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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Instead of talking about the “credit union difference” more and more credit unions are demonstrating it to consumers through some creative and unique sponsorships and community events. According to some marketing experts, the “show don’t tell” experience may resonate more with members and nonmembers alike and generate a goodwill “word of mouth” campaign that could give credit unions a much needed boost over their competition. Sometimes even taking a chance on just belonging to something a credit union believes in can lead to unexpected results. Elevations Credit Union (formerly U of C Federal Credit Union) has been a founding sponsor of the annual Buffalo Bicycle Classic, a one-day fundraising ride that supports scholarships for Arts & Sciences Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Now in its fourth year, the ride has quickly established itself by growing from 800 riders in 2003, to an anticipated 2,000-plus riders in 2006. In fact, the event has gained such popularity it recently won first place as the “Cool Event” in the medium-sized city, Boulder, Colorado, by Bicycling Magazine. Not only has Elevations CU’s 2005 sponsorship helped leverage over $150,000 for 75 scholarships for CU students already enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, but it also helped establish relationships with key university administrators and raised its visibility with this important member segment says Elevations CU Community/Public Relations Manager Sue Bailhache. “This year, the new `Little Buffalo’, 13-mile family course, will be named for Elevations Credit Union and we’re working on helping to spread the word on this new, shorter option. Our brand embraces the active outdoor lifestyles that are so popular with residents in this area,” said Bailhache. “Sponsoring this ride not only supports our brand, but also connects us to the many Elevations members who participate in the event.” For El Paso Employees Federal Credit Union, being a major sponsor of one of the biggest Hispanic events-the Fiesta de las Flores-has helped it better connect with its Hispanic members. Held annually for over 50 years the celebration draws some 25,000 attendees during the weekend before Labor Day. El Paso Employees FCU’s sponsorship spans from early in the summer with participation in the Fiesta Golf Tournament and a scholarship banquet where four $500 scholarships are awarded in the name of the credit union. It also includes the selection of a candidate for the Queen of Fiesta de las Flores. “Last year, the daughter of one of our lending officers represented the credit union as our princess in all the celebrations and public appearances which included TV morning shows and visits to the El Paso Diablos Baseball Games and other sports events,” said El Paso Employees FCU Marketing Vice President Cecilia Lang. Before the Labor Day celebrations, the credit union also participated in the Fiesta Parade with its own minivan wrapped with its logo and Web address followed by a group of staffers wearing logo shirts and waving flags. “Throughout the celebrations, banners with our logo were displayed and our name as major sponsors was mentioned in all the print, radio and television advertising,” said Lang. “Our employees are already making plans for this year’s celebrations and started looking out for another beautiful girl to represent us. Our members love it and look forward to having a good fiesta time.” As for the increasingly important younger market, credit unions have an opportunity to shine. Studies reveal that this latest generation’s loyalty and selection of the organizations it will do business with is based more on a company’s social conscience or sense of responsibility than just its brand. Three years ago, Riverside, California-based Altura Credit Union started working with students from La Sierra University to open a coffee shop within its Magnolia Avenue branch. The students are part of Students in Free Enterprise, an international nonprofit organization of college students who make a difference in their communities through free enterprise projects. Offered through the School of Business, SIFE is open to all students at the university. In the past 15 years, La Sierra’s SIFE team has won the SIFE national and international championship five times for its projects, selected from among the 1,800-2,500 teams worldwide. In the 2005-2006 school year, the university had 21 separate SIFE projects underway. Called “The Spot,” the beverage bar gives students first-hand experience in opening and running a business. In addition to serving Altura members the project is also designed to raise community awareness of SIFE and its projects. Profits from The Spot will support other local SIFE projects as well as a SIFE learning village in Kalaala, Ethiopia. The coffee shop operates Monday-Friday during branch hours and serves a variety of drinks, including espressos, lattes and smoothies. In addition, Altura allows The Spot to open one evening a week for special events, such as live jazz music performances to encourage university students to stop in. The coffee shop’s manager is a chef by trade and a student from the university’s evening adult degree program. “I serve on La Sierra’s business advisory board and knew somehow we had to find a way to work with SIFE,” said Altura Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications Ricki McManuis. “What is great about what they do is that students look for projects where they can start a business and all the proceeds go to support micro-enterprise projects around the world. This coffee shop is helping provide an Ethiopian village with solar ovens so they can make and sell their own bread. If that isn’t the credit union philosophy in action I don’t know what is.” With an existing coffee shop on site at the Magnolia branch, Altura CU provides the space to students free of charge. “All they have to do is order their supplies,” said McManuis. “We’ve made donations in the past but we see what we’re doing here as an opportunity to not only bring a new service to members and teach students about the real world but also generate goodwill and make a difference in people’s lives locally and across the globe.” In a bid to make The Spot the fun hang out for college students, Altura is looking into installing a wireless network and getting a permit to add wrapped cookies and sandwiches to the shop’s menu. “The Spot has been open about two months and the members have been excited to see something like this at their credit union,” said McManuis. “It is an experience in true free enterprise so keep an open mind. You are working with college students so meetings may be scheduled after 10 a.m. or finals week. Have patience. Don’t go in thinking it will be a success instantly.” The partnership doesn’t end with the coffee shop, SIFE students have also been tapped to deliver financial literacy lessons to high school students. Altura invited SIFE to teach the National Endowment for Financial Education curriculum at North High School in Riverside. About 350 students went through the six-subject curriculum that aligns with the California Education Standards. Students from SIFE made 12 separate visits to 13 different classes. Altura representatives also made presentations on the basics of opening checking and savings accounts. “It is amazing because these aren’t education majors teaching but business majors and because they incorporate their own life experiences they are better able to connect with the kids,” said Altura Vice President of Marketing Donna Michalka. “I say develop a relationship with your local college or university-being involved in something like this everyone wins.” Altura’s teen “My Money” account has never been so popular. Without any formal promotions or advertising the program now boasts several thousand accounts, which Michalka credits to simple word of mouth. “We know from statistics that if you can get members in at a young age they will be loyal members. Most bank online, which are more profitable members and most importantly when they get hit with those credit card offers at college they will already be more financially responsible to see through them,” says Michalka. “This new generation is a socially responsible one and credit unions that aren’t reaching out to them and who misunderstand the opportunity there are losing a lot. It is our social responsibility to help them be financially literate and they are responsive to our efforts.” [email protected]

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