All credit unions serve communities, ranging from a single select employee group (SEG) to large communities covering a wide geographical area. Credit union bonds are linked to these groups via a democratically elected board of directors and a shared purpose.
The success of the credit union and the communities it serves are bound to and dependent on each other.
On the surface, it may appear easy to deepen your credit union's relationship with its community. You can support your chamber of commerce, volunteer for a SEG event, donate to a local nonprofit, or host a shred day event. These actions certainly will create goodwill in the local community.
But there are challenges.
With SEG communities, it's frequently difficult to gain access to current and potential members via events. At the city, town, county, and community level, credit unions are just one more sponsor to write a check or chip in and help. It’s difficult to consistently stand out.
The struggle is to find the best opportunities to maximize community connections for the greatest overall outcome.
Credit unions must have a clear community purpose. Consider these factors:
► Alignment. Make sure the credit union’s purpose aligns with the community need. This allows leaders to speak directly to how the credit union meets a specific community need.
► Connection. Once leaders identify purpose and alignment, the next step is to identify, create, and nurture the ideal community connections. Do this by seeking out community groups or individuals who share similar desired outcomes.
► Commitment. The best connections that lead to the best outcomes are built over time. They are strategic and not a “one and done.”
‘Credit unions are in a unique position to help their communities pursue big dreams.’
Frequently we’ll see leaders from the community “connection” become a credit union volunteer and vice versa. Community connections such as these are great avenues for recruiting new credit union volunteers and improving board diversity.
Credit unions are in a unique position to help their communities pursue big dreams or overcome significant challenges. The bigger the goal or challenge, the better the potential impact or outcome.
Many credit union products and services align with community needs. Home loans support affordable housing, small business lending supports economic development, used auto loans provide affordable transportation, and financial counseling reduces the negative impacts of predatory lending. Having the right community connection should be a part of the credit union’s purpose and mission.
Perhaps the greatest value is during times of crisis. Being part of a community network that can quickly mobilize is key. Credit unions become community heroes when they are prepared and ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. The best way to do this is to develop the network well before an emergency.
In this competitive landscape, successful credit union leaders will make the most of every possible advantage available. This includes becoming an important connection within the community.
SCOTT BUTTERFIELD is the principal at Your Credit Union Partners (yourcupartner.org).