FRESNO, Calif.-Educational Employees CU here said it has seen significant lift in its auto sales and a boost in new membership after launching an auto loan promotion that doubled as a benefit for World War II veterans.

Jim Huff, marketing director at the $2 billion, 214,000-member credit union, said Educational Employees had been looking to find a way to tie together its Memorial Day auto lending promotion with something that benefitted veterans and gave back to the community. Through a connection with a local radio show, EECU became aware of the Honor Flight Network, which raises funds to send veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial.

EECU tied its Memorial Day auto loan promo to a push to raise money for Honor Flight Network, pledging a $50 donation for every loan booked. It marketed the campaign through TV, radio and newspaper ads. It also worked with radio host Paul Loeffler on the project, and Loeffler appeared in one of the CU's commercials.

During the Memorial Day sale period, EECU made 485 auto loans, "which is a big month for us," said Huff. That's a marked increase over the 367 loans it made during that same period last year, 291 during that period in 2011, and 295 in 2010. EECU currently has more than 25,000 auto loans on the books for a total of more than $315 million.

The CU also saw an increase in membership as a result of the promotion; of the 485 loans made, 167 were from new members, said Huff.

25% Toward Goal

All told, the promotion "allowed us to make a donation of $24,250 to Honor Flight, which is obviously a substantial amount of money for them to be able to get started," said Huff. The group needs to raise $100,000 in order to take 70 veterans on the first flight from the region this October, "so this donation was a big jump start to get them a quarter of the way there."

The loans were priced starting at 1.99%, and Huff said that while the rate is competitive, it's not the lowest rate available in its market. EECU frequently has to deal with dealers trying to steal loans back from the CU, but because of the promotion, "when the dealers tried to steal that loan back, the members were less resistant to price matching and that sort of thing from the dealers."

Huff estimated that about 5,000 residents in the Central Valley region are WWII vets. Though the CU has a number of veterans within its membership, he said the population is probably not above average.

"But this community really rallies behind the veteran community," he said, adding that there are two army bases, a naval base and an air force base nearby, "so it's something that hits home to a lot of people in the area."

The Larger Lesson

One of the major lessons EECU learned from the campaign, said Huff, was the importance of "really tying ourselves into the veteran community and working with people in that community, because they really got behind it and got excited about it, and did a lot of the promoting for us-and that carried a lot of weight in the community."

The larger lesson, he said, is "whatever the cause is, make sure you really connect with people that care deeply about that cause and can be out there being your mouthpiece in the community."

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