Diversity At The Highest Level

Travis Credit Union’s volunteer training program develops ambassadors and primes members for leadership roles.


Along Interstate 80 in California, halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento, sits Travis Air Force Base, known colloquially as “The Gateway to the West.” Built in 1942, the military installation served as a major supply transfer point during World War II — ferrying aircraft, supplies, and troops across the Pacific Theater — and has played an integral role in national defense ever since.  

Travis Credit Union ($2.1B, Vacaville, CA) opened its doors in 1951 with a mission to serve the base’s military and civilian personnel. In 1999, the institution broadened its membership and became a community-chartered institution. Despite the credit union’s new membership pool and growing roster, in the early 2000s the composition of Travis’ board of directors did not reflect the diversity of its membership. In 2002, its seven-member board and three-member supervisory committee included eight men and two women — all retired Air Force.

“The board was not representative of the field of membership,” says Travis Credit Union CEO Patsy Van Ouwerkerk. “We looked at what we needed to do to change the makeup of the board, expand the skill set, and look at different backgrounds. We knew we had to deal with an older group of volunteers and bring in some younger folks.”

Turning A Blanket Into A Quilt

To address its changing membership, Travis Credit Union created its volunteer-at-large program, a one-year class that teaches members who are business and community leaders about Travis and the credit union movement. The credit union’s nominating committee and Van Ouwerkerk interview candidates for the program and hand-select participants for the four-person class. The class meets once a month for 60 to 90 minutes and lessons are organized by topic.

“The first meeting is really about roles and responsibilities,” says Van Ouwerkerk, who partners with a rotation of senior staff members to lead the program. “We talk about conflict of interest and about how we are going to provide information that we don’t give to just any member, so we ask them to sign disclosure statements. We go through our strategic plan, we go through our business plan, and we go through the organizational structure.”

Subsequent meeting topics include the roles and responsibilities of the board, the roles and responsibilities of the supervisory committee, the annual budgeting process, and community involvement. In addition to the monthly meetings, participants must attend at least one board meeting every six months, and at the end of the program they complete an assessment about what they learned and what subjects they want to know more about.

The board’s governance committee monitors and evaluates the volunteer-at-large program, which has graduated four classes since it started in 2003. The program is intended first and foremost to create ambassadors for the institution; however, Travis Credit Union sponsors the program when it anticipates an opening on the board or supervisory committee. Five graduates of the volunteer-at-large program are now members of the board or supervisory committee and four graduates are waiting in the wings.

Given the open election of board members, even participation in the volunteer-at-large program does not guarantee a seat on the board, so the credit union encourages graduates who don’t join the board or the supervisory committee to contribute in other ways.

“We invited some of our graduates to be on other committees, like our scholarship committee, so we’re keeping them engaged,” Van Ouwerkerk says. “They are ambassadors for the credit union even though they are not on the board.”

Leadership anticipates openings on the board and supervisory committee in 2016, so the credit union is planning its next class for 2014.

A Strong Board Makes For A Strong Institution

The volunteer-at-large program has created a trained and informed volunteer pool for the credit union. Despite an aging membership, the average age of the board has remained consistent over the past 12 years as younger members join the board. Today, the board and supervisory committee include six men and six women — the board of directors expanded to nine members — who are more diverse in age, ethnicity, and skills. And instead of a board that leans heavily to a single employer group, Travis Credit Union’s board includes a former mayor, a social media and advertising professional, and the superintendent of schools.

“The board is performing better now than it ever has, and that’s certainly not a slight to previous boards,” Van Ouwerkerk says. “We have different points of view and different backgrounds represented, where before the focus was so much on Travis Air Force Base.”

In 2007, when Travis wanted to launch a financial literacy program for area high schools, the superintendent’s participation on the credit union’s board was helpful in jump-starting the initiative. The new board’s diversity also helped as the credit union made plans for surviving the recession.

“The fact the board members came from various backgrounds — city government, small business, education — they were able to understand what was happening in the recession, especially from the perspective of the businesses they represented,” Van Ouwerkerk says.

The credit union has taken great strides to ensure its board reflects its membership. And because Travis Air Force Base still represents 35-45% of the credit union’s membership, the base still plays an important role in the board.

“We still have a couple retired Air Force on our board,” Van Ouwerkerk says. “Which is exactly the way it should be.”