CUVashon

The CUVashon Story  [update fall 2014 - over $30 million moved!]
A Win-Win Organizing Strategy for Building Power by Moving Money & Debt

 Listen to our 11-3-11 podcast about this effort and conversation with activists attempting similar projects around the country (or download HERE) 

Backbone Campaign moved our money!Many groups and have been talking about "Move Your/Our Money."   We want to share with you a unique story about an organizing project that helped an our entire community move its money. The documents, surveys, news coverage of that effort are the foundation of this CUOrganizer.org organizer's toolkit for replicating our model.

Our story in brief, The Vashon branch of PSCCU opened on March 1, 2011 recruiting the management team from a local Chase Bank (who are much happier now). As of November 1, 2011, $10 million has been moved from Wall Street banks into PSCCU, allowing the credit union to lower interest rates on mortgages. The community has 3 people on the PSCCU Board of Directors. Over $3 million has been loaned to community members. AND an amazing 1,000 Vashon community members have joined, i.e. approximately 10% of population! Read a short account of the CUVashon story or listen to the podcast

Feel free to contact the Backbone Campaign for additional information at 206-408-8058 or CUOrganizer@backbonecampaign.org

Lessons Summarized

  1. The populist call to "Move Your Money!" is not empty rhetoric. We organizers can create real infrastructure for redirecting equity flowing out of our communities back into those communities, and make a real difference in peoples lives.
  2. Doing the initial work of community surveying to weigh and build interest is a great way to establish credibility with potential credit union partners. (Edit and use our survey - download files below)
  3. Non-profits that partner with existing small, stable and democrat credit unions (i.e. CU's with a board of directors that is truly accountable to the membership) can achieve more of their innovative goals faster than if they tried to create their own financial institutions
  4. Permaculture Credit UnionPSCCU, the Self Help credit unions of SC, and others can provide innovative models. Backbone Campaign and CUVashon can share survey resources, policy documents, and other tools and advice to speed your process.
Community Survey, Educational Materials, Survey Results, and more:

Survey (online)

Community Survey downloadable documents - HERE

Community Survey (online report)

Community Survey (downloadable report (image without detailed stats)

Community Survey Educational "Wrapper" downloadable documents:

Survey "Wrapper," i.e. educational materials about Credit Unions 
INSIDE 11x17 - HERE
OUTSIDE - HERE

Branch Hours Survey - HERE

Fun press - Local bank management join the credit union effort! - HERE

CUVashon logo

MORE Local Press Coverage of our Credit Union Effort: (in reverse chronological order):

Vashon's new credit union grows faster than expected 
Aug 1, 2011
 - UPDATED Oct. 2011 to report $10 million moved from Wall Street banks into PSCCU, over $3 million loaned, 1,000 Vashon community members joined- approx. 10% of population! The influx of deposits lowered interest rates on mortgages. [And remember - we got a branch, three community members on the Board of Directors, and innovative lending programs!] 

Former Chase manager to helm new credit union branch on Vashon - Feb 22 2011

Vashon's credit union slated to open March 1 - Feb 16 2011

Credit union branch to open by March - Jan 18 2011 

Credit union leases a space - Oct 12 2010 

Credit union board votes to open a branch on Vashon - Sep 28 2010

Editorial: The promised arrival of a credit union is good news - Sep 28 2010 

Islanders can learn about home weatherization options at a meeting today - Sep 21 2010 

Credit union backers urge partnership with off-Island institution - Aug 25 2010 

Credit union backers seek community input and support  - Jul 13 2010 

Letter to the Editor: Throw your support behind a Vashon credit union  - May 25 2010 

Letter to the Editor: A credit union could defend against inflation (May 26, 2010)  - May 25 2010 

Credit Union Vashon backers launch survey  - May 18 2010 

Islanders work to create a credit union on Vashon - Apr 07 2010 

 The populist call to "Move Your Money!" is not empty rhetoric. We organizers can create real infrastructure for redirecting equity flowing out of our communities back into those communities, and make a real difference in peoples lives.Blog on our effort from Nov. 2011:

Our Community-Our Money: Economic Democracy via Credit Union-Progressive Community Partnerships Is Doable!
11/03/2010 Bill Moyer
Backbone's "Local Laboratory" Projects Bearing Fruit! 
Recent articles in our local paper reflect some of the fruits of Backbone Campaign's local efforts. Besides helping to convene community dialogs on local governance, both our efforts to get funding for sustainability programs at the Vashon High School, and our collaboration with other islanders to get a credit union up and running have generated almost weekly local press. Of all these efforts, the lessons of the credit union effort are particularly valuable to organizers around the country. I've been eager to get some of this story into writing, so here's a start.

If we begin to analyze the flow of financial resources such as interest and fees to distantly owned banks, payments to utility companies, and payments to agribusiness from our tax dollars meant to feed our children, we begin to see waste streams of equity drained out of our communities. The story of our efforts to redirect those waste streams is really just beginning, but the lessons learned are already of great potential value to our progressive allies across the country.

As was expanded upon in the articles about CUVashon in our local papers the Beachcomber and Loop, initial efforts to gauge the feasibility of starting our own credit union demonstrated that intense interest and support existed in the community. One immediate reality check we got, was that it is exceedingly difficult to establish a new credit union. The regulatory requirements stipulate that such an effort must first raise two years of operating capital AND self-insure deposits with 7% in reserve. 

Our May survey produced 644 responses in approximately one month, with overwhelmingly positive results. (See survey and interactive graphics showing the results at our CU Vashon resources folder. BTW - we'd be happy to share this survey with you.) The results were overwhelmingly positive AND literally overwhelming. The survey indicated that we could have at least $5 million on deposit almost immediately and we would need to have an operation that could get those funds circulating as loans. In light of the regulatory requirements, we realized that we would have to raise approximately $600,000 for operations and $350,000 for a reserve fund, before opening the doors. What's more, all of these funds would have to be donated, not lent, and we could likely not offer any tax benefit to those making the donations. This MAY have been possible to do, but it would have likely taken a long time, and it would be very hard to replicate in less privileged communities.

The unexpected and ultimately pivotal moment is when the buzz we created, generated interest from a small existing credit union, Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union (PSCCU). The progressive-minded VP of Marketing and Business Development and the CEO approached our group to see if we would partner with them to establish a branch on Vashon. From June to September we met a few times, during which we investigated their economic stability, learned about their coops' aspirations and limitations on growth. Their commitment to the credit union movement principles of economic democracy and returning benefits to the member-owners proved solid. This and their already significant commitment to weatherization financing, and willingness to partner on innovative finance models intrigued us. We communicated our dedication to our community, and the purpose of building local equity, community and environmental sustainability, and the need for the community to feel represented in the organization. 

The result, a win-win partnership with a small-but-stable and established financial institution. PSCCU, originally an employee (Puget Sound Energy and Valley Medical employee credit unions merged into PSCCU) now has an expanded field of membership, a potentially far more vibrant market for creating new accounts and loans, and a community partner to help create and grow programs. For this PSCCU committed to establishing a branch on in our community, most likely by next Spring or sooner. They are partnering with the CUVashon crew to create innovative lending programs in a variety of sectors including energy conservation and efficiency, local agriculture, and renewable energy (as a start). And PSCCU is providing three islanders of our choice with 3 year appointments to the PSCCU board of directors. (I am one of those lucky three!)

Money raised by CUVashon that would have been wasted sitting in a self-insurance fund, can now be raised to secure otherwise unsecured lending, create revolving and micro-lending programs and reduce interest rates for borrowers, and work with other non-profit groups to establish innovative financing for project that help them achieve their respective missions. 

The lessons for progressive organizers around the country are:


  1. Doing the initial work of community surveying to weigh and build interest is a great way to establish credibility with potential credit union partners. (Use ours!)
  2. Non-profits that partner with existing small, stable and democrat (i.e. board of directors is truly accountable to the membership) credit unions can achieve more of their innovative goals faster than if they tried to create their own financial institutions.
  3. Permaculture Credit Union, PSCCU, the Self Help credit unions of SC, and others can provide innovative models. Backbone Campaign and CUVashon can share survey resources, policy documents, and other tools and advice to speed your process.

The current populist tide is a rising tide. We should have learned when the Democratic Party and affiliated NGOs abandoned it during the Paulson Plan and healthcare debate that someone would step in to seize the energy. The Tea Party that may have never gained steam had there been a vibrant progressive alternative appeal to what is worst in people, rather than what is best - but the anger of its participants is valid. It has further polluted the national dialog with lies, revisionist history, and xenophobia to divide Americans and continued the Bush era project of Grover Norquist to shrink government (except the bloated Pentagon etc.) until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub. That said, for all its destructive potential, its right-wing corporate supporters like the Koch brothers will never fund a movement that delivers quality of life improvements to those who carry the torch. A positive populism is still ours for taking, and organizing around issues like foreclosures, local green jobs, healthy food for our kids etc. can only be strengthened by buttressing and directing our own democratic, cooperative financial institutions.

There must be thousands, if not tens of thousands of employee-based credit unions in need for revitalization. By doing the community groundwork, investigating potential partners, and educating the community's nonprofit sector about how they can partner with a local credit union - local organizers will pay dividends and deliver results to the community in a way progressives rarely do. This is the stuff of real social movements - this is a path to the power we need to build the future we aspire to live in.