Front porches used to be the ideal gathering places. People used to sit outside to cool off, greeting neighbors walking by and inviting them up for a face-to-face chat. It was a great way to bring people together, catch up on community news, and share some iced tea.
No one needed to use the front porch to cool off any more. People were cruising by in cars instead of strolling with their kids. Single-family houses were built farther apart, most without front porches. Then when families decided to add porches, they built them out back for more privacy.
For all of the connections it provides, technology has isolated us even more.
Today, it’s easy to find someone else online that agrees with you. And even easier to anonymously rant or harass someone that doesn’t agree with you.
People are self-selecting their own communities online, further isolating themselves from others with different life experiences.
In such a disconnected world, how does my credit union bring people together?
Digital channels are an important way to build communities, but analog, real-world, real-life in-person communities may give a bigger boost to your brand.
Especially if you can provide an alternative to the front porch.
It’s that physical space that is needed. A place to bring people together and start conversations.
You could always open a café.
One CU decided to renovate a larger downtown building, but their branch only took up about 25% of the building space.
So they opened a café.
From 8:30 – 3:30 Monday-Friday, they not only serve coffee, smoothies, and snacks, but also breakfast and lunch. The walls of the café also serve as a gallery for local artists.
Their goal is simply to break even while paying employees above-minimum-wage salaries and benefits. It’s been a big plus for the downtown area, plus their members get a 10% discount.
Or maybe a Conference Center.
Forum CU in Indianapolis built a conference and events center as part of their headquarters, and rents it out for weddings and corporate meetings. They even have 6-8 preferred catering options lined up, as well as partners for AV, linens and decorations, to make it easier for planners.
Forum promotes the center mostly through social and local media as a way to introduce the CU to people who might not know they exist, and they discount the costs for SEGs and non-for-profits.
Lots of CUs offer Community Rooms.
On just the first page of a Google search I found listings for Redwood CU, Oregon State CU, Delta Community CU, Hawaii USA FCU, AllU.S. CU, Chrome FCU, Family Trust FCU, and First New York FCU – so I’m sure there are plenty of other CUs that offer something similar.
Local groups can reserve the space, and from what I could find, some seem to be free while others charge a small fee. At least one CU donates those fees to local non-profits.
What isn’t obvious, is how often they get used, i.e., how successful they are.
Most CU websites seem to bury their Community Room on a locations page. IF they include photos it’s usually just an empty room, without any group photos or galleries of actual events.
Hopefully those photos at least show up somewhere in a CU’s social media feed. Otherwise, how can you expect people to know they exist?
But what if I don’t have that extra space?
Okay, so you may not have space for a café or community room, much less be able to add a front porch on every branch.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find a reason to bring people together.
What would be special for your community? Are there antique car lovers that would love to show off their babies? Does the local animal shelter need to introduce potential owners to their new best friends? Do the local microbreweries need their own Oktoberfest?
Once you have the reason, all you need is the space.
Reach out to local veteran or service organizations to see what it would cost to rent their hall. Call up the mayor and ask about renting the city park for your special event. Ask the school board about using that football field in the off-season. Is the church parking lot available for a farmer’s market every Saturday during the Summer?
Whatever you decide, don’t hand it off for someone else to run.
Stay involved and do what is needed to make it easy to happen again.
Make it fun for everyone that attends. Make it something that people look forward to on a regular basis. Something that gets them talking about coming back next time.
You may be surprised just how much a face-to-face gathering helps the community feel connected to your credit union.