Credit union advocacy depends on education first, according to CUNA’s advocacy staff.
Explaining the value of credit unions to members, advocates, and legislators leads to political success for the movement, panelists told General Session attendees Monday afternoon.
Legislators need education about the value to their constituents, credit union advocates need to know the message to bring to their representatives, and members need to know why grassroots advocacy matters.
“Sometimes we think the banks are our enemy, but our real enemy is ignorance,” said Pat Sowick, senior vice president, league and state affairs.
Advocacy at the state level was a major focus of this year’s legislative and political update. It’s important to build relationships from the ground up, said Sowick, noting that many politicians and pieces of legislation begin in state politics.
Keeping members informed about legislative priorities and how they affect the credit union is also key, according to Richard Gose, senior vice president, political affairs. The advocacy power of credit unions is not in dollars, but grassroots potential, he said.
“Education is always appropriate,” Gose said. “You can’t call on members and ask them to do something if they’re not aware.”
When it comes to approaching congressional representatives, keep in mind many of them are new and don’t have a lot of detailed knowledge of the credit union movement, said Ryan Donovan, senior vice president, legislative affairs.
After successfully defeating the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) bill—a major priority of the bank lobby last year—the credit union movement has the attention of legislators, he said.
“They still love us on the Hill, but something changed late last year. They realized we’re not pushovers anymore,” Donovan said.
The conference’s annual advocacy primer allows credit union leaders to get on the same page before planned Capitol Hill visits later in the week, according to moderator Paul Gentile, executive vice president, strategic communications and engagement.
“We don’t want to have 7,000 different voices; we want to have one story repeated 7,000 times,” said Gentile.
This year’s advocacy agenda is based on three pillars: preserving credit unions’ tax status, reducing the regulatory burden, and enhancing the credit union charter.