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ANTIGO, Wisconsin – What better than a credit union annual meeting to symbolize the democratic principles by which these financial institutions operate? Credit unions, after all, are member owned and member operated. Important decisions are often made by membership vote at these yearly get-togethers. But the problem of getting members to the meetings often becomes an annual exercise in brainstorming among CU presidents and their staffs. As members become increasingly involved in the juggling act that is daily living, many don’t attend annual meetings. As credit unions merge or become community chartered, members may feel less connected to other members and have less of a need to meet with other members. With the popularity of online transactions, CU members may not have more than an electronic connection to their credit union. Flexing Creative Muscle Enter creativity! Many credit unions are either cooking up one draw or another to entice members or thinking of alternatives. CoVantage Credit Union in Antigo, Wisconsin, is able to attract 500 to 600 members to its annual meeting. But it’s not without a year-long effort. With a membership open to residents of nine counties and parts of two others, assets of more than $383 million and membership at 31,214 individuals at the end of 2003, CoVantage plans hard for this members meeting. Years ago, says Sherry Aulik, CoVantage vice president or marketing and human resources, it was just a person standing up front, talking. Now, she says, “We put a lot of effort into making the business reports at our annual meeting as visually appealing for our members as possible. We incorporate photos taken during the year, colorful charts and graphs, and use current and recognizable music to make it entertaining. The PowerPoint presentation is rear-projected to a huge screen up on stage so it is easy for all to view. We even have a sound and lighting technician on hand to make adjustments as appropriate during the presentations.” The event is held at a local school auditorium and sometimes so many people attend, says Aulik, the credit union is not sure if there will be enough seating. For the various reports, photos are shown of whatever is featured, be it a new office, phone system or computer, as well as the staff so members can associate faces with staff they talk with on the phone. “The administrative assistant has a digital camera attached to her wrist,” Aulik says jokingly, explaining how photos enhance the presentation’s impact. “We also give cash door prizes. I am sure this is a draw for some members. Last year we gave away a total of $2,000 in cash prizes. Each member attending the meeting received one ticket for the prizes as they enter the theatre where the meeting is held. The prizes are awarded in $20 and $100 increments,” says Aulik. Members also may get such attendance gifts as thermometers, cutting boards, embroidered checkbook covers. About three years ago, the credit union also started setting up product and service tables at the meeting – “not to sell but more to give visibility, so members can shake hands with our staff.” Nearly 90% of the staff attends and helps put on the event, she says. Because CoVantage covers such a wide geographic area, it also instituted absentee balloting three years ago to increase participation. Members are reminded of the annual meeting in the quarterly newsletter, in lobby signs and in print advertising. Special events, such as the 50th annual meeting last year, get even more attention. A special annual statement was prepared with a timeline coordinating the credit union’s history with world events and featuring quotes from founding members. At Telco Triad Community Credit Union in Sioux City, Iowa, CEO/President/Manager Catherine Beyerink and her staff adopt a theme each year for the annual meeting which features a dinner at a local hotel. Bingo, “lots of door prizes,” an invitation to legislators to join them and entertainment are planned. “This year we’re bringing in the local Baptist Church choir. It’s a huge choir here,” says Beyerink. About 260 members of the 18,000 members attend, paying about $10 for the dinner and event. Attendance has stayed about even, says Beyerink, with more of the younger members attending. Publicizing of the event begins in the year-end statement. An article goes in the quarterly newsletter and the monthly sharedraft statement includes a flier. Banners go up in the office and ticket sales begin in January for the mid-March event. To draw members together, one meeting showcased all of the credit union’s 200 small employee groups. Tables held samples of what their companies produced, from Coca-Cola bottles to car generators. The 100 members with the oldest accounts were invited and sent special tickets. The oldest account from each of the credit unions that had merged with Telco Triad were sent a dozen red roses, prizes and received a collection of States Quarters. Avestar in Waterloo, Wisconsin, cooks up its own version of the annual event. Sandwiches, salads and all kinds of desserts are set out for members. The 3,000-member credit union had attracted as few as 20 people but in the past few years has tripled the number, according to Kay Radloff, president. Radloff says the credit union tries to increase attendance in several ways. One time they gave members coupons to fill out each time they came to the credit union office. Members then took them to the annual meeting for entries in prize drawings. “Some came with eight or 10 coupons. There was a lot of curiosity. It was kind of like playing a game.” Trial and Error Not everything works. One year the credit union brought in the local school jazz ensemble but found it was too loud for the gathering. Card bingo has gone over the best, says Radloff. Each member receives cards as they arrive to use for the game. The meeting is usually held in March but this year it jumps to April for a 40th anniversary celebration featuring a DJ and a dance. At Industrial Employees Credit Union in Centerville, Iowa, the annual meeting is looked at as a get-together for the active employees and retirees of the employee group. Of 1,150 members, about 175 attend the annual meeting of the $5.5 million credit union. It’s a low-key event featuring a co-op dinner with the credit union providing the meat, drink and rolls and members bringing a covered dish, says Kim Exline, manager/CEO/president. Door prizes are awarded with men getting items such as hats and women receiving canvas bags. The youngsters usually get piggy banks. “We don’t have any entertainment and just a short business meeting. Everything is on the annual report we hand out. It’s a pretty comprehensive annual report. Each board committee chair writes a report and provides comparison statistics and that goes over well.” Exline says postcards have made the difference in attendance. “We send them out about 2 1/2 weeks before the annual meeting. It does remind them and they can put them on their refrigerators. The postcards aren’t fancy. They’re just black and white to keep down costs.” Lakeview Credit Union in Neenah, Wisconsin, has other ideas about its annual meeting. President Pat Lowney says the credit union is looking at going to a mail or electronic ballot as well as looking into other options because attendance is getting smaller at annual meetings and “it wouldn’t take a very large group to swing a meeting one way or another.” The credit union also is looking into mail or electronic ballots to get wider representation of membership. “More people are busy, out of town, doing things electronically and never visit the credit union office,” he says, suggesting that the old way of handling annual meetings may not be the way of the 21st century.

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