Advocacy army takes charge
Board advocates make a big impact with lawmakers.
It's easier to rally people when they have a shared connection. That was readily apparent when the White House proposed increased IRS reporting for financial institutions in 2021 and the advocacy army sprang into action.
Formed in 2018 to help tell credit unions’ story and add another dimension to advocacy efforts, the advocacy army played a role in sending more than 800,000 emails to Capitol Hill to oppose a provision requiring financial institutions to report transaction activity to the IRS.
- Improved communication creates credit union awareness, improves financial well-being, and fosters advocacy groups that can lead the credit union movement into the next generation.
- The advocacy army helped send more than 800,000 emails to Capitol Hill opposing a 2021 provision that would have required increased IRS reporting.
- Board focus: Advocating and encouraging director advocacy can lead to a connected team of credit union supporters regionally and nationally.
The proposal would have required financial institutions to report account inflows and outflows of more than $600, which CUNA considered an unprecedented overreach of the federal government that also would have created numerous cybersecurity concerns.
CUNA and the leagues issued an action alert in September calling on advocates to comment on the proposal. This led to the biggest campaign in the history of CUNA’s Member Activation Program (MAP), with more than 175 credit unions using the email and social media resources the program provides to engage members in advocacy.
“It’s definitely the largest grassroots push for the credit union movement since the days of Don’t Tax My Credit Union. But as far as the rate of activation and how quickly we generated contacts, it was quicker,” says Adam Engelman, CUNA’s director of federal and grassroots programs. “This shows the work we’ve been doing to strengthen MAP and build relationships with these credit unions.”
CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle also credits the CUNA-League advocacy team’s 360-degree advocacy, as well as the fact that some issues resonate more than others. The IRS provision struck a chord with credit union professionals, members, and directors.
“There was more media coverage on this specific provision, and a lot of members were asking tellers about it,” Engelman says. “We provided talking points so people could educate their staff when they’d get questions or calls from their members.”
Credit union professionals, board advocates, members, two letters from House Republicans, and a letter from House Democrats delivered the message that they opposed the provision.
The White House removed the language, which was part of the Build Back Better Reconciliation Bill, in late October. The House passed the bill in mid-November without the IRS language.
“That was a massive success for everyone,” Engelman says. “It wouldn’t have been possible without credit unions responding, getting active, and talking to their members about this.”
Qualities of an advocate
The advocacy army played a big role in defeating the IRS provision, and it plays a major role in all advocacy efforts. As constituents who are deeply committed to credit unions and who serve without pay, directors make a big impression on legislators when delivering advocacy messages.
Gary Chizmadia, board chair at $421 million asset Credit Union of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J., has been an advocate for about 15 years. He is heavily involved in the CrossState Credit Union Association and frequently talks to senators and representatives over the phone and during the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C.
Chizmadia says advocacy means explaining that credit unions are here to stay, they’re here to assist people, and they need lawmakers’ support.
“It’s about getting involved, jumping in, and doing whatever needs to be done,” he says. “When I bring a new person on the board, I don’t really care what they know or don’t know. My main thing is passion.”
The advocacy army focuses directors’ passion and energy in the right direction by arming them with information and talking points.
“A lot of times representatives want to hear what directors have to say more than professionals,” Chizmadia says. “Directors have a story and they’re not getting paid.”
Engelman agrees credit union directors and members can make a bigger impact with legislators. He believes the advocacy army has improved CUNA’s efforts to collect member stories and use them to advocate for credit union priorities.
NEXT: The next generation
The next generation
Chizmadia would like more board members to participate in advocacy, especially younger people.
CUNA is working to find the next generation of credit union advocates, and has developed Young Professional Advocacy Workshops that address advocacy basics and the importance of building relationships with state and federal lawmakers. They also include interactive advocacy role playing.
Engelman believes this training has helped board members understand the importance of advocacy and their role as credit union leaders.
“If we don’t tell our story, someone else will,” Engelman says. “And they might not be doing it with good intentions.”
Directors don’t need to be experts on legislative and regulatory issues affecting credit unions, he adds. CUNA and the leagues can explain how legislation may affect credit unions and how advocates can make a difference.
Successful advocacy is about getting involved in different organizations, reaching out, and talking to people within the industry, Chizmadia says. It’s about building relationships with other directors, members, credit union professionals, senators, and representatives.
“You have to keep working at it and treat lawmakers like normal people,” he says. “I grew up in a semipolitical family. We’d have lawmakers from all over come over and we’d talk. If I needed something, I’d just pick up the phone and call.”
Communication shouldn’t just take place with lawmakers; it must occur between credit union advocates.
MAP plays a key role in disseminating information, providing advocates with social media resources that resonate with members.
Chizmadia connects with fellow advocates to discuss national and regional issues, creating a network of passionate credit union leaders.
Increased communication was crucial in March 2021 during the CUNA GAC, which was fully virtual due to the pandemic. While this made it impossible to meet in person with lawmakers, it became easier for volunteers to let their voices be heard.
“Logistically, it’s so much easier to attend a meeting with your lawmaker via Zoom than flying to D.C.,” Engelman says. “We’re getting higher attendance with Zoom meetings in general, and more volunteers have been participating in these calls.”
Chizmadia and his associates in the advocacy army are ready to advocate on behalf of what they believe in.
“You can’t rest on your laurels because every time you turn around there’s an issue that may affect the industry,” he says. “If you want something to happen, jump in there and do it.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Credit Union Magazine. Subscribe here.