SELCO Steps Up: The Inspiration to Make a Difference is All Around Us

By Bob Newcomb, President and CEO, SELCO Community Credit Union

Where can we do the most good? If you’re a leader of a community-minded business that has or is contemplating a giving program, no doubt you’ve asked yourself this question.

But for any leader who wants to leverage their organization to make a difference, answering that question can be a challenge. You want to be an asset to your community, but you must ensure your company’s resources and efforts go to good use.

A helpful exercise for those searching to make a meaningful impact is to pause and take stock of the incredible work already happening in your community. This can be inspiring, to say the least, and it made us realize that those organizations and individuals who are making the biggest difference are leaning into their strengths to do so.

Teachers who are pursuing fresh ideas to inspire a love of learning more effectively in students. Finance professionals volunteering to help young adults facing significant barriers, like homelessness or aging out of foster care, learn how to manage their finances. Dog trainers partnering with child advocacy groups to employ therapy dogs that help comfort kids during difficult conversations.

From these and countless others, SELCO Community Credit Union gained the insight and encouragement to build and launch our new community giving program: SELCO Steps Up. The program broadly expands our support for many of our existing philanthropic efforts while adding new programs and partnerships to address gaps created by our communities’ ever-changing needs.

We learned some invaluable lessons as our team considered this new program, and we think those lessons would help any business that wonders how it could do more. From the year-long process of establishing Steps Up, we logged three main takeaways:

  • The surest way to make a real difference is by leaning into your business’s expertise and experience. The issues we face as a community are diverse. But equally diverse is the expertise that our businesses offer. For SELCO, a credit union founded nearly a century ago by educators, finance and education were clear areas on which to focus our giving. So, we looked to remove barriers to education—by expanding eligibility for our scholarship program to include vocational, continuing, and nontraditional students while boosting scholarship funding by nearly 50%—and dreamt up new and innovative ways to support students and educators as they seek to empower our communities. One of the initiatives we’re most excited about is a new program to identify and fund three classroom makeover projects annually for as much as $15,000 each.
  • Writing a check is helpful but ask yourself, ‘Can my business do more?’ Providing financial support is an important way of ensuring our community-minded organizations can continue their essential work. But money is only a piece of the solution. There’s no substitute for working directly in the communities we call home—and no better way to understand the challenges to find solutions. This was the motivation behind SELCO’s Employee Volunteer Program, which includes paid time off for all employees to volunteer for causes they’re personally passionate about.
  • Difference-makers make a habit of empowering others. The most successful change agents connect with others to amplify their work. To that end, your team is a resource you need to tap into, offering unique perspectives, passions, and skills. Different skill sets will help to approach problems from multiple angles. Steps Up has truly been a collective endeavor. A critical part of the new program is our Steps Up Ambassador team, comprised of employees across every region SELCO serves, at every level of the credit union. Through our Ambassadors and other volunteers, we extend ownership and impact of SELCO’s philanthropic endeavors across the organization. But we know not everyone has the time to support their favorite nonprofits through volunteer work, which is why we’re also matching donations to eligible nonprofits up to $250 per team member annually. All of this supports what we’ve learned by looking at those giving back around us: When everyone has a stake and a voice, the sum is almost always greater than its parts.

SELCO has been at this for a long time, and yet we continue to learn. We depend on it to ensure our community-giving efforts keep evolving with the need.

One thing won’t change, though. If we’re purposeful and focused, the difference we make can last—and that’s true no matter what type of organization you run.

Bob Newcomb is President and CEO of Springfield-based SELCO Community Credit Union. He has more than 40 years of experience in the credit union industry, including financial administration, operational management, strategic planning, and business development.

Posted in Oregon, Regional Member News, Thought Leadership.