How To Build A Better Tomorrow

TopLine Federal Credit Union shares lessons learned and best practices for building a 501(c)(3) affiliate.

TopLine Federal Credit Union ($365.7M, Maple Grove, MN) celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2015. Throughout the past eight decades, the credit union has strived to enrich the lives of its community members. To that end, in April of this year, the community-chartered institution started the TopLine Credit Union Foundation, a 501(c)(3) affiliate of the credit union, to expand and formalize the community outreach efforts for which it has become known.

The intent behind the foundation is to allow us to continue to support the cooperative spirit of people helping people by living out our manta: to care, connect, and contribute, says Vicki Erickson, vice president of marketing at the credit union and the president of TopLine Foundation.

Building The Foundation

Although TopLine FCU officially launched the foundation at the credit union’s 2015 annual membership meeting, its board of directors approved the idea and started development in 2013.


TopLine FCU
Data as of 06.30.15

  • HQ: Maple Grove, MN
  • ASSETS: $365.7M
  • MEMBERS: 38,672
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.19%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.83%
  • ROA: 0.57%

To receive 501(c)(3) designation, the credit union had to apply to the IRS as well as the state of Minnesota. Erickson heeded the counsel of other credit unions with the designation and contacted a professional firm that coordinated the time- and resource-consuming process for TopLine.

The process itself is lengthy and [the firm] helped us understand what we needed to incorporate into the application and get it approved more quickly, Erickson says. They have the experience and expertise; this is something they do all the time.

The firm advised TopLine to apply for a broad purpose in its application, as Erickson had seen at other institutions with 501(c)(3) affiliates. To that end, the credit union organized TopLine Foundation around four core values: financial education, scholarships, community giveback, and local disaster relief. The broad purpose helps avoid pigeonholing foundation funds into specific efforts.

That was a learning experience, Erickson says. Build into the purpose of the foundation what the credit union is currently doing and how it wants to contribute to the community. Otherwise, you may use funds only for one purpose rather than four or five.


All told, the application processes took 12 to 16 months.

Selecting Charitable Opportunities

As a community-chartered institution, TopLine has partnered with a diverse set of organizations that fit into its core values. Generally, the credit union is the one to reach out to offer assistance; however, it does receive the occasional knock on its door. This approach has helped TopLine align with community nonprofit organizations such as: Community Emergency Assistance Program, an agency that provides food, clothing, and educational activities to individuals and families in distress; Keystone Community Services, a volunteer organization that operates a food shelter and youth and senior programs; Credit Unions For Kids, a collaborative effort of credit unions and business chapters that supports children with specialty healthcare needs; and Brooklyn Bridge Alliance For Youth, which supports after school and summer programs.

We try not to hang our hat on one purpose, Erickson says. Certainly financial education is at the top of the list for us, but we continue to ask what other things we can do to give back to the community.

That question has a long answer, as the foundation has involved itself in community financial education efforts, scholarships, and charitable organizations. And although it has contributed significantly to its community already, the foundation is currently researching ways to increase the funds it gives out (Erickson declined to provide a figure for the total funds the foundation has contributed).

It’s a great opportunity for business we work with to make a contribution. It helps us generate more funds than we would normally get from just member and employee contributions.

The foundation recently awarded $10,000 total to 16 scholarship recipients. Nearly 150 students submitted an application and an essay addressing the question: If you owned a credit union, what would you do to make it a great place to bank?

There were some really great ideas that came out in that essay question, Erickson says.

In addition to the scholarship, the foundation hosts donation drives every six to eight weeks based on the season. For example, it donated 800 items and $400 to local nonprofits after its most recent back-to-school drive that aims to help students at the start of the school year.

The foundation also hands out food at shelters, participates in Meals on Wheels, and helps senior citizens complete chores such as yard work. And on Columbus Day, the foundation participated in Plus It Forward, a statewide credit union initiative that promotes random acts of kindness.

The foundation will inherit many of TopLine FCU’s charitable programs, enabling the six-month-old organization to leverage programs that have proven successful in the past. For example, the credit union has held a bike drive in May for each of the past two years. In 2015, it donated more than 150 bikes to Keystone Community Services, which sells the bikes as part of its youth apprenticeship program and reinvests those earnings in the program to help area youth develop real-world job skills.

We want to enrich lives by leading and supporting initiatives within our community.

The foundation will take also take over the Be An Angel For The Day partnership with the minor league baseball team the St. Paul Saints. In June 2014’s Be An Angel event, the credit union handed out $1,935, the year of its founding, one dollar at a time to fans as they walked through the gate into the stadium. Fans then donated that money and dug into their pockets for a bit more to one of 10 nonprofits in attendance. The first two iterations of Be An Angel For A Day were so successful that an NBA team contacted the credit union about hosting a similar event.

Building A Better Tomorrow

Currently, every month TopLine Federal Credit Union earmarks a percentage of funds, up to a certain annual dollar amount, for the Foundation. But Erickson would like that to change.

We hope to gradually decrease the funding from the credit union in the next year or two, she says.

To do that, the credit union is building language into its vendor contracts that encourages partners to make tax-deductible donations to TopLine Credit Union Foundation.

It’s a great opportunity for business we work with to make a contribution, Erickson says. It helps us generate more funds than we would normally get from just member and employee contributions.

Another way the foundation hopes to expand its funding horizons is through a more robust marketing strategy. The foundation submits press releases to local media and industry trades, has a website, and includes information in the credit union’s monthly and quarterly newsletters. And in order to boost awareness, the credit union sponsored a promotion in conjunction with the foundation’s launch that promised up to a $100 match to all foundation donations, giving members the potential for a $200 tax deduction.

To engage credit union employees and foundation volunteers in foundation promotion, the credit union held an internal soft launch, which Erickson identifies as a best practice.

Now that it has more resources, the foundation plans to develop a social media presence and wants to pull in some dollars from local nonprofits through an October raffle with a $500 grand prize, Erickson says. The more money it takes in, the more it can give out; and the more it gives out, the better the foundation will have helped the credit union to achieve its mission.

We want to enrich lives by leading and supporting initiatives within our community, Erickson says. Our mission is working within the community to build a better tomorrow.

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