At-home advocacy tips
How to get the most benefit from meetings with legislators during the August recess.
For members of Congress, the rigors of the job allow for little downtime. So it’s no wonder that senators and representatives take time during the summer to leave Washington and return home for what’s colloquially known as August recess.
This is a chance for elected officials to meet with their constituents and learn firsthand how policies passed in Washington are affecting the communities they represent.
Credit union advocates, including board members, can use this time to carry out advocacy efforts at home to advance the credit union movement.
Becca Durr and Robert Flock, two of CUNA’s advocacy directors, work year-round with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate on the movement’s behalf.
Why are meetings with legislators in their home districts so important?
Flock: While meeting with legislators in Washington is critical, in-district and in-state meetings have several advantages. Without committee hearings, votes, and other legislative commitments, members of Congress typically have more time to visit with constituents and discuss their issues.
Meetings back home also enable credit union advocates to establish connections with local staff, which often lead to credit union tours and other community-based activities.
These interactions complement the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference and Hike the Hill meetings, which together form the basis for productive relationships with your representatives and senators, and allow them to see firsthand how you’re helping their constituents succeed financially.
How can advocates connect with members of Congress during the pandemic?
Flock: Given the difficulties associated with in-person meetings during this period, many elected officials are conducting virtual visits with constituents.
To make the most of your time, create an agenda and assign speaking roles for each credit union advocate beforehand. If possible, limit the number of participants to allow for open dialogue and questions.
Share the most up-to-date facts and figures about your credit union and how you serve members. Legislators count on you to provide accurate and reliable information. This is your opportunity to be a resource. Make sure you have some district- and state-specific anecdotes and stories handy.
What can board members offer in an August recess advocacy meeting?
Flock: As community leaders, credit union board members can speak to local conditions during this difficult time. They can brief their representatives and senators on business trends as well as the broader economic climate in the district and state.
Your firsthand experiences and the information you share will inform legislators’ positions on how to respond to the crisis. This is especially important as Congress contemplates additional relief legislation.
Board members can also discuss how they’re volunteers for a not-for-profit, democratically owned financial institution that exists to serve and return earnings to their communities and members.
What requests can advocates make when meeting with legislators?
Durr: Our congressional priorities continue to evolve as the political and legislative landscape changes. Because of this, the most important and static message each office needs to hear and understand is the credit union difference and how we uniquely serve our members in contrast to other financial institutions.
Clearly spell out that your credit union is not for profit and returns earnings to members. Due to the annual turnover of elected officials and their staff, we can’t always expect offices to be aware of our mission and the great work you accomplish in their district.
Attacks on our tax status arise annually. By continuing to amplify this message in each meeting, Congress continues to see the value in credit unions and their mission.
What are some tips for speaking with a member of Congress?
Durr: While you might not feel like you’re a legislative expert, you are an expert in the financial needs of consumers in that legislator’s district.
Tying policy into personal stories will help connect your message and elevate the policy you are advocating for. Members of Congress want to show value to their constituents either by alleviating a burden or increasing access to a service. By bringing your message back to how a policy allows you to better meet the needs of your members—their constituents—you will have their full attention.
When appropriate, don’t be shy in asking about next steps after your meeting. You are one of several meetings they’ll hold that day, so following up and staying engaged is key to achieving legislative success.
This article initially appeared in Credit Union Directors Newsletter, which provides strategic insights for policymakers. Subscribe now to the print or PDF version.