FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn.–Spire FCU  here has found a way to lift attendance at its annual meeting from 150 people to more than 1,000.


Like many credit unions, Spire FCU had noticed those who did turn out for its annual meeting all hailed from the same demographic–its older members, and many of the same people were turning out each year.


CEO Dan Stoltz said Spire FCU wanted to change that. So it began offering everyone’s favorite incentive by beginning to pay members $25 to attend the one-hour meeting. It turns out no CU had ever tried that before, and Spire had to get


NCUA to sign off on it. The agency OK’d the move, but placed a cap on 1,000 attendees ($25,000). That first year attendance jumped to 700 people.


But it also does more than just offer cash. Spire brings in inspirational guest speakers–including Chad Crittenden from “Survivor” and former major leaguer player Jim Morris, whose story inspired the Disney movie “The Rookie.”


The first year if offered the payment proved so successful that this year NCUA raised the cap on attendance to 2,000 ($50,000). About 1,200 attended the 2012 event, which is no longer called the “annual meeting” and instead is the “member appreciation event.”


The Need For Speed


Stoltz explained that chief among his four criteria for the events is that it has to be fast.


“In this day and age, if you can’t say something in an hour, you shouldn’t say it,” he said.


Moreover, it had to be professional–including rehearsals and extensive preparation–it had to have energy and it had to be inspirational. The guest speaker, who takes up about 20 minutes of the event, is meant to provide the inspiration, and for 2013 Spire FCU plans to bring in Devon Harris, a member of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the Olympics (and was subject of the 1993 Disney movie, “Cool Runnings”).


Spire also holds drawings for special prizes such as iPads, but in order to get paid and be eligible for the prizes, attendees are required to fill out a comment card with their opinion of the event, as well as information about how many times they have attended the annual meeting, how many products they have with the credit union and more.


“From the comment cards and what we track, we get new accounts from this event, we get new members from this and we get deeper relationships, because I talk about a number of our products during the member appreciation event, whether it’s Visas, loan products, deposit products, our goal is to deepen that relationship,” said Stoltz.


Lending Expected To Grow


Spire currently serves 63,000 members with $571 million in assets. Stoltz said that lending has essentially remained flat in 2012 (it has dropped by about 1,000 loans, or $7 million), but he expects lending to grow by about 6% in 2013, helped in part by the CU’s entrance into member business lending. Spire’s most recent Call Report lists more than 40,000 loans and leases totaling $393 million, with heavy concentrations in used car lending and mortgages.


Stoltz believes too many credit unions approach the annual meeting thinking about where they are, rather than where they want to be.


“Credit unions need to look through the lens of the current membership and where they want to go,” he said. “I think the old format served its purpose and it was just the way we always did business, but credit unions either need to do it well or downsize it and look at a different way to serve their members. I’m not saying everyone should pay a patronage dividend of $25, but you have to do it well, it has to be well presented, it has to have energy and it has to be fun.”


Looking at comments from this year’s meeting, he said it “may be the first time you’ve heard the words 'fun’ and 'annual meeting’ in the same sentence.”


More info: www.spire-banking.com

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