The stories we don’t tell

One of the better known rules of marketing in our era of social media is to highlight lots of success stories and testimonials. It is easy to understand why. We believe in the work we do, and we want to highlight how our work has had an impact on the lives of those we serve. It is easier for people to connect with our brand when they read and see examples of how our products and services have helped others like them.  We live in a success driven culture that wants to see improvement, change, and growth.

Your credit union probably has some other stories it doesn’t tell on social media. These are not necessarily stories of a failure at your organization, but difficult member stories that do not have easy answers.  My credit union, founded to combat predatory lending in the community and certified as a CDFI, has plenty of these stories. I have been thinking of some of them lately. One such story is that of the woman who had been a member for over ten years, and regularly and faithfully paid on numerous loans.  She finally defaulted when a job loss caused her income to disappear, and she became homeless. Even through this challenge, she wanted to maintain her relationship with the credit union and restructured her loan because her credit union relationship was important. In the end, she was still unable to maintain the payments.

Another member that comes to mind is a man in his seventies who recently passed away. He came in faithfully every Thursday evening a few moments before close and was well known by everyone in member services. Before he died, he struggled with obvious health issues and housing instability. Although we never knew the details of his personal story it seemed like his inability to find quality affordable housing likely contributed to his poor health. His loan was charged off after he passed on. Sometimes the stories of people that come through our branch really are stories of financial hardship and struggle. There are people who struggle to find employment that pays a living wage, those that live in the cycle of poverty that requires hard choices, and those that sometimes have to carefully and strategically manage their cash flow by taking out small dollar loans. The end to these stories are not always happy.

The point of this is not that we need to share these stories in our marketing campaigns, but that these still are important stories.  Mostly, they should serve as reminders that our work is important. Credit unions matter. Survey community development credit unions across the country, and you will find plenty of organizations doing innovative work to advance financial inclusion and provide economic mobility for underserved markets. The stories like the above put a face to the problem, and ground us in why we are doing what we are doing. Sometimes these stories are discouraging, because the problems of poverty and financial instability are complex.  However, discouragement is not where we should stay. Credit unions are an important piece of the puzzle. Without financial institutions willing to step in and address difficult challenges, there would be a lot fewer fair and affordable options for people with already limited options. Keep doing the good work, and remember the members who cause you to think a little more deeply about your organization’s why.

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall is the CEO of North Side Community Federal Credit Union, a small asset size CDFI credit union in Chicago, IL. At North Side, she has successfully launched new ... Web: www.northsidecu.org Details

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