As I’ve said before, at CUNA we place a huge importance on ensuring that, as an industry, we remain mindful of our movement’s future.
Specifically, I’m talking about doing everything we can to support and groom our young credit union professionals so we have a strong stable of leaders to whom we can one day pass the torch.
In our eyes, that grooming must include advocacy.
Time and again, we see how valuable it is—how much more effective we are as an industry in fighting for our priorities—when our credit union leaders step into the fray as grassroots advocates.
This is true both during events in Washington, D.C., such as CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) and league Hike the Hill visits, and when members of Congress return to their districts during recess periods.
There’s certainly an art to grassroots advocacy; to building relationships with lawmakers who have many organizations and people vying for their attention, and to telling your story about why members of Congress should support credit unions.
But it really boils down to confidence: Being comfortable walking into a lawmaker’s office, communicating your needs, and sharing stories of how you’re serving and helping members. Communication is advocacy.
To ensure we have credit union leaders ready to take the lead during these crucial meetings, we’ve created a new advocacy training program for young professionals.
In late September, we partnered with the New York Credit Union Association to host more than 50 young credit union professionals from across the country for a three-day crash course on becoming effective credit union grassroots advocates.
This group joined us in Washington to learn from CUNA’s professional advocates about what to expect during meetings with lawmakers, how to comport themselves, and what issues we’re currently pushing and why—all key pieces of effective advocacy.
We also held meet-and-greet events at Credit Union House, during which these future credit union leaders met with members of Congress to learn how to get their attention and make a compelling case for their cause.
Finally, we matched each young professional with a league to march the steps of Capitol Hill, walk into a lawmaker’s office, and witness—or even participate in—credit union grassroots advocacy.
The event was a great success. We’ve received so much positive feedback from participants about the confidence they built in those few short days and how they want to continue advocating for the credit union movement for years to come.
Given that this was the inaugural event, we’re still working to establish a regular schedule of these types of events. But rest assured, we’re extremely encouraged by the response and by the results so far. So stay tuned.
To be sure, grooming the credit union movement’s future leaders goes beyond advocacy. There’s also a great need to increase young professionals’ participation on CUNA, league, and credit union boards and committees.
We also need to devote more time to succession planning and retaining our top talent. But we can’t forget about advocacy.
Yes, CUNA and its league partners lead the charge. We set the tone on Capitol Hill and with our regulators for what our priorities are as an industry.
But National Journal, which has named CUNA and the leagues the most effective financial services advocacy organization two years running, doesn’t rate us solely on the work of our professional advocates.
What truly makes us strong and successful as a movement is the incredible engagement from our grassroots advocates.
That’s true now, and it will remain true 10, 15, and 20 years from now as well.
JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO of Credit Union National Association.