Build relationships with lawmakers
Attendees pick up their state-specific Advocacy Briefing Book, which is a helpful tool to prepare for visits with lawmakers.

Build relationships with lawmakers

Tell legislators how your credit union is making a difference in the community.

February 24, 2020

Don’t wait until the credit union movement is facing a dire situation to reach out to lawmakers.

Instead, work on building relationships with legislators—at the local, state, and federal level—now and tell them about the positive work credit unions are doing in their communities and the impact that has.

“Talk to these folks when the house is not on fire,” says Debbie Painter, president/CEO of the Kentucky Credit Union League. “The times of perceived peace are great times to build relationships.”

Painter joined Connecticut State Sen. Eric Berthel and Dan Newberry, senior vice president of lending at TTCU Federal and a retired Oklahoma State Senator, for a panel discussion Monday at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference. The breakout session emphasized how credit unions can build relationships with lawmakers and tell stories of how credit unions are making an impact in their communities.

Building relationships is crucial, not only to getting legislation passed or anti-credit union bills defeated. It also allows credit unions to share how they’re involved in their communities and the differences they make.

The Kentucky legislature passed an unfunded mandate requiring all high school freshmen in the state to take a financial literacy course beginning in 2021. After a meeting with the state treasurer and the creation of a Financial Empowerment Commission, Painter says credit unions stepped up and agreed to be the sole financial provider—$350,000 a year for three years—for the commission.

But it goes beyond that. The Kentucky League created an initiative—Moving Kentucky Forward One Member At A Time—that gives them a platform to tell stories about how their credit unions are engaged in their communities through video selfies, op eds in newspapers, and outreach on social media.

“We were connecting the stories to the legislators,” Painter says.

In Connecticut, credit unions have held reality fairs at the state capitol, which allows lawmakers to volunteer and see firsthand how credit unions carry out their financial literacy efforts, says Berthel.

Remember to also engage with lawmakers when the legislature is not in session, Newberry says. Invite them to the credit union to see how it operates and get to know staff. And make sure to form these crucial relationships with legislators from both parties.

In general, take the time to tell your credit union’s story to lawmakers. After all, Newberry says, interacting with constituents is what lawmakers want to do.

 “Your legislator wants to hear from you,” Newberry says. “There’s a beast inside of them that thrives on communal relationships with their consitutents.” 

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