Lynette Cupps’ vision for helping nonprofits earns her the 2018 NTCUE honor.
Credit unions subscribe to the idea of “people helping people,” and they are not alone. Thousands of nonprofit organizations also work to fulfill an educational, spiritual or philanthropic purpose to better the lives of others. CUES member Lynette Cupps, CIE, VP/organizational development at $1.3 billion MAX Credit Union in Montgomery, Alabama, used the natural synergy between CUs and other nonprofits as inspiration for a project that won her the title of 2018 CUES Next Top Credit Union Executive.
“The goal of my project was to look at how credit unions can empower nonprofit organizations by using the skills and resources that we have as business professionals to help both organizations grow,” explains Cupps, the winner of the ninth annual NTCUE competition, which celebrates the next generation of credit union leadership by considering applicants who are 35 years of age or younger.
As one of five NTCUE Finalists, Cupps developed her project over several months before making a presentation before a panel of judges at CEO/Executive Team Network™ last November in Nashville, Tennessee. In her presentation, Cupps described what she saw as the potential for CUs to offer value-added services that go beyond financial wellness—for instance, by helping nonprofits in such areas as strategic planning, social media, marketing, hiring, leadership and compliance.
“[We could] do some of the heavy lifting by providing them with the business acumen that they may not have,” she recounts, observing that CUs get something valuable from the experience as well. “It’s great for brand awareness, it’s a great give-back to the community, it can create revenue and build assets—so it works out well for both organizations.”
A Diverse Career
Cupps owes much of her success in the NTCUE competition to the diversity of experience she has gained while working for MAX CU, where she started as a teller 15 years ago. While at the CU, she earned her marketing degree from Troy University and moved into roles of increasing responsibility.
“I worked in our branches for quite a few years, then came into our training department, and through that, I gained experience across our organization,” she says. “It turns out that when you train people, you end up learning a whole lot of things yourself.”
After serving as a professional development specialist in MAX CU’s training department, Cupps held two consecutive AVP roles—first in member services and then in corporate communications. In that latter role, she launched the CU’s formal volunteerism program.
“I took the vision of our CEO and our chief talent officer … and engaged our employees,” she reports. “That’s also how I first opened up to the world of nonprofits and what they are doing.”
Since becoming VP/organizational development, Cupps has been participating in strategic planning. “That’s what allowed me to see ... how much we could help those in our community, far beyond what we were offering in financial education.”
Because of her background in employee training and volunteerism, Cupps was able to think strategically about how these concepts could be married together to benefit nonprofits. “All of a sudden, it just clicked that we have all of these people who work at the credit union who have completed their certifications and education,” she explains. “They have the expertise to help the nonprofits that have a desire and passion to help our communities.”
While Cupps’ project is still conceptual, she already has taken steps toward determining how the program could be rolled out. She has begun by giving her own time, serving on or assisting boards in a consulting capacity. In one case, she helped a nonprofit solidify its strategic plan as part of a process to solicit grant money. She helped train another organization to develop a social media campaign to boost brand awareness. She and others at MAX CU have also been helping local nonprofits improve the financial literacy of their staff members.
“At the credit union, we really focus on the impact we can have on our community,” Cupps says. “Our goal with this program is to maximize the investment we’re making in our employees’ education by helping others who are also engaged in lifting up people in our community.”
A Rewarding Experience
The NTCUE competition has been a rewarding experience for Cupps in more ways than one. Not least is the tangible value of the $20,000 educational prize package that covers the expenses of two CEO Institutes as well as two remote coaching sessions from CUESolutions provider for leadership development DDJ Myers Ltd, Phoenix. This is in addition to the coaching she already received as one of the five Finalists.
“I will say the coaching was probably one of the most valuable things I have ever experienced throughout my career,” Cupps says. “It challenged me in a way that I had never been challenged before.”
Cupps also valued the experience of interacting with the other Finalists during the competition, all of whom impressed her with their high-caliber projects.
“I was humbled by the fact that my idea surfaced to the top, because the other competitors submitted such thought-provoking and holistic ideas that have the potential of impacting their credit unions and the industry we serve.”
Throughout the process, Cupps was grateful for the support from her colleagues at MAX CU. “There have been some real cheerleaders from our executive team who helped me think through different ideas and encouraged me to pursue these opportunities,” she says.
Among those cheerleaders is Sandra Stenger, PHR, MAX CU’s chief talent officer, who has seen firsthand how Cupps’ passion for helping others inspires those around her.
“Lynette has a true desire to make a difference in the lives of others,” Stenger says. “Her strategic mindset is always finding a way to connect our organization with the needs of our community. She has the full support of the organization, and we couldn’t prouder. MAX is truly blessed to have her as a part of our organization.”
Cupps is working toward her black belt in Six Sigma, a methodology for business process improvement. Notably, the VP isn’t deliberately aiming for higher rungs of the corporate ladder.
“I don’t think so much about titles as I do about the excitement of leading organizations that are member-focused and community-focused,” she says. “I think the financial results and the success of the credit union will come if we can focus on relationships with a goal of impacting the lives in the communities we serve.”
Diane Franklin is a freelance writer based in Missouri.