Anyone can be an advocate

Up your advocacy game

It all comes down to building relationships with lawmakers and their staff.

August 21, 2019

Young professionals realize the role advocacy plays in the credit union movement, and they know it’s critical to get involved.

How can they up their advocacy game? Experts say resources exist locally and nationally to provide them with the skills and confidence to effectively advocate for their credit unions.

Sometimes it’s as simple as making your interest in advocacy known at your credit union and seeking a mentor within your own organization.

“Reach out to your credit union CEO. Make sure you have a relationship with your CEO and your senior staff,” says Kendra Rubin, vice president of government affairs for the New York Credit Union Association (NYCUA). “Say you want to be involved with your credit union league or a young professionals commission. Say you want to be involved with CUNA.”

NYCUA has been a strong proponent of bringing young professionals into the advocacy fold, and offers advocacy training for young professionals.

At NYCUA’s State Governmental Affairs Conference in April, young professionals led some meetings with state legislators. Plus, NYCUA established a 14-member Young Professionals Commission to share perspectives on credit union issues through several task forces, including one focused on advocacy.

Kendra Rubin

‘Come up with new ideas, show up, and do the work.’

Kendra Rubin

Lindsay Pelletier, who worked at credit unions in Wisconsin before recently taking a job as a customer development manager at Allied Solutions, urges young professionals to get involved with state associations and seek out coaching from experts.

“Once you can team up with a mentor or get some education on advocacy, it really opens your eyes to what an incredible thing we have,” she says. “Take advantage of each opportunity to tag along, even if you’re not comfortable or confident enough to speak up. Just attend a legislative visit and see what it’s like.”

Another resource is CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, which allows attendees to network with peers, hear from key legislative and political leaders, take part in a variety of breakout sessions, and visit with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Listen to a CUNA News Podcast with Adam Engelman.

CUNA also offers Young Professionals Advocacy Workshops, daylong sessions in Washington, D.C., that share best practices on advocacy and building relationships with lawmakers.

CUNA embraces a 360-degree advocacy approach that ensures we‘re all part of the process and prepared to cover credit unions’ advocacy efforts from every angle, from meetings on Capitol Hill to member action alerts, says Adam Engelman, CUNA’s director of grassroots advocacy.

"Focusing on this 360-degree approach allows us to rally around our core message: the credit union difference," he says.

Bradly Ford, content marketer at $2 billion asset Educators Credit Union in Mount Pleasant, Wis., attended the workshop in 2018 and says it had a significant impact on his role with advocacy. In addition to providing networking opportunities, it offered hands-on tips for credit union advocacy.

“I was able to take advantage of years of knowledge,” Ford says. “I took up the fight because the people you learn from have lived that fight.”

Since the workshop, Ford has invited lawmakers to community events the credit union sponsors, giving them a up-close view of how Educators makes a difference in the lives of their constituents.

This has led to increased dialogue with legislators, he adds. “It’s made an impact. We’ve been able to talk with them and establish a rapport and an identity with lawmakers who otherwise might not have known who we were and how we make a difference.”

Rubin advises young professionals to get involved with state credit union leagues and build professional networks to follow the issues and what other credit unions are doing.

“Continue to build relationships with leaders of the credit union movement, show up to credit union events, introduce yourself to people, and put yourself out there,” she says, adding that LinkedIn is a great way to connect. “Come up with new ideas, show up, and do the work.”

Although there is a strong social and relationship component in advocacy, experts say there are roles for everyone in maintaining strong ties to lawmakers. Being confident and outgoing helps in advocacy, but more introverted employees can have a role as well.

Those who are skittish about face-to-face contact can help drive home the credit union message by providing information and acting in support roles.

Timothy Strong, community development manager at $4.2 billion asset Visions Federal Credit Union in Endicott, N.Y., says he feels comfortable with public speaking and in one-on-one meetings. He often goes to legislative meetings with credit union staff members who have more in-depth knowledge in specialized areas.

“It’s kind of like going in as the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator,” he says. “I tell folks they don’t have to carry the meeting. It allows them to shine by talking about something in which they have a more intimate knowledge.”

Engelman agrees there are multiple ways to be an advocate.

“It all comes back to building relationships with members of Congress. If you’re more of an extroverted person, we definitely encourage you to attend Hike the Hill for your leagues,” he says. “If you’re not as comfortable speaking with people, you can do it through comment letters. The more specific you can be and tell stories through written text, that is also very helpful.”