I’m fresh off the trifecta of Credit Union Advocacy efforts: In the last month I have attended CUNA’s GAC and both the Washington and Oregon Credit Union Days at the Capitol. My time in D.C., Olympia, and Salem have kept my fire going and growing for credit union advocacy—I am a passionate and dedicated cheerleader for our movement.
If you have ever stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder with your fellow credit union representatives in the tiny office of a legislator, then you know that one of the keys to effective advocacy is storytelling. The ability to tell relevant stories that demonstrate how we uniquely serve our members and carry out our mission is paramount to a transparent and effective legislative request. Without our stories, how could we mobilize legislators to create an operating environment that preserves our ability to do what we do and remain who we are?
According to the Federal Credit Union Act, American Credit Unions were founded on the principles of promoting thrift among our members and creating a source of credit for provident or productive purposes. In order to keep legislators at-bat for us, we must help them to see how we still speak to these essential tenants. Economic Impact Reports, like what the Northwest Credit Union Association has begun preparing, do a great deal to demonstrate the return we create for our members by showcasing the direct benefits credit unions generate for our communities and our members. Statistics and descriptions around the products and services we offer to our membership—things like small dollar loans, safe sub-prime auto loans, and prize-linked savings accounts—prove that we are still committed to creating financial success and safe-harbor for our members.
And yet, what these examples lack is heart. After all, we are in the business of providing financial services. If you really want to hook your legislator, tell them about what you do beyond the teller line and loan department. Show them how your credit union is proactively contributing to the economic well being of entire communities, regardless of their affiliation with your organization. After all, we are here to promote thrift among our members and to help them identify provident or productive purposes for accessing credit. If we wait to act upon these charges until our members are in the loan queue, have we really done our job?
Financial education is at the very core of our movement; indeed, it is one of the very things that separate our movement out of the financial services industry. Offering compelling education to members about how and why to save—in the hopes that they someday may not need to borrow from us—shows our commitment to their financial success more than anything else we could do. Establishing a relationship that goes far beyond the transactional level is the lynchpin for ensuring that should they need to borrow in the future, they will come to us as their trusted financial services provider.
The proof is in the pudding of our everyday activities that truly make us different from the competition. The time and resources that we wrap up in financial education as well as community outreach are just what we do – not what we are required to do. The magic really happens when you can tie these examples back to the legislative ask you are about to make; use these efforts as the platform for requesting action and aid. You’ll be bringing a much-welcomed breath of fresh air into that legislator’s office, and you’ll be connecting the power of why to the request for.
To build upon a thought from my friend Troy Stang, President and CEO of the NWCUA—we are different because of our Structure, our Value, and our Impact. Our structure is how we operate. Our value is what we provide and return to our members. Our impact is the thing that carries us into the future as a distinct and essential movement—one that can mobilize 108 million member owners to help tell our story. Our impact is the reason we will continue to exist and the reason that our legislators understand what truly is different about credit unions. We do it because there’s a need; not because we have to.