Billboards of Inclusion Project Boosts Black-Owned Local Business and Non-profit

billboard financial plus credit union logo
Allen Williams, NDCCDP Photo
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Business Partner
Financial Plus Credit Union

4 minutes

Financial Plus CU helps close the gap for two minority-owned organizations with exposure aimed at bringing them more customers.

Being a true corporate citizen means being in touch with your community. As credit unions, we have the unique ability to build meaningful relationships with local businesses and organizations within the communities we serve. How better to show our dedication than investing in their success?

That’s exactly what we did at $1.2 billion/82,000-member Financial Plus Credit Union, Flint, Michigan. Our 11- (soon to be 12-) branch CU serves the entire state of Michigan and in 2023, we launched our Billboards of Inclusion project, a contest through which two small, minority-owned businesses were selected to win a free billboard, up for four weeks, designed by our in-house marketing team. 

FPCU met with the winners in a strategic brand session to gather key details about their businesses so we could capture their essence within the billboard. The location of each billboard was chosen based on availability, business location and input from the winner. 

How the Billboards Project Works

To be eligible, businesses had to have less than 50 employees and be 51% minority-owned, -managed and -controlled. The business or business owner did not have to be a member. 

Eligible businesses who wanted to participate in the project submitted a package including either an electronic or paper application along with an essay answering the following questions: “How was your business started and why? How does your business promote the growth and development of the community? How does your business support diversity, equity and inclusion within the business itself and in the community?” 

The selection committee, comprised of FPCU employees, scored these essays based on completion, relevance to the prompt, comprehensiveness and originality. 

Part of the Overall DEI Strategy

The Billboards of Inclusion project is part of our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, which aims to ensure FPCU represents the diverse communities we serve, our employees feel a sense of belonging at work, and that we invest in the underrepresented population within our community. 

I am a member of the African American advisory committee of the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce. I have had several conversations with minority business owners. As we discussed the struggles that many businesses owners face, there was one word that came up in nearly every conversation: coronavirus. It’s no secret that businesses, especially small businesses, were all impacted during the peak year(s) of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, minority-owned businesses were hit even worse. As both small and minority-owned businesses, the impact caused many of them to close their doors. With the many challenges that small businesses and minority business owners already face, the global pandemic’s impact on revenue was significant. A report published in 2022 by the U.S. Small Business Administration found the following:

The disproportionate business earnings losses among Black, Latinx and Asian business owners in the pandemic widened overall earnings inequality. Mean business earnings losses were 11% for Black business owners compared with a 2% loss for white business owners. (p. 53)

The goal of this project was to provide small, minority-owned businesses in the state of Michigan with exposure to increase their customers. With FPCU highlighting the business throughout our social media accounts as well as the free billboard advertisement, we are investing in the success of the businesses and our local community as well. 

Results and Next Steps

We received more than 50 applications in this inaugural year. A few months after the billboards went up, I asked for feedback from our two selected winners to help measure the success of this project. Aisha Harris, M.D., of Harris Family Health based in Flint, Michigan, says:

The billboard advertisement has increased the community’s awareness of me and recognition of me at community events. I have had more people come up to me and report they saw the billboard, some old faces and some new faces, so it has provided an ice breaker to meet new people and learn more about people in general. As a small business, it is difficult to jump into new opportunities for many reasons, and I am thankful for FPCU for giving my business a spotlight and supporting businesses trying to build and thrive in our community. 

Harris Billboard
Dr. Aisha Harris is pictured with the Harris Family Health billboard.

Cherie Long of Heart of the City Development Center in Saginaw, Michigan, said:

The winning of the inclusion billboard advertisement for our 501(c)(3) nonprofit Heart of the City Development Center has significantly increased awareness for this marginalized population. This billboard effectively conveyed an inclusive and focused message that strongly connected with a diverse audience, thereby promoting an increased sense of community support. This billboard has prompted numerous individuals and organizations to explore the offerings of Heart of the City Development Centers. Additionally, this billboard has gained the endorsement of legislative parties to assist in tackling the issue of inclusion. This billboard has increased the volume of phone inquiries from individuals and their family members in need of services. We received an inquiry from a family regarding the billboard situated on Washington Ave. They expressed their desire to retain the sign and install it on their cabin in the northern region of Michigan to promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

two women in front of billboard
Cherie Long and her daughter Lexy are pictured with Heart of the City Development Center billboard.

These testimonials are promising and have encouraged me to do the contest again in 2024. However, instead of two winners, we plan to select three! I hope to see a significant increase in the number of applications. I’m excited to continue finding new ways for FPCU to be a resource to our community. What can your credit union do to support diversity equity and inclusion in your community?

Allen Williams, NDCCDP, is diversity, equity and inclusion business partner at $1.2 billion Financial Plus Credit Union, Flint, Michigan.

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