get started and how that dovetails with your mission and how you’re going to fund it. Let’s talk about this idea of a home run first project to really get folks going and excited about the work and the mission. Talk to me about how that worked for SECU and ideas you have around that.


Jama Campbell  (12:20)
That’s something I’ve talked to folks a lot about who are looking at forming a foundation. They’re in the early stages, and they’re trying to decide. They kind of got a key strategy in mind and a focus, but they’re thinking, what is that project that’s really going to galvanize support? And one of the things we did with that, knowing we are a statewide credit union, we knew that out of the gate we had to find some program or project to fund that would provide funding statewide to members and their families throughout North Carolina. So we developed what we still call today, The People Helping People High School Scholarship Program. It’s a $10,000 scholarship we provide to students at our public high schools in North Carolina who are attending public North Carolina universities, so very much keeping that theme of public schools and public universities in mind. We also provided a similar scholarship to high school students who were attending our North Carolina community colleges. And we still run those programs today. Each year for the high school program we provide over 400 scholarships, and over 100 scholarships for our community colleges every year. So after 18 years of funding, we’ve got so many folks throughout North Carolina who’ve had the benefit of those programs. They’re very well-known in communities throughout North Carolina and are very much a part of our mission and our focus in investing in the future of the state of North Carolina.


Doug English  (14:02)
That goes right back to one of those four tenets, the first one I believe you mentioned was education. So The People Helping People Scholarship Program got folks galvanized with the activity of the foundation. Then how did you lever that—that was your first home run—and then what was next? How did you utilize the momentum that had built around that event?


Jama Campbell  (14:24)
That was so key to really introducing the foundation to our employees and to our members, our advisory board members who I’ve talked a lot about. And in fact, our advisory board members would go out in the communities and present the scholarships and award ceremonies at high schools and community college students throughout North Carolina.


Doug English  (14:43)
Oh yeah, now that will get some excitement going. 


Jama Campbell  (14:47)
Yeah, because we want to make the connection that it is their dollar, they are the ones who are gifting this money. And we want the communities to know that. That this money is coming from your neighbor who was a member of State Employees’ Credit Union. So I think that really got the ball rolling for us. And then we really started seeing a lot of requests just rolling in throughout the state of North Carolina. The next request I believe we received was from a group in Chapel Hill that wanted to form a hospitality house for one of our large state hospital systems. We wanted to have a place, a respite, for people to stay when they or their family members are receiving long-term treatments at some of our hospitals. And so it’s kind of similar to a Ronald McDonald model, but it is for any needs essentially. And the first of those houses opened in Chapel Hill; we have another in Winston Salem and another in Wilmington, and actually have several requests from folks throughout the state who are interested in developing more of these hospitality homes. So I think one of the things we’ve seen over the years is once there’s a really good idea, the momentum really builds and we see other areas of the state raise their hand and say, hey, we want to do something similar to that.


Doug English  (16:13)
That’s a great example. So what I’m taking away as the key ideas from that was there was a project that was a match the geography of the credit union’s membership, which is statewide in North Carolina. And then it was in line with one of the four tenets of the foundation, which was education. And then when you implemented that program, you levered the relationships with your local advisory boards, and those are boards made up of members from each branch, to have them go into the community and present these awards. And from that activity, that dominoed into a whole bunch more requests for foundation support. Is that right?


Jama Campbell  (17:01)
That’s right. That’s literally as simple as it was for just us getting this off the ground and getting this started. That scholarship program really sparked the interest of people statewide. And so today, just to kind of give you an idea, all these years later, we’re receiving probably over 100, maybe 150 requests nearly every year, to support projects and programs all throughout North Carolina. So it took us a few years to be recognized. And then after the first few years, it just started going really quickly, which is why seven years ago, our board said hey, we really need dedicated staff to do this work because we’re getting more requests then we can handle without dedicated staff. So that word-of-mouth has really expanded over the years and we continue to look for similar programs. Another great example of a statewide program we run is an internship at our public universities. It’s called The SECU Public Fellows Internship Program. And it’s a wonderful opportunity for undergraduates to have a paid internship working for government agencies or nonprofits, specifically in rural communities throughout North Carolina. So we offer this statewide, but it’s a program that can be scaled up or scaled down. It’s something that would be relevant to the needs of any of our communities in the country. And it really has provided great benefit to rural communities, and to students getting that wonderful opportunity to have a paid internship in an area they’re really seriously interested in pursuing, and kind of illustrating the opportunities we have not just in our urban regions, but also in our rural regions in our state.


Doug English  (18:57)
When a foundation isn’t large enough to have dedicated staff, what areas of the credit union do you often see supporting the foundation’s activities when it’s in its development years?


Jama Campbell  (19:11)
So for us, it was our Human Resources department, which I think is pretty typical. I’ve also seen some marketing departments, some education outreach departments, doing this work. And I talked to a lot of folks about how you really don’t have to have a dedicated staff to do it; it really just depends upon the scale and the need. And for 10 years we operated without dedicated staff. I think for us, just because of the numbers of requests coming in, and our resources to be able to fund, it made sense for us to really focus some folks on this work. And our board also wanted us to kind of go a little bit beyond some of the original templates, the original ways we were funding, and reach out and do some in some areas of say, programmatic funding and other areas that have really helped us evolve over the years. But it can be done in so many different ways.


Doug English  (20:16)
When you actually get all these requests, I bet you get a lot more requests than you can fund. So how do you decide who’s going to get the money? 


Jama Campbell  (20:25)
So a lot of that has evolved over time. We have just by virtue of receiving so many requests over these past 18-plus years and funding so many requests, we’ve learned a lot along the way. And so we’ve set really very specific criteria for certain types of requests, like for instance, housing requests, affordable housing, workforce housing. We have templates and criteria specifically for those types of requests. When you talk about the gifts, the grants themselves, we have requests for hospitality houses, and we have criteria for that, we have criteria for autism and child developmental disability types of requests. So we’ve gotten very specific because we have provided so many grants over the years, we generally know the scale and the scope of the work we’re looking at, of the grantee, because many of the grants we have provided over the years are going to organizations that provide either county-wide, or in many cases, regional support or even statewide support. Now we have flipped that model on its head a little bit in the last five years. And Doug, I had mentioned earlier to you a little bit about mission development grants, and working with some smaller nonprofits throughout the state that may be newer, they may have been around for a long time, that very grassroots, and their needs are different. They’re not going to be working with a statewide population, or even a regional population right now, but looking more at deepening their roots and community. So we’re now providing funding at different levels, a space a lot of credit union foundations can work in.


Doug English  (22:21)
I believe sometimes you give grants and sometimes you make loans. How do you decide when to do which? 


Jama Campbell  (22:28)
Yeah. So when it comes to housing specifically, we find there are a lot of partners that need to be involved just because of the scope and scale and cost of those projects. So what we determined years ago with many housing projects, workforce housing is a great example, teacher housing, we knew once we provided funding for one request we would be getting requests from many different organizations, many different communities throughout the state. So we determined how to make that program sustainable for us, because we all have a finite amount of resources, right? So we’ve got to be good stewards of those resources and spread those around. So we determined we could provide a 0% interest loan for 15 years and 0% construction loan financing for workforce housing projects and allow those folks to pay us back over time. We will take that funding and then we will fund another project with that. So the loans give us an opportunity really to do more. The combination of scholarships, internships, loan funding, and grant-making—the actual grants themselves, gifts—those areas all give us an opportunity to do more. And as I mentioned, one of the main charges we have from our board is to make sure we’re spreading those dollars throughout North Carolina. And that’s part of really that grant-making criteria. And you asked a good question I didn’t answer earlier. How do you say no? You know, that’s the hardest part of this work. Because once folks know you’re out there, once you’re recognized as a funder, you will have so many people coming to you. And you really have to have very clear criteria for what you’re hoping to help your grantees achieve. And you need to have criteria in place to help you geographically spread those dollars. We like a good balance of funding, and those four key areas, education, healthcare, housing, human services. So we really want to have a body of work, essentially, we want to look back on a body of work that really touches all those areas. So there are folks, sometimes who will come to us at a point where maybe they’re not quite ready for that project. And we think maybe there’s a little bit more work to do. Or maybe their focus is a little bit outside of our reach. So we have those conversations and we really try to explain the strategy we have. 


Doug English  25:28
Great, Jama. What I think I understand is the way you decide between loans and grants is somewhat based on the scale of the funding necessary to achieve what you’re after, right? With housing, there was such a large amount of money, if you were going to just provide a grant of vital housing. Instead, you provided the cost of the foregone interest to enable that part of your mission. Is that right?


Jama Campbell  (25:58)
That’s exactly right. And by providing the loans versus the grants, we’re able to do more of those types of loans. So it allows us to scale up that work and provide more funding in that area. And again, we work in the area of affordable housing with loans and workforce housing. We’re finding that model really works well for most of our housing projects.


Doug English  (26:30)
That makes sense because the scale is so great there. You also mentioned some templates and filters you’ve developed that help to decide who is appropriate for various areas of your activities. Are those templates something you could share with other credit unions? And if so, how would they access those?


Jama Campbell   (26:56)
Yeah, well, we are pretty low tech around here. So most of what we do, in fact, we’re purchasing software right now for the first time. But we have been doing all of this really through access databases. And this is again, just to give you an idea of how low tech you can be and do this work, Access and Excel and Word. But yeah, we have developed templates over the years for very specific types of requests. And again, that just helps us be more strategic and more focused in our work. And we’re always happy to share any of that information. In fact, I have a lot of folks who reach out to us and ask about our scholarship criteria, or criteria for internships and that type of program. And so we are always happy to share that because we have learned a lot over the years the hard way. You know, we started this many, many years ago when there weren’t a lot of folks within the credit union sector at that time who were working in the area foundation. So I think there was a lot of trial and error for a lot of things we were doing. So we always want to make it easier for anybody who’s looking to do this work. And just let folks know, I think sometimes it’s almost helpful for folks to maybe even understand some of the mistakes. I mean, they were happy mistakes, and we were able to correct them and able to really learn a lot.


Doug English  (28:26)
You opened the can now, Jama. Tell me about some mistakes. Tell me about some things you would suggest credit unions reflect on?


Jama Campbell  (28:33)
Maybe we should phrase it as something other than a mistake. But I think that goes back to that criteria. I think in understanding how to do some of this work and making sure we’re bringing the right partners on, one of the things I think we learned very early on is making certain the grantees that are doing this really important and impactful work are ready to do this important and impactful work. So I think early on, even with housing projects, realizing we need a host of partners on one project just to bring in different types of backgrounds and experience. And from a lot of those early projects, we started with maybe one partner and then learned over time, hey, they’ve got needs, they might not be aware of all the intricacies of how to say run a housing project or some other type of project. So let’s bring in other partners to help them. And that’s something I think has benefited our grantees along the way because we’re able to say hey, we maybe think in some cases, you’re not there yet. And if you’re not there yet, let’s hold off, you get your strategy together, a sustainability model together. And then we’ll go back in and we’ll help you tackle this work. But a lot of that criteria we’ve developed, honestly, is from the work of our grantees. You know, we are the funders, but it’s our grantees over these many years who are the heroes, in my opinion, and are out there doing the work every day, and are making a difference in the lives of residents of North Carolina, and many of them are members. So I think over the years we’ve evolved our grant-making. Because we realize we didn’t know everything in the beginning. And we realize even today, I think we’re humble about that, that we’re still learning. We’re still growing.


Doug English  (30:36)
If I’m a credit union listener, and I would like to get some of the templates you’ve developed in regards to housing or anything else that helps a credit union to sort of filter through the many requests they either already get or may get, what would be the method they would reach out to you?


Jama Campbell  (30:58)
They can call us or email us, and we will be glad to provide any of that information. So you would send your request to secufoundation@ncsecu.org. Or you can call us at our toll-free number, which is 1-844-296-4832. And we would be happy to answer any of those questions. We also have a really great website: https://www.ncsecufoundation.org/Home.html. And you can look at all the types of grant-making we have provided over the last 18-plus years; we have things broken down into different sectors and areas. So housing, healthcare, education, human services, and it gives you a brief summary and a timeline of our grant-making to kind of give some folks an idea of maybe different areas of grant-making they could focus on. 


Doug English  (32:07)
Something you mentioned lightly before I want to go a little deeper in is this idea of charitable leverage. And I kind of took that away from the mission development program where you are dovetailing the network that is the resource right of consultants that you know to be effective, along with your money. How do you put those things together to leverage your charitable impact?


Jama Campbell  (32:37)
Yeah, that’s a good question. You asked earlier how we learned from our mistakes. One of the things I think, from early on, is just the difficulty of saying no to folks and not having an alternative for them. You know, folks coming to us who have a wonderful concept and idea, who’ve got a great staff and board, great steward strategic thinking, but they’re just components they do not that are not part of the request and things they need to develop and work on. And so that’s really how mission development grants came about for us. About five or six years ago, we started looking at some of those denials, and said, you know what, we really want to work with this organization, but we need to kind of help them get to the next step. And so we developed what is called our Mission Development Grant Program, what we call a capacity building program. So we provide funding for these folks. In our case, we provide about $40,000 over a two-year period. But just as important, we also connect these grantees with experts. So we get to know the grantee and a little bit about their needs and the directions they’re looking at going and maybe some of the gaps they’re looking at filling. And then we go to our bank of consultants, people we’ve worked with and gotten to know over many years here doing foundation work, and connect them to the right experts who are going to help them start to work on some of these challenge areas and identify areas of strength. You know, that’s an area I think sometimes organizations don’t spend enough time on, what are we doing really well and how can we better leverage that? So these consultants really get in there and work with these different grantees. It’s a two-year process. And in many cases, and in a number of cases, these grantees have come back to us for a second round of funding. They may be going to other funders for a second round of funding. But the idea and the concept is really to help them grow. And it could be small growth, it could be large growth, but we understand the work they’re doing in these communities is so important we want to make sure they have a sustainability plan and are able to continue to serve.


Doug English  (35:11)
Well, plus the value that state employees bring in vetted consultants in specialty areas, knowing these folks are effective at helping charities build their own processes and systems or whatever it is that they may need, the fact that you know a network of folks who are effective and you combine that with your economic leverage, that’s a tremendous value to the charity into the community when you put those things together. And that’s something it seems like a credit union could just start from the beginning to use that combination. Do you agree?


Jama Campbell  (35:52)
So yes, we’re hearing a lot about the need for capacity building grants out there, especially after COVID. I think one of the things the last few years have really highlighted are the small organizations, the grassroots organizations that have been in our communities for many years. And in many cases, our funders don’t know a lot about these groups because they’ve just done it on their own. And now their work is more important than ever. And so we can really support that work through helping them build their capacity, their sustainability, helping them deepen their roots in their communities or even in some cases, expand their models. And you’re exactly right. It’s not just the investment of the grant or the dollar that we put into this. But it’s also matching them with experts who can really speak their language. And who really can help them grow and better understand how to remain relevant. And again, that’s the word that is so important, ensure their sustainability. And this is an area I can see a great need in grant-making right now. And this is something that really a foundation of any size could participate in. It takes a strategic way of thinking to do this grant-making; you need to be focused on the types of organizations you’re looking to support, maybe the types of projects within those organizations you’re looking to support. But support can really come at any dollar level. But to me for this type of program, it’s all about that connection of that expert and really helping the organization network. Another piece we do with these capacity building groups, these grantees, is connect them to other grantees we’ve worked with over the years. So as I mentioned earlier, we may have worked with organizations that have created hospitality homes or cancer centers or other types of projects. We try to make sure we’re connecting these smaller grantees with maybe grantees that have greater resources, just so they can share ideas and information.


Doug English  (38:19)
Yeah, the power of the network is my big takeaway from that—connecting folks to people you know to be effective, to their peers who have already walked the journey and can help them to accelerate their own path. This is just as much a part of your charitable activity as applying your economic resources. 


Jama Campbell  (38:41)
That’s exactly right. And you know, again, a foundation of any size can really do that. There’s so much value, not just in the dollars we’re giving or say, if it’s a loan, there’s a 0% loan, but just in that connection, that connection piece and that education piece. So I think sometimes we don’t realize how important that part of the work is. But to me after all these years, and again, we’ve learned so much after years of doing this work, we’re realizing the value of being a connector.


Doug English  (39:16)
Well, Jama, thank you for being a connector on the podcast today. We appreciate the work you do on behalf of the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation, and on behalf of the credit union movement. Any final thoughts for our listeners?


Jama Campbell  (39:32)
I will just say this, Doug. It’s so exciting to get to do this work. And again, I think this really just feeds into the mission we all have as credit unions to give back and to inspire our staff and our members to really want to give back to their communities. So every day here at the SECU Foundation is a good day, because we realize the value we’re providing our communities and anything as we’ve mentioned earlier in this podcast, anything we can do to help others engage in this work. We are here to help. 

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