Ryan Donovan

Volunteers pack an impressive advocacy punch

Initiatives aim to mobilize directors and members to speak on credit unions’ behalf.

January 2, 2018

Often, the credit union delegations Ryan Donovan hosted during his days as a congressional staffer consisted entirely of directors.

“That was really cool because then you knew you were talking to folks in the community,” he says. “It drove home the point that credit unions have a strong connection to the district.”

That experience explains why, in his present-day role as CUNA’s chief advocacy officer, Donovan gets energized by the prospect of growing board members’ role in credit unions’ advocacy efforts at the national, state, and local levels.

“Volunteers can be a very important voice for us,” says Donovan, who will present CUNA's 2018 advocacy agenda at the upcoming CUNA Volunteer Conference. “One of the advantages of credit unions’ structure is that volunteers come from the membership, and the membership comes from the community. So you’ve got real people representing credit unions in advocacy—as opposed to banks, whose shareholders might not have anything to do with community.”

READ: Four priorities top CUNA's 2018 advocacy agenda

Credit unions need volunteers’ hands-on involvement today more than ever, says Brad Douglas, Heartland Credit Union Association President/CEO. “Our volunteers can be extremely effective because they’re not paid lobbyists. As constituents, they’re a priority for policymakers,” says Douglas, a former board chairman at $2.5 billion asset CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Lenexa, Kan. “So, it’s important to get them engaged.”

That’s why Douglas and his peers on CUNA’s Volunteer Leadership Committee (VLC) have been working diligently to introduce the concept of a Volunteer Advocacy Army nationally.

This initiative, supported by CUNA and many state leagues, will educate, train, and build an army of volunteer advocates, according to Douglas.

Directors NL subscribeThe program aims to replicate a successful effort VLC member Eric Day—senior vice president of board advocacy and strategic initiatives at $1.2 billion asset Credit Union of Southern California in Anaheim—has led for the past few years, with strong support from the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

“Hopefully, the Volunteer Advocacy Army will ignite a larger percentage of volunteers to get more engaged and knowledgeable and become really effective,” says Douglas, the VLC vice chair.

To further this goal, organizers of the CUNA Volunteer Certification School have added an advocacy training component to the agenda for this year's event, April 30 to May 4 in San Diego. The Board track for the online CUNA Volunteer Certification will soon add advocacy training as well.

Volunteers have long engaged in Hike the Hill visits in Washington, D.C., whether during the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) or as part of state league trips at other times of the year. And board members are valuable voices when credit unions host legislators during in-district visits.

Volunteers also can support advocacy efforts by urging their credit union to participate in CUNA’s Member Activation Program (MAP), a framework through which credit unions can enlist their members to actively advocate for legislation that protects and improves consumers’ access to cooperative financial services. More than 500 credit unions have enrolled in MAP.

“Twenty years ago, you could send postcards to Congress, rally on the steps of the Capitol, and achieve what you set out to do,” Donovan says. “Today, that doesn’t cut it. Offices on the Hill get inundated with information, which arrives electronically and in very large numbers. So, while getting 6,000 letters from CEOs around the country is important, getting six million contacts from members is what we need to move the needle.”