I sat next to a man on the plane out to the Credit Union Water Cooler Symposium in Indiana who turned 30 people supporting his cause into 5,000. His story had all the topics that would make good news footage–and social networking.
Todd Stave is a commercial real estate owner, and he had rented office space to a doctor who performed abortions. He shared that protesters convened in front of his office building. It was unpleasant, but he could deal with it. But it didn’t stop there.
The protesters figured out the school his daughter attended and protested there, not only with graphic pictures but with a poster of his face, his home address and contact information. No matter what side of heated debate you take, harassing this man’s child is wrong. But I digress.
As he tells it, Stave and his friends and neighbors got together to discuss how to counter the protesters. This circle of 30 people had their circles of friends who had their circles of friends. The group grew to 5,000 who volunteered to call and email back all the protesters who were calling Stave’s residence and harassing his family. Lawyers were offering to do pro bono work. Stave established a foundation to fund such retaliations.
Not many issues in America today stir up emotions beyond reason on both sides of the argument like abortion. What cause might come close to creating that type of empathy and grab peoples’ attention that credit unions can relate to and create a national forum around? Economic injustice.
Particularly with the national economy sputtering along and one in 10 people out of work with innumerable others who have given up looking or are under-employed, the issue is ripe for the picking right now.
Credit unions were created to give average consumers access to credit and safe havens for their savings when the banks wouldn’t. Instead, during this economic crisis most credit unions retrenched just like the banks, but those that didn’t experienced tremendous growth.
Credit unions need a certain percentage of their membership to be wealthy enough and use the credit union enough to support the majority of the membership. Take a lesson from Proctor & Gamble, which, according to a Wall Street Journal report, has started bifurcating its products to serve the consumers of upper- and lower-priced items as the middle-income folks trade down due to constricted budgets.
Make it a global effort and see what can happen. Some credit unions here have partnerships with other systems around the globe to help ensure the opportunity for greater financial stability. In Africa, credit unions are literally saving lives. Promote these great works. It’s not why you do them but as long as you are anyway, let people know about it.
Wealth management and vacation home mortgages services combined with services like secured credit cards and second-chance loans can provide wanted and needed services at both ends of the spectrum. Complete online and mobile banking services can attract everyone and reduce costs in terms of putting employees to other work that requires a human touch. In this manner, credit unions can achieve what’s best for all of their members
Then use marketing and public relations–two very different things–to drive these messages home. Promote human interest–a slide show we posted of Anwar Hayow winning MSU FCU’s millionaire for a day contest was one of our top trafficked pieces for a long while after it was first posted.
Push for news coverage of the single parent working two jobs to make ends meet who you gave a used car loan to after their old one died.
Tell various forums, like your local Chamber of Commerce how you helped a mechanic tired of making money for other people start up his own shop with a small loan.
Advertise what you save your members in money and time. For example, post a sign that tells members this new kiosk in the annex of the university will save members that attend or teach there the 10 minute drive to the main campus, which equals X in gas a year.
One of the main ingredients that separates credit unions from banks is member dividends. These can be a great marketing advantage. How much interest would a billboard on a major highway in your FOM draw if it read: We gave our members $1 million back this year. What’s your bank done for you lately?
The other lesson to take from Stave’s story is the power of social networking. Of course you have your traditional circles and word of mouth, but take that exponential expansion and apply it online through social media.
I’ve seen estimates that 2,000 credit unions are on Twitter. That does not include their support organizations and vendors. Imagine if 2,000 credit unions began tweeting about how they’re fighting social injustice. Stave’s return on his social networking was 167 times his initial group. What could it be for credit unions?
Ask Ondine Irving, who has experienced such great opportunities by simply tweeting Suze Orman while creating excellent exposure for credit unions. One person can make a difference. Credit unions are far more than one person when they cooperate. n