Sackett Spreads Volunteer Spirit

A Q&A with John Sackett, chairman of the CUNA Volunteer Leadership Committee.

March 23, 2014

John Sackett, chairman of the CUNA Volunteer Leadership Committee, is treasurer of $1.3 billion asset Royal Credit Union, Eau Claire, Wis. As chairman, he's also now an active participant in CUNA Board meetings.

"Credit union volunteers play a critical goal in the success of the credit union system, and we must continue to find new ways to get them more engaged with CUNA," says CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney. "We're grateful to have the benefit of his views."

"We all know the incredible contributions that volunteers have made to the success of the movement--and how critical they are for our future," says CUNA Chairman Pat Wesenberg, also president/CEO of Central City Credit Union, Marshfield, Wis.

"With the many challenges before credit unions today--particularly in reducing the regulatory burden, addressing the issues of small credit unions, and preserving our tax exemption--this added voice to our board deliberations is most welcome," she adds.

Sackett spoke with Credit Union Magazine about volunteer leadership and the committee’s role. 

How did you get your start with CUs? 

I needed a credit card—and the bank I was with turned me down. A friend worked at Royal Credit Union and suggested I apply there. I joined—and have been a member ever since. 

I can be rather outspoken, and one day I mentioned to my friend that I had been waiting so long in the drive-through line. At the time, Royal only had one brick and mortar office. She suggested that instead of complaining, I should take an active part in the credit union. So I applied to be a volunteer.

Although there were no openings, the board asked me to serve on the supervisory committee. After about 18 months, a board member retired and the chairman appointed me to fill that position. 

That was 32 years ago—and I served 17 years as chairman. 

What issues faced Royal CU then? 

The top issue facing all credit unions then was the threat of taxation, same as today. Our stance is different now though—more aggressive and not passive. 

And Royal also was faced with adding technology to meet our members’ needs. That included ATM expansion. 

What challenges do volunteers face today? 

The role of the board chair has become more difficult. Staying current on today’s issues and leading the board, while maintaining an effective relationship with the CEO, has expanded the board chair’s responsibilities—even more than in the past. 

Every board is different. But if the chairman is an advocate for the members and clearly understands the board’s duties and responsibilities that goes a long way. 

What do you think of NCUA’s financial literacy requirements for directors? 

I understand the intent, and I’m a strong believer in board education. To be responsible board members, you must keep up.

It’s difficult to conduct your due diligence if you aren’t actively involved in the debate and discussion—for example, what’s alternative capital and what can it do for a credit union? And why is raising the member business lending cap important?

But I’m also not hearing that NCUA consistently follows through during the exam process, and that’s concerning.

You don’t want to see any board become lax. It seems the agency should address board education in every exam—at least review the policy and how you’re following it, or find out if you even have a policy. 

Explain the focus of the Volunteer Leadership Committee (VLC). 

The CUNA committee has three key responsibilities: volunteer education, volunteer succession, and political involvement. 

As VLC chairman, you also now have an adjunct seat on the CUNA Board. 

Yes. That’s exciting for me. I’m proud to represent the volunteer viewpoint. And just like the formation of the volunteer committee, it’s another way that CUNA—as the largest national trade association— recognizes volunteers have a unique perspective to offer. 

What can CUs do to attract younger board members? 

While Royal doesn’t currently have this problem, I understand it’s a real issue for some credit unions, and I know it could be for us in the future. We look at skill sets we need and provide some guidelines to our nominating committee.

But I know filling vacancies is a problem for many credit unions. Some credit unions have success moving candidates through their committees. 

But people are so busy today that they’re either interested or they aren’t. Our committee talks about it all the time—what works for those members and what doesn’t. Sharing recruitment best practices is important for boards.