What Credit Unions Can Learn from the “Huckaboom” and “Obam-e-non”

Its always fun when political pundits and their “conventional wisdom” get a swift kick in the pants as they did last week in the Iowa Caucuses. Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee defied the odds by winning impressive victories in the first real test of the 2008 presidential election campaign.  

It remains to be seen if either candidate can translate this victory into the nomination in their respective party. But a clear theme emerged in both Obama and Huckabee’s victories, and this theme is instructive for credit unions.

There are many factors that account for their victories, but in my view both candidates struck a hopeful vision of a united America that clearly resonated with Iowa voters. This vision called upon the idea of America as one community, not segments of people to be divided into voting blocs.

It’s that central idea of a united, optimistic America working together to solve problems that clicked with people in Iowa. 

There’s a powerful lesson here for credit unions as well: your membership is a community of people that collectively represents a tremendous human resource. How much of our marketing and communications emphasis is based on how our members are different from one another? Have we looked for opportunities to bring all our members together as a community in an effort to be change agents in the lives of others?  

Some credit unions are tapping into the collective membership to bring about positive change in the communities they serve. Some of these have been chronicled in this space and there are no doubt many others.

Writing a check to support community agencies is good stuff, but some credit unions are missing a powerful opportunity to bring members together by stopping there. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee reminded us all that people respond to the idea of community, of belonging.

My guess is that a visionary, authentic effort at communicating this same idea to members as part of a community building effort can resonate powerfully (and perhaps generate growth as a side benefit).

What do you think?

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4 Responses

  1. As I watched the Iowa caucus last week I was thinking the exact same thing. What if credit unions had the opportunity in their community to have 1,000 potential members in a room – and four other community credit unions (candidates) were there too – and we had one hour to convince them to move to our side of the room?

    How many do you think would show up with iPods to give away!?

  2. I have a different take on the Iowa Caucuses, but it relates to the credit union movement as well. I think voters in Iowa showed that they are looking for change in general. They rejected front-runners as media-hyped outsiders, and accepted “underdogs” as fellow Iowans – Midwesterners whose struggles, desires, and concerns are largely forgotten in the national debate controlled by media outlets in Los Angeles or New York.

    It’s easy to drum up support for the underdog. Anyone who has ever seen the movie Hoosiers knows that. There cannot be a better story than the person who is too poor, too short, too small town, too black, too white, or too outnumbered defeating the privileged establishment. Have credit unions done enough to earn such support? Are we still the “little guys”? Have we, with multi-million dollar credit union branches being erected seemingly every day, more and more complex fee schedules, and increasingly inelastic policies/guidelines become…the establishment? One of them?

    I think a credit union in its purest form is the greatest human organization created. It’s everyday people helping everyday people. It’s giving people an starkly-contrasting alternative to banks that teaches folks how to save, gives them the products with which to do so, and delivers the friendly, one-on-one service that they deserve. If our quest is to lose the hearts and minds of Americans like the frontrunners in Iowa did, we know the path. If our goal is to remain relevant to Americans who desperately need the not-for-profit cooperative spirit, I think we know that path as well. Run the picket fence…don’t get caught watching the paint dry.

  3. @ Denise – interesting point. I suspect there’d be quite a few iPODS in the room. And I wonder, if we could bring him back for an hour, what kind of stump speech Edward Filene would give?

    @ Warrior: Beautifully said. I think the Obama and Huckabee campaigns really resonated with voters. Credit unions can as well, but we’ve got to focus on the “people helping people” aspect as never before.

  4. I think the general climate of the nation is one of change. If we want to engage people in the CU conversation we need to let people know they have as much a say in what their credit union does as they do in the state caucuses. Get it out there and spread the excitement any way we can.

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