The Keystone Network
My NTCUE project is called the “Keystone Network”, and is somewhat unconventional (some might say a little crazy) when compared to other projects. It is a network of PSECU members who not only follow, but also get involved in grassroots advocacy on legislative issues. The significance of the Network is it taps into and enhances member loyalty while cultivating something that is always in high demand: political capital. Member advocacy is not difficult to do, but it often gets lost in the shuffle of daily business. However, it is my hope that my project will serve as a model for other credit unions and position the industry for future viability and growth.
The passage of Dodd-Frank should be an indication that in an increasingly complex financial marketplace, legislation/regulation is not likely to decrease. The best way to protect the business interests of the credit union in this environment is to be involved in all phases of the process. But why use members? It comes down to simple numbers. Our members are also legislators’ constituents, and there are far more members than there are credit union employees in a legislative district. Furthermore, they’re also involved in their community, whether it is the local tee ball team, Rotary, or the county Republican or Democratic committee. Chances are good elected officials already know one of our members, but don’t make the connection. We can be the bridge between the two while benefitting the business and our members.
To start the project, we targeted a group of members who participated in past legislative campaigns and surveyed them on their interest in becoming involved in advocacy issues. From those surveys the Network was born. The responses showed that members were not just passively sending emails during advocacy campaigns but genuinely appreciated the opportunity to participate in legislative issues. They also showed that these members were highly engaged in the credit union with high usage of products and services. Thus far, the Network is comprised of approximately 200 members who receive a bi-monthly e-newsletter on legislative and political issues.
But the newsletter itself and sporadic advocacy campaigns do not satisfy the original goal. To truly engage members, build political capital, and effectively advocate our position we need to get them directly involved. As political and grassroots consultant Amy Showalter says, “Electronic communication tools do not create grassroots momentum. People do." This means we need to get our members out from behind their computers and “on the ground,” so to speak, to be effective. Research by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) backs that up. In a 2010 study on citizen communications with Congress, CMF found that face to face visits with constituents have significantly more impact than other forms of communication.
The next step in the evolution of the Network was to recruit what we call “Keystone Contacts”. The Contacts’ role is essentially to serve as member “representatives” of PSECU to elected officials. As the project progresses, we will have meet-ups where they will receive training and updates on credit union legislative priorities along with proper lobbying techniques. The Contact program strives to make the members, the owners of the credit union, citizen lobbyists for themselves.
To date we have four Contacts in Pennsylvania representing four separate Congressional districts, and one Contact in Florida. Recently, I held an introductory meeting with our Pennsylvania Contacts with the purpose of getting to know them personally and share PSECU’s vision for the group. From the meeting it was clear the members are eager to get more involved in their credit union and I believe we have a strong foundation to build upon.
Moving forward, my plans are to develop the lobbying “curriculum” for the Contacts so they can be properly prepared for meetings with elected officials. I’ll also be working on growing the group to cover more legislative districts, eventually having PSECU represented in all 18 Pennsylvania Congressional districts. In addition, I’ll be tackling how to incorporate our out-of-state members into the program, focusing on states that have high concentrations of PSECU members. The project has a long term component as well - addressing the state legislature. With the largest full-time legislature in the country at 253 Representatives and Senators, it will take considerable time and legwork to recruit and train members for each district. While this subject likely will never surpass the attention given to loans or membership growth, I hope my project will highlight the value of member advocacy and provide momentum moving forward.
Nate Muniz, Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union