As it enters its sixth year, CU Lunch Local continues to grow, to the point where at least 18 states are now represented and the majority of CUs in Michigan – where the program is based – are believed to be taking part this year.

The event, taking place Oct. 17, encourages credit unions and credit union service organizations to support small businesses in the area. For some, that means treating employees to coffee or lunch. For others, that means buying lunch for members. There are a variety of ways to participate, and the event is tied to the annual celebration of International Credit Union Week each October.

“What can you do to have some fun and support a local business?” said Bill Beardsley, CEO of Michigan Business Connection, the credit union service organization that launched the event. “A lot of people doing really little things can have a big impact.”

CUs sign up and commit to supporting local businesses during International Credit Union Week to show small business owners that credit unions are committed to their communities and their success.

This year, the MBC is creating more “marketing collateral” for CUs that are interested in getting involved. Participants can get specialized logos and materials by contacting Jessica Richardson-Isenegger, the event’s coordinator and senior partner with In-Fusion Group. The Louisiana Credit Union League holds the event all week, and MBC provides marketing materials that advertise their participation for that entire time.

MBC has 18 states committed to the event — with Iowa and California as newcomers — but hopes to add more by the time the event arrives. Richardson-Isenegger reaches out to credit union leagues to try to get their states on board.

'Lunch mob'
While the event does not officially take place until Oct. 17, some credit unions are getting into the spirit early, Staff at Cornerstone Community Financial Credit Union in Auburn Hills, Mich. have been patronizing local businesses and posting about it on Facebook in order to drum up excitement for the big day.

Two staffers from Cornerstone Community Financial Credit Union visited Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth, Mich. to support local business in advance of CU Lunch Local. The credit union then posted this photo of the visit on its Facebook page to drum up excitement for the event, taking place on Oct. 17.
Two staffers from Cornerstone Community Financial Credit Union visited Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth, Mich. to support local business in advance of CU Lunch Local. The credit union then posted this photo of the visit on its Facebook page to drum up excitement for the event, taking place on Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Community Financial CU/Facebook

Bethany Dutcher doesn’t know any Michigan credit unions that aren’t involved in this year’s celebration. As the vice president of marketing for Catholic Federal Credit Union in Saginaw, Mich., Dutcher said she would challenge any credit union to get involved if she knew they weren’t participating. And Catholic Federal has seen the event have an impact on its bottom line – it was one reason some local businesses in the Saginaw area elected to open an account with the $350 million-asset CU.

After credit unions register, they can get their employees involved in a number of different ways.

Catholic Federal asks its employees to fill out an application to participate and donates the funds to the employees. After making sure that no one applicant is going to the same small business, the CU gives the employees flyers and Catholic Federal gear to wear.

One local authentic Mexican restaurant had several of its employees open accounts with the credit union after the event last year. “We had many small business owners say ‘Oh, you’re my credit union,’ or ‘I love Catholic Federal,’” recalled Dutcher. “That’s what our goal was that day—to support local credit unions and local businesses.”

In addition, Catholic Federal shared videos and photos to their Facebook page with the hashtag #CULunchLocal.

The event was spawned out of a meeting among CU marketing leaders who came together to brainstorm ways to spread the word about the businesses they service, Beardsley said. Credit unions have historically supported small businesses by hosting financial seminars and offering access to resources, he added, and CU Lunch Local is another way for the CUs to offer those services.

Beardsley said that he believes the event has been successful because of the state where it originated. Michigan CUs and CUSOs have been committed to the small business lending space for 15 years with $2 billion loaned to small business owners and real estate investors, Beardsley said.

“Out of that brainstorming session came the cash mob – which is really more of a lunch mob,” Beardsley said.