Seven and a half years ago I attended a League Marketing Workshop. I had just started working at the credit union. I didn't have a single brochure, never done a promotion, nothing, nada, zip, zilch. As the first marketer of my credit union, I was charged with the task of creating it all from scratch. I was very young and, quite frankly, scared to death. It wasn't easy being green.
I walked into the classroom sat down in the second row and made sure to have an empty chair in between myself and those around me. I thought that was the unspoken rule at conferences: Dare not invade other people's space. I was mistaken. In walked this bubbly ball of energy who immediately bounded into this shelter of air I had barricaded around me. She asked me who I was, where I came from, and when I admitted how new I was to credit unions, she gave me a big hug. With the toothiest smile I'd ever seen, she exclaimed, "Welcome to Credit Union Land." She then proceeded to tell me that if I ever needed anything to call her, and gave me samples of her brochures. When others heard us chatting they turned around and said similar things to me, welcoming me to this fictitious place as mysterious as Narnia. One even made sure to sit down in the open seat right next to me as an unspoken gesture of "Hey, we're in this together." I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I had been abducted into some sort of religious cult. Coming from the sterile medical industry, I'll admit hugging was a foreign business practice. Such gregarious and demonstrative signs of affection would have been frowned upon.
It was shocking. Here I sat in a room of 40 of my peers from all over the state, and they just all openly shared ideas. In fact, on the agenda time was made specifically for this free exchange. My hand cramped from all the notes I took and in my head I even designed our first brochure. What was even more impressive is that I later learned that the energetic conference space-invader was from a CU that had branches in my back yard; in fact our offices were within miles of each other. I would have considered her my biggest competition if I didn't have an orientation so profound. And here she remains a dear friend.
It's funny to think about it now, because I have since steam-rolled newbie colleagues with my enthusiasm a time or two. The passion people feel in this industry is absolutely contagious. What's even more amazing to me is that the cooperative spirit is still alive in our "live, work, worship, breath in this area" charters. It's pretty special, and knowing that you can rely on an army of thousands is power second to none.
When I hear outsiders say that the cooperative spirit is dead in CUs, I shake my head, because I honestly witness its presence everyday. I see it on list-serves, at conferences, chapter meetings, blogs and publications just like this. It's quiet, but the energy is still there, and the conversation is still going.
So, please pass it on.
Kelley Parks is VP of Marketing & Business Development at Call FCU, Richmond, Va., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.