Wesenberg: Seize Opportunities for Advocacy

Outgoing CUNA chair reflects on ‘fabulous experience’ as board’s leader.

February 20, 2014

Although the clock may be ticking down on the final days of Pat Wesenberg’s term as CUNA’s board chair, she cannot be more excited for credit unions and their leaders as they gather in Washington, D.C., for the 2014 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC).

Being part of the largest credit union gathering in the world gives everyone the chance to become energized in the credit union spirit, she says. It’s also a great opportunity for credit unions to connect with their representatives and senators on their own turf.

Pat Wesenberg

“A lot of us see them at home but not necessarily in their offices,” says Wesenberg, president/CEO of Central City Credit Union in Marshfield, Wis. “It sends a big message when we can be there in person.”

Wesenberg believes it’s important to seize these opportunities for advocacy because they bring us face to face with our legislators, helping them to better understand the “real” credit union difference.

Unless we do so, she contends, they may view us simply as any other financial institution, affording us no reason to merit the tax exemption we hold.

She also says credit unions shouldn’t be shy in telling their story and finds that elected officials often are amazed at what credit unions are doing for their constituents back home.

“Visiting with them, making ourselves known, and being the touch point when financial issues come allows us to be part of the conversation instead of always playing defense,” Wesenberg says.

In her view, advocacy is one of many responsibilities credit unions have to members. We must protect the credit union system. Unless we’re willing to fight for it, we face the possibility that it all may go away.

And for Wesenberg, that responsibility extends even further, demonstrated by her commitment to National Guard and Reserve employees through the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program. Her leadership on this front resulted in statements of support last year by the Wisconsin Credit Union League and its members for the Guard and Reserve.

“I don’t like to hear employers talk about the inconvenience of trying to allow members of the National Guard and Reserve time off to do this work,” she says. “We should protect their jobs and make it easy for them.”

Guard and Reserve employees bring tremendous skills to the workplace in leadership and teamwork, Wesenberg adds, noting “We get more back than we give.”

As she completes her term as CUNA chair during the upcoming GAC, Wesenberg will no doubt revel in her memories of the past year, and with a grin of contentment feel confident in knowing, as she puts it, that it was “a fabulous experience.”

WALT LASKOS is editor-in-chief of Credit Union Magazine.