WESTPALM BEACH, Fla. – In the search to distinguish itself from the competition have credit unions overlooked the annual meeting. Some credit unions view annual meetings as an opportunity to show the credit union difference by pulling out all the stops to not only attract but also thank members. Virginia Beach-based Naval Mid -Atlantic Federal Credit Union for example is hosting its annual meeting at the Virginia Marine Science Museum. "Last year's annual meeting at the Aquarium was very popular with our members and we believe this event should reflect our credit union's commitment to being a reliable, family-oriented financial institution," said NMAFCU President Bill Merritt. Merritt says this event gives families a chance to enjoy "a free adventurous evening" hanging with harbor seals, petting stingrays, getting up close and personal with sharks and learning more about the sea life of the Tidewater area. "We've held annual meetings since the `60s and have had on average 5,000 members in attendance," said Fort Worth City Credit Union President William B. Gordon. "Not only do members look forward to it but the annual meeting helps reinforce that our members are owners-they understand that basic credit union difference they are not some customer but they own this credit union." Gordon, who pulls the meeting together every year, says the $106,000 price tag is well worth it because the meeting has become one of the top events here and members start calling him in January about tickets. The venue is booked two years in advance and the credit union has a three-year contract with the caterer. "It is like a reunion of sorts and makes for a great fun event for the whole family so we've got diversity across all lines from gender, ethnicity, young, old, to city attorneys and garbage collectors – all interacting and having a great time," said Gordon. "It is also an opportunity for the members to meet, mix, and ask questions of their board of directors. I don't have any numbers but I think we host the world's largest credit union meeting-I joked with Dick Ensweiler that our meeting's bigger than GAC." To keep members coming back the annual meeting, which is held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, includes free barbeque/fish dinners, Johnnie Highs Country Music Review, Miss Texas, clowns for the kids, cash door prizes and a variety of displays like the newest fire trucks for members to explore. Gordon says the board input has helped keep the event fun. "If you want a lot of members to attend then the two big draws are food and entertainment," said Fiberglas Federal Credit Union Vice President of Marketing Shani Smith. "Our members talk about the annual meeting for weeks after the event, they just love it." The Newark, Ohio-based credit union's annual meeting draws an average of 350 members and that is just from advertising in the newsletter says Smith. "We try to keep the business portion fairly brief so the overview of how the credit union is doing financially and what's ahead doesn't usually take more than 20 minutes," said Smith. "We then move to the entertainment like this year we had local motivational speaker Casey Claxon of WNKO/WHTH radio station and try to close with the cash door prizes. The meeting is a great way to say thank you to loyal members and appeal to younger members too." The planning generally starts in October and Smith comes up with a theme for the night -this year it was "together we're better" and builds from there. This year the number of candidates matched the number of board openings so there was no need for ballots but in prior years a separate voting table is set up and the election winners are announced at the end of the meeting. Over in Lockport, New York, Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union dedicates an annual meeting committee, which consists of board members and Marketing and Business Development Vice President Paul Feidner, to ensure its annual meetings remain memorable. The committee of seven meets once a year to determine where the event will be held, discuss the flow of activities and basically "takes a fine pencil to the whole affair to make sure we're doing it as economical and efficiently as possible" says Feidner. With the board elections slated for that day the supervisory committee also plays a huge role in not only tallying the results but ensuring the voting process goes smoothly, Feidner says. "We may be a little unique in that as an added incentive we deposit $5 into the share account of every member who attends the annual meeting it also helps that we put on a fairly nice buffet dinner too," said Feidner. "These meetings are just another great communication tool. Anytime you can get a few hundred members together to hear about what their credit union has accomplished, let them meet their board members and ask questions directly to senior management it sends a powerful message and makes a big difference to members that you're giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions." According to Feidner the number of attendees generally fluctuates between 325-365 and this year not even a snowstorm caused a drop in attendance. "The annual meeting is a chance for members to get together with management and the board on a Sunday afternoon and relax," said Cornerstone Community FCU President/CEO Ann Brittin. "Over the years it's become something members expect and look forward to so we make sure we budget for it every year." [email protected]

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