TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL COUNCILS
It can be easy to overlook an essential first step when creating a member advisory council. “People get excited and start recruiting members,” says Miriam De Dios, vice president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Coopera Consulting, a strategic partner of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). “They forget about the foundational piece.”
Before you recruit, think about your purpose, she suggests. Why are you forming the council? What do you expect to get from it?
Keeping council members motivated is also crucial. While De Dios works with credit unions reaching out to Hispanics, she offers a few tips that apply to any type of council:
• Show you’re serious. Let members know you’ll do something with the recommendations and information they provide. “That sets the tone,” De Dios says.
• Keep people involved. Between meetings, keep people engaged by contacting them to get their opinionsand advice on issues that arise.
• Give recognition. Write a press release for local media announcing your council members. Give them thank-you gifts. Provide business cards to council members. That creates a feeling of ownership, she says.
A wealth of ideas
Keeping enthusiasm high has been no problem with United Educational’s 11-member Hispanic Advisory Council. “In fact, sometimes we have to cut the meetings short,” says Joan Miller, executive assistant/marketing at the $101 million asset credit union. “They could keep going for hours.”
The credit union began reaching out to the Battle Creek, Mich., Hispanic community a year ago and created its Hispanic Advisory Council this spring. The group usually meets every other month. The credit union provides dinner followed by a meeting that kicks off with a prepared list of questions. Reactions and ideas flow freely from there.
“They give us more to do than we can handle, which is pretty exciting,” says Fran Godfrey, United Educational’s president/CEO. “They let us know how to reach the community and what they need in terms of products and services.”
One new product introduced thus far is a credit-builder loan called American Dream. The credit union also is looking into reloadable debit cards, which are more convenient than remittances for sending money to family members who live in other countries.
Useful suggestions also have sprung from the quarterly meetings of the Hispanic Advisory Council at $8 million asset Village Credit Union, Des Moines, Iowa. One suggestion implemented is a punch-card promotion for remittances: Members buy five remittances and get the sixth free. The council proposed throwing a Christmas party last year, which turned out to be so popular it will be an annual event.
“The council also has come up with ideas we haven’t implemented—yet,” says Debbie Whittie, CEO. One with high potential would be to host a Mother’s Day celebration, complete with a Mexican mariachi band. “Women swoon over that,” Whittie says. “Someday we’ll do the band idea, but it’s kind of expensive.”
The council is a vital part of Village’s outreach to Hispanics, which started about three years ago. “We get marketing ideas and feedback on what’s important to this group,” Whittie says. “The council also spreads the word about the credit union, which is so important to build trust.”
Council members reap rewards, too, she adds. “They feel important because they have a voice,” Whittie says. “They’re excited that someone is really listening to them.”