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How to Make Charitable Donation Dollars Work Harder

adult hands holding child's hands around a savings jar
Director of Executive Benefits
CUNA Mutual Group

3 minutes

CAMPUS USA Credit Union uses foundation and charitable donation account to focus its community service.

As part of its strategic planning five years ago, CAMPUS USA Credit Union leaders decided to make its already-generous charitable giving program a more organized, focused operation. Two key improvements have helped them achieve that goal:

  • Establishing a charitable foundation with a board that directs donations
  • Charitable donation accounts that offset some of the program’s cost 

$2 billion CAMPUS USA CU, Gainesville, Florida, was already well-known for supporting its communities with donations and volunteer programs. But CEO Jerry Benton says the credit union’s charitable giving was more reactive than pro-active.

“Our senior management supervised [donations], but there were no clear goals. We were fielding requests as they came in, rather than establishing the types of organizations and geographic areas we should be targeting,” says Benton, a CUES member.

Creating a charitable foundation has helped transform the credit union’s donation process. The foundation is managed by a board comprising Benton and CFO Jennifer Hunt, plus the marketing director and two members of the credit union’s board of directors.

A CUES member, Hunt says the foundation board sets specific areas of focus for donations, makes sure the funds go to targeted organizations, and keeps the credit union’s board of directors involved and informed. She adds that the credit union’s board has been pleased with the performance of a charitable donation account CAMPUS USA CU has instituted to help fund donations.

Charitable Donation Account Leverages Less Restrictive Investments

When credit unions are funding CDAs, NCUA allows them to take advantage of investments that aren’t restricted by the NCUA rules Part 703. CAMPUS USA CU was familiar with this type of investing, which it began using for an employee benefits pre-funding program in 2015. 

“We were looking for ways to improve our yield on assets and investments,” Benton recalls. “So, we were intrigued that there was an option allowed by NCUA to invest in something we otherwise wouldn't be able to invest in.”

Hunt concurs that the time was right to look into funding sources beyond the typical treasury bonds, etc. “We’d been seeing some of our health insurance costs increasing rather substantially, and we were looking for a way to offset more of those costs,” she says.

For CDAs to qualify to use these otherwise-impermissible investments, credit unions must donate at least 51% of a CDA’s investment returns to qualified 501(c)(3) charities at least every five years. 

Supporting Employee Volunteers

CAMPUS USA CU has no problem meeting the CDA donation threshold—Benton points out that the CDA offsets only a portion of the credit union’s total giving for the year.

Hunt says the foundation focuses on supporting organizations involved mainly in education, financial literacy and healthcare. CAMPUS USA CU has established endowed scholarships at four community colleges for students pursuing a business career. And the credit union supports its many employee volunteer activities. 

“We track volunteer hours and award up to 16 hours of paid time off (one hour for every two hours served) for an event we sponsor,” she says. “We try to identify what our employees are passionate about. Not only do we care about you as an employee, we care about you as someone who cares about our community.”

John Pesh, CCE, is a director of executive benefits for CUESolutions platinum provider CUNA Mutual Group, Madison, Wisconsin. For more information about becoming a CUESolutions provider, please email kari@cues.org.

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