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On the ball

A partnership with the Detroit Lions headlines WFCU Credit Union’s star-studded new community engagement program.

“And when the Blue and Silver wave, stand and cheer the brave!” The rousing fight song of the NFL’s Detroit Lions is well known to thousands of Windsorites, who live just across the bridge from the Motor City. Now, Windsor Family Credit Union (41,000 members, $4.9 billion in assets), also known as WFCU Credit Union, has taken that enthusiasm and run with it.

These days, while workers at most offices look forward to the standard casual Fridays, WFCU branch staff take it up a notch, donning Detroit Lions gear ahead of Sunday game day. That branch-led hoopla is just one lively spinoff of Inspire, WFCU’s new community engagement program. Its partnership with the Detroit Lions is a bold reimagining of how a credit union can — and should — brand its image.

Like all credit unions, WFCU gives back to the community through conventional channels: naming rights, scholarships and charitable causes. Those channels remain important but the key to the Inspire program, launched last October, is that all the new programs under its banner are active. “It’s great to have your name on a building but we want to complement that by creating experiences,” says WFCU CEO Eddie Francis.

Inspire was launched after staff challenged themselves to take a step back, look at their programs and think about how to make even more of an impact in their community. “We drive home the idea that we’re able to do this because our members support our credit union,” Francis says.

To date, Inspire events have run the gamut from education-oriented to just plain fun. What do they have in common? They’ve garnered wide-ranging media attention and been a hit with WFCU members.

As the mayor of Windsor from 2003- 2014, Francis is used to thinking big. This led to a landmark collaboration with a big-name NFL team and big-name speakers. Windsorites are massive Lions fans and WFCU’s three-year partnership as the “Official Canadian Credit Union” of the Detroit Lions opened up myriad marketing possibilities.

For example, WFCU staff have offered financial literacy information to Windsor schools for years without significant uptake. Now that the Detroit Lions are offering financial literacy talks through their Football Education Division there is a waiting list. “No one called us before this!” says Francis with a laugh. “This partnership allows us to take this important message to the schools.”

For the adults, Detroit Lions branded bank cards and giveaways of tickets and signed gear are popular.

The WFCU Speaker Series, meanwhile, grabbed headlines in January when the credit union signed up CNN’s Anderson Cooper as their inaugural presenter, followed by Canadian funnyman Rick Mercer. Both events made a media splash and have been well received by members. “Our goal now is to bring in speakers who will create experiences that people associate in a positive way with WFCU,” says Francis.

Francis credits WFCU’s marketing and engagement team for the early success of Inspire. They are always looking to identify “gaps” — deserving events and experiences that are not currently part of Windsor life. That’s how summer community movie nights made the cut, as well as the April Easter Egg Drop, with 25,000 Easter eggs being dropped from a helicopter for children to collect.

It’s also how Inspire came to resurrect a popular spelling competition, which had formerly been sponsored by Postmedia. The WFCU Credit Union Scripps Regional Spelling Bee is billed as an Inspire signature event, with organizers hoping that dozens of kids in Grades 4-8 will spell their way to victory and a trip to Washington, DC in May for the finals.

Francis says he’s confident that more Inspire announcements will allow the credit union to keep giving back and maintain the buzz around WFCU. “Not everyone will be a Lions fan or an Anderson Cooper fan or even an Easter egg fan,” says Francis. “We’ve got a wide demographic, so coming at this with the idea of making experiences is what provides the focus — it’s a great way to engage.” ◊