To Serve Romans, BE a Roman

Just as assimilation was integral to Roman expansion, to build a successful community relations program, credit unions must assimilate the ways of its potential membership.

John Dolan-Heitlinger


Ancient Roman culture assimilated the ways of other peoples, just as other cultures assimilated Roman lifestyle. To build a successful community relations program, credit unions must do the same. When credit unions serve a single select employee group (SEG), community relations is fairly easy. The personnel office tells new employees to open a credit union account. Senior military officers, enlisted servicemen, and base civilians serve on the credit union’s Board because it is the thing to do.

Serving multiple SEGs and covering large geographic areas makes community relations much more difficult. The first step in having an effective community relations program is to have a clear focus on a group of potential members, with the goal of eventually serving more than 50% of that group. Use the following examples as a guide to promote relationships within the community.

The Military

Eat, play, and work with the credit union’s military members. Volunteer for programs the commanding officers and executive officers favor. Identify the programs most popular with military dependents and become a major participant. Recruit and hire military spouses.

If the Air Force’s demonstration team, The Thunderbirds, visit, then be a premier sponsor. Better yet, be the exclusive financial institution sponsor. Work with base services to offer financial and other types of life training. Judge Advocate General (JAG) offices might object at times, but their objections can usually be managed.

Be a leader in the Navy League or comparable organizations.

Religious and Ethnic Groups

Be the premier supporter of the social events held by the faith group. Credit union executives and branch managers should be representatives in church leadership organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the synagogue board, and the church vestry. Run the silent auction, be the treasurer of the organization, or volunteer to staff registration tables. Just get involved.

The same goes for SEG ethnic groups. Sons of Italy? Ancient Order of Hibernians? Polish National Alliance? Participate in their events. Don’t know how to polka? Learn!

Employers or Unions

If the credit union serves a large, unionized workforce, build a good relationship with the union officials who represent the members. Offer specialized services union members need during strikes and plant closings.

If the target group is an employer or set of similar employers, celebrate their business. Help them present the credit union as a free employee benefit in their recruiting.

Business Accounts

If the credit union offers business lending, be active in the local trade association or Chamber of Commerce. Be a part of the economic life of that community.

Consider membership in the local private club. This is not elitism. It acknowledges the credit union wants to attract business leaders and wants to give those leaders the opportunity to get to know the institution.

Everything in the organization needs to focus on the target market. Meet those members’ expectations every day. If the potential members are blue-collar folks that expect knowledgeable “bankers” to dress upscale, then dress upscale. Skip casual Fridays. It’s all about doing what target members want and expect.

Board Members

Part of community relations is having the right people on the Board. If the Board membership does not reflect the targeted membership, then the Board needs to change over time so it gets close to matching membership.

When initiating a community relations program, get ready for a full-court press. Building relationships in the community is not something done occasionally by only the CEO or the vice presidents. It is part of every credit union leader’s job all the time, and it should be a part of their formal evaluation.


Feb. 11, 2013

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