Advocacy Counts at Home and on the Hill

Generating grassroots contacts will increase member loyalty and wallet share.

March 1, 2015

This month marks my first Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) as CUNA’s president/CEO. But GAC and credit union advocacy aren’t new to me. As a member of Congress, I witnessed and participated in this amazing annual gathering of grassroots activists from credit unions in my Iowa home district.

And whether on Capitol Hill or during my district meetings, Iowa Credit Union League CEO Pat Jury and his credit union delegation never let me forget what they stood for and what they expected of me as their representative.

This GAC signifies a new chapter in our advocacy work. Today, the role of advocacy, politics, and communications is more complex, with well-funded interest groups and new players vying for the attention of policy makers.

The challenge we face in this charged up, fast-moving social media age is to break through the clutter and capture credit union members’ attention. Changing times and technology—along with an increasingly diverse member base— demand we step up our game.

And CUNA will continue to lead by example with a whole new brand of “360-degree advocacy.”

The CUNA Board presented me with clear expectations: Provide bold leadership, create a membercentered service culture, and put on a full-court press to strengthen our value proposition that belonging to CUNA must deliver—in partnership with the leagues—for our member credit unions.

CUNA is reimagining our future and boldly fostering service excellence to meet the needs of our members. One significant move was the realignment of the association staff to meet the board’s expectations.

This issue of Credit Union Magazine focuses on the critical role of advocacy (“What can Congress deliver?” p. 26). We report on several CUNA initiatives that will help you improve advocacy and confront today’s key issues, such as data breaches, our tax exemption, and risk-based capital.

The Member Activation Program (MAP) has been an essential component. We’ve learned in developing this pilot program that members who receive advocacy outreach from their credit unions develop a stronger bond with them. And after being exposed to advocacy messaging that defines and reminds members about the differences between credit unions and Wall Street banks, about 82% of members are ready to do more business with their credit unions.

This demonstrated to CEOs and their teams that generating grassroots contacts goes hand-in-hand with increasing member loyalty and wallet share. It’s a great fit with our shared vision: Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner.

I’ll often ask credit unions: “What Washington advocacy groups do you see as effective?” Groups such as AARP and the National Rifle Association are near the top because of their grassroots effectiveness. But why not us? Even with more than 102 million memberships, strong leagues and councils, volunteers, and employees, why aren’t we in that same company?

Last year we marked the milestone of 100 million memberships. Together, we beat back attempts to eliminate our tax exemption with the Don’t Tax My Credit Union campaign. We mobilized for positive change in NCUA’s risk-based capital proposal. We also set new records for the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, enabling us to support a record number of candidates. We’re planting the seeds. Now we need our new 360-degree advocacy to deliver.

The GAC represents a new commitment to advocacy so we can break down regulatory barriers, improve service excellence, and create greater awareness of credit unions. And with that, we’ll continue to grow and thrive by advancing the best interests of our members.