SPIRE FCU seeking news ways to gather members together

SPIRE 2014 Annual Meeting photo

Credit Union Times © 04/09/2014 – FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – Encouraging member participation at annual meetings has become increasingly important in recent years with competition growing in the financial services marketplace, but tighter budgets have cooperatives scrambling to find affordable new ways to increase attendance.

Creating member buy-in by boosting annual meeting attendance can reap significant long term benefits, according to industry experts.

“If we do not foster the communities within credit unions that energize the spirits of cooperative owners, then all is lost for credit unions to realize the opportunities of the future,” said Randy Karnes, CEO of CU*Answers.

Karnes said his CUSO in Grand Rapids, Mich., has helped many cooperatives recognize the value of increasing member participation at annual meetings and throughout the year. “Credit unions must capture the spirit of the past and marry that to the activities and interest of today’s cooperative owner,” he said.

The first step, he said, is to re-energize the commitment by member-owners.

“It can be hard to trust that today’s consumers is interested in cooperative ownership, and even harder for organizations to fund, share and properly give powers to members as financial pressures and over-zealous regulators tell them everything is secret and only for a trusted few of their choosing,” he said.

“We must avoid thinking that better banking as defined by our competition is the key to our futures. Our futures will only be secured by aligning cooperative ownership activities alongside cooperative customer activities,” Karnes said.

That advice prompted Oak Trust Credit Union to step up promotions of its annual meeting, said Jim Dean, president/CEO of the $45 million institution in Naperville, Ill.

“When Randy first asked if we thought even 5% of our members consider themselves stakeholders who, if they were in a court of law, would testify on the credit union’s behalf, it gave us pause,” Dean recalled. So Dean invited the audience at its past two annual meetings to share testimonials.

“I decided to just go for it and ask our members in attendance if we were relevant and why,” Dean said. “What happened next was powerful, with an outpouring of member after member standing up to talk about their experience in a time of need or just their lifelong experience as a member-owner.”

Oak Trust plans to share the testimonials through social media and other channels, Dean said.

The Internet also offers an avenue to increase member participation. “We have to take cooperative activities like the annual meeting, voting and even financial reporting to the net so that Millennials who can only be reached by these channels see that owning and using a cooperative happen online as well as in person at the annual meeting,” Karnes said.

“Using the networked world to engage member-owners is as important as engaging member customers with banking services,” he said. “Many CUs have lost the faith that if they extend themselves to today’s American consumers that they will return the favor by answering the call to take up the challenge and opportunities through cooperative ownership.

“So start today by having annual meetings with energy, and have energy to design the annual meetings of tomorrow on the Net, on a phone, in a viral space for everyone to see.”

However, regulations can prohibit some credit unions from opening up online portals to enable participation in annual meetings. For example, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation requires members to vote in person or by proxy, Dean said.

“If the IDFPR would adapt to our changing times (the last major by-laws revision occurred in 1989) it would help state-chartered credit unions in that regard,” he said.

Other credit unions are also recognizing the importance of boosting annual meeting attendance and enticing more members with door prizes, guest speakers and other incentives.

By adding an inspirational keynote speaker – Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a NASA space shuttle – and offering a $25 cash incentive to each member for its annual meeting, SPIRE Federal Credit Union welcomed a record number of 2,265 members to its 2014 annual meeting last month.

Last year, SPIRE became the first financial cooperative in the country to offer cash incentives for attendance, the Minnesota credit union said. Despite post-blizzard conditions during this year’s meeting, attendance jumped 12% from last year and 1500% from 2009, the credit union said.

“It’s heartening to see the numbers growing,” said Dan Stoltz, CEO of the $607 million SPIRE in Falcon Heights, Minn. “We have seen real business out of the meeting, including new real estate loans, investment accounts and checking accounts. It’s become a great way to pique interest, share our capabilities and get members doing more with SPIRE.”

Through this year’s incentives, SPIRE gave out more than $56,000. “It’s one way for us to give back,” Stoltz added.

The $547 million University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union encouraged members to attend its annual meeting March 15 by offering a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and three iPad minis, according to the Honolulu-based institution’s website.

The $2.35 billion Service Credit Union based in Portsmouth, N.H., said more than 300 members attended its 2014 annual meeting to hear guest speakers such as New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Leagues and associations are also increasing attendance at annual gatherings by featuring motivational speakers. For example, Fran Tarkenton, who played in three Super Bowls as an NFL quarterback and built more than 20 companies, including GoSmallBiz.com, Tarkenton Financial and SmallBizClub.com, will be the keynote speaker at the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates’ annual gathering May 14-17 in Savannah, Ga., the GCUA said.