In a Nutshell: When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New York and the mid-Atlantic this past spring, Endicott-based Visions Federal Credit Union stepped up. The institution, established in 1966, found new ways to lift the communities it serves and created the Heart of a Hero Spotlight Program to recognize extraordinary acts of service and kindness. But that is just the latest in a long line of Visions FCU initiatives aimed at giving back. Through Visions Cares, the credit union provides more than $1 million annually to support 500-plus local organizations while providing financial literacy resources to schools and communities.
In 1966, eight IBM workers started a credit union with only $40 to help their fellow workers. Today, the credit union manages approximately $5 billion in assets while offering financial products and services on par with the biggest banks.
That institution is Visions Federal Credit Union, based in Endicott, New York, and it is a larger than average cooperative. It operates more than 50 branches across northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania — in addition to its home state.
In keeping with the credit union ethos of people helping people, Visions FCU contributes millions of dollars in philanthropic and volunteer support to hundreds of community organizations. But as Community Development Manager Timothy Strong told us, the recent COVID-19 pandemic required a quick shift in the credit union’s giving strategy.
“We knew nonprofits were getting overburdened, so we were waiting for this tsunami of requests to come in, but they weren’t. We realized that it was because people were at home trying to figure things out just like we were,” Strong said. “So, we pivoted to a more proactive approach.”
Strong and his team created the Heart of a Hero Spotlight Program, drawing on employee nominations to recognize a dozen individual credit union members who made life better and safer in their communities over three months at the height of the pandemic.
“One business member who operates a distillery switched to producing hand sanitizer for frontline workers in his community and across upstate New York. Another runs a print shop at Ithaca College and transitioned to making protective face shields,” Strong said.
The institution has served its community for nearly 60 years but quickly shifted its resources to adapt to current needs.
“We use our platform to recognize members who are doing great things, and I am really proud of our team,” Strong said. “During a time of great uncertainty, we put some positive news out there.”
Collaborating with 50+ Branches Through Visions Cares
Heart of a Hero has been an effective program because of the way Visions FCU organizes giving. The community development team at the Endicott headquarters collaborates with managers and employees in all 50-plus branches to target the right support across diverse communities.
“We have branches in the urban environments, and plenty in rural environments, and needs in those areas are very different,” Strong said. “We rely on communication with our branches and employees and communities to learn how to respond.”
The Visions Community Development Department, established in 2018, has a community investment budget of more than $1 million, and it manages those funds through Visions Cares. The Visions Cares program dispenses grants and donations, oversees an extensive employee volunteer program, sponsors community events, provides financial education, and performs acts of kindness integral to thriving communities.
“One of the most important things, as we at Visions began to grow rapidly, was scalability,” Strong said. “So for me, it was about creating a communications system that empowered everyone in our organization.”
That’s why the organization connects with employees to understand their needs and passions, and those of their communities.
“It’s one thing for us to say this is what’s important to us at headquarters, but if it’s not a need in the community, then that’s only half the picture,” Strong said. “So we have those conversations directly to figure out what meets our strategic vision while also serving in a relevant and impactful way.”
Providing Resources for Students and Communities
Visions FCU offers students and community members the knowledge and skills they need to realize their economic potential through free programs in schools and communities.
“One of our major tenets at Visions FCU is making sure our communities — not just our members — gain the ability to make good financial decisions. We see our part as going out and providing that perspective,” Strong said.
Visions FCU has a team of educators on staff whose role is to visit schools, workplaces, and community organizations. The institution also targets a variety of audiences with information they can use immediately.
“A sixth-grader, a corporate attorney, and a senior citizen are all going to learn in different ways and require different levels of engagement,” Strong said. “Our team does an excellent job of getting the message across in a way that’s relevant for each.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought change to Visions FCU’s educational delivery, it has tailored technology-based solutions to meet new challenges. YouTube is a resource that works for all ages. A partnership with Zogo Finance allows Visions FCU to deliver digital resources to students and young adults in a particularly engaging format.
“We’ve got some excellent relationships with our schools, and through a high level of communication, we see how we can best fit in,” Strong said. “Zogo provides students with a fun and interactive way to learn without realizing they’re learning — which is sometimes the most effective way.”
Visions FCU: Committed to Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Support
COVID-19 has also brought changes to product and service delivery at Visions FCU, with technology playing a more significant role. The credit union saw an upturn in branch visits during the onset of the pandemic, as members sought to tie up financial loose ends for their peace of mind. As the pandemic continued, the Visions mobile app and contact center saw an increase in member visits
“People realize how easy it is to make transactions remotely that they may have otherwise taken a trip to a branch to make,” Strong said.
Meanwhile, the work of the Visions FCU community development team carries on. Through COVID-19 and beyond, the credit union continues to invest in people across all communities and remains dedicated to serving.
“We continue to grow, invest, and support diverse, equitable, and inclusive programs and organizations. And we’re proud of not just what we have done but also what our employees continue to do,” Strong said. “Because when COVID-19 hit, they were the ones reaching out to us and asking how they could get involved.”
One Heart of a Hero recognition went to a woman who lost her mother to COVID-19 and then started raising funds to support local EMTs. Another went to a pizza guy who’s been supplying kids and seniors with meals since the pandemic hit. And another went to a special ed teacher who set up electronic resources and donated school supplies. Visions FCU employees made those recognitions happen.
“That’s part of our culture, part of our DNA. That’s what makes Visions FCU matter,” Strong said.