A Plug In Michigan’s Brain Drain

A foundation created by Community Choice Credit Union encourages local high school students to attend college in Michigan and give back to their communities even after graduation.
Drew Grossman

Community Choice Credit Union ($500.2M, Farmington Hills, MI) is a 78-year-old cooperative with a rich history of supporting the community it serves. More than 50,000 members belong to the Southeastern Michigan credit union, which serves eight counties and multiple employee groups, including certain divisions of GM. The credit union raised more than $211,000 and donated nearly 2,500 employee hours to charitable causes in 2012.The credit union reimburses employees for up to 24 volunteer hours per year. Paula Piccinini is the marketing communications and public relations manager at Community Choice.

What is Michigan’s brain drain and how does Community Choice address it?

PP:Michigan was dealing with a depressed economy and recession back in 2007 and 2008. College graduates were leaving in droves 6.17% of the state’s population with college degrees left between 2000 and 2009. That was the largest drop among all 50 states.

The board came together to discuss what the credit union could do to make a difference. In 2008,the credit union created the Community Choice Foundationto encouragegrowth and investment in Michigan, specifically through a scholarship program for young adults who were committed to living in and contributing to the local community. The credit union set aside $100,000 and officially launched the scholarship in 2009.

How do you choose scholarship recipients and how much do they receive?

PP:The specific criteria for selection includes: GPA, volunteer service,a commitment to attend an accredited college inMichigan,a pledge to use each individual’s education to give back to Michigan communities, and county of residence. Each individual scholarship is $5,000, and there are now more than 100 Community Choice Scholars as the foundation has eclipsed $500,000 in scholarships since its inception.

How does the foundation raise funds?

PP:Employees and business partners believe in the cause of ending Michigan’s brain drain. It’s an exciting program that engages people, and a number of funding sources feed into the foundation. Community Choice’s employees make direct deposit donations into the foundation. By themselves, they contribute almost enough for an entire $5,000 scholarship. Our business partners including vendors and business members also contribute to the foundation. For example, one business member contributed enough for an entire $5,000 scholarship because he has found so much value with the credit union.

Must scholarship applicants be members of Community Choice Credit Union?

PP:They do not have to be a member of the credit union at the time they apply. However, if they become a Community Choice Scholar, we ask them to join. It’s our intention to keep in touch with them and encourage them to network with one another and become a cohesive unit. They are becoming part of an elite group. We want to engage them in other volunteer activities and become ambassadors for the credit union within the broader community. And we want to see how they are
giving back to the community even after they are scholarship program alumni.

How is Community Choice building a network among its scholarship recipients?

PP:We have networking events each year. This year we will host our first graduation celebration for our first wave of scholars. All 100 plus scholars will attend.

There are other opportunities throughout the year for the scholars to give feedback to the credit union via surveys, a LinkedIn group, and mentoring program. We also encourage interaction among scholars attending the same schools.

Prior scholars attend the scholarship ceremony where we award new scholarships and give speeches and advice to the younger students.All of these scholars are leaders they were leaders in their high schools and colleges and having them all togetheris fun.

What benefits beyond helping the community does the scholarship program offer?

PP:One of the credit union’s goals is to engage the membership.The foundation and overall efforts to end Michigan’s brain drain is a point of differentiation for our credit union. When people decide where to do their business or which banking provider to use, they ask themselves What type of business am I getting involved with? Is it an organization that believes in the same causes I believe in? A company’s philanthropic efforts matter, and we believe it is an important component of why people choose to become, and remain, Community Choice members.

Have you worked with local government or other organizations on the scholarship program?

PP:We’ve made them aware of our program and invited them to participate in events. Our efforts coincide with efforts from many Michigan politicians who also want to end the brain drain. We’ve had legislators and school officialsjoin us during award ceremonies, but we’re not necessarily working directly with them. It’s more of an awareness and understanding that our efforts help their efforts. Having everyone rowing in the same direction is positive.

Who is responsible for managing the foundation’s efforts?

PP:The responsibilities currently reside within the marketing and community relations team. However, we just hired a full-time community foundation coordinator. This position is part of the marketing team, but running the foundation is a full-time job. The scholarship itself is a lot of work. When you couple that with coordinating the fundraising and development duties, we need a dedicated position to manage it effectively, especially as we continue to grow.

Does the credit union have plans to expand the scholarship program?

PP:Yes. We are working on making the foundation perpetual so it has its own income stream and isn’t limited to giving away $100,000 via $5,000 scholarships each year. It is still a young program, but we’ve made positive headway and expect to capitalize more on our vision as the full-time coordinator comes on board this summer.

We also want to continue engaging the scholars so that being a Community Choice Scholar is a point of pride for them and 10 or 20 years from now they continue to come back to give speeches or mentor younger scholars. The vision is not just a matter ofgiving out scholarships and being done we want this to grow into something substantial.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished to date but still have a lot more of our vision to execute, especially as the first wave of scholars graduates. We can’t wait to continue to build on this story.

June 10, 2013

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