Community Outreach, if authentic, can be a good way to build relationships with the community and increase your visibility. Credit unions like Unity One CU, the oldest credit union in Texas, have made community outreach part of their corporate strategy. Erayne Gee Hill, assistant vice president of community and public relations with the Fort Worth-based credit union shares their experience with LoneStar Leaguer readers.
Question: When and why did community outreach become part of the CU’s business development strategy?
Hill: I've been working at Unity One six years, and community outreach has always been a part of the corporate strategy and had been for many years prior. Community relations and outreach is definitely a more cost-effective and often impactful approach to promote products and services, especially for certain demographics. Community relations has also been the core of Unity One's business development strategy because it is easier for all employees to participate in.
Question: What type of outreach programs is the CU involved in?
Hill: Unity One's primary areas of community outreach are: special events, financial education and organization affiliation and community partnerships. (I'm excluding social media communication because that's a whole other ball game).
Question: What was the process for identifying these programs?
Hill: We really listened to our members and the communities we serve. Special events are highly effective when trying to engage the immigrant Hispanic population we serve, and we have seen that events (on credit union grounds) yield better results than traditional advertising. As we build our member engagement culture at Unity One, we recognize that member and community advocacy is very important. Therefore, financial education is more relevant than ever. Teens and young adults are a target audience that we strive to attract, and establishing ourselves as a financial resource speaks volumes. Our newest branch at Birdville ISD's Center for Technology and Advanced Learning (BCTAL) proves this theory every day. Traffic increases every month, and through our financial education efforts, we have acquired new accounts and most importantly loans. Finally, it is very important that remain highly involved, and be of the communities we serve. Serving on boards, being active in Chamber events and home owner associations and partnering with businesses keep employees in tune to the needs of communities and make us more effective in serving and providing solutions. In fact, our newest venture, Local Luv, is the credit union's response to help patronize a partner business, in the hopes building community advocates and creating awareness of our business services. The credit union chooses a small business in a branch territory and works to drive traffic to that business.
Question: How does the CU measure the success of these programs?
Hill: We gauge effectiveness based attendance and leads generated.
Question: What percentage of growth in membership and loans has the CU experienced as result of outreach efforts?
Hill: At this time, we do not correlate loan growth and membership directly to community outreach efforts.
Question: What other benefits does the CU gain from this outreach?
Hill: We require eight hours of community service from our employees, and we hope that this will impact personal growth. In addition, our goals involve building relationships that will help sustain the credit union for years to come.
Question: What tips can you offer other CUs who are considering making community outreach part of their business development strategy?
Hill: Take community relations and outreach seriously and be strategic. Also, make sure there are advocates and visionaries on your leadership team. An organization that is solely operation-minded cannot differentiate themselves properly; outreach is a mandate if you want your business to profit, be competitive and stay afloat. The phrase from Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come”—especially for credit unions, is no longer effective. Finally, put the right people in place to lead the efforts. Innovation, spirit, strategic-thinking and drive are great characteristics to have.