Prepare for the End of Gridlock

The paralysis that has gripped Washington will end eventually. CUs must be ready when it does.

March 07, 2014
KEYWORDS advocacy , washington
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Play to our strengths

If 1.3 million contacts delivered to Congress represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of our potential, how much of that iceberg is still submerged?

In 2013, roughly two-thirds of the 1.3 million communications were delivered by members of roughly 300 credit unions, those who directly contacted their members via email or social media and urged them to take action via

These credit unions represent just 5% of all credit unions nationwide and yet produced two-thirds of all messages Congress received on preserving the credit union tax status. Imagine our potential if 600 credit unions—or 900 or 1,000 or more—had engaged their members similarly!

Why should credit unions engage members directly? Consider the results of a groundbreaking research project CUNA conducted recently with two credit unions: CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Lenexa, Kan., and University Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas.

Researchers sent email communications to 70,000 members of these credit unions about the Don’t Tax My Credit Union campaign and then surveyed 4,100 of those members about their attitudes toward advocacy and the credit unions in general.

The results of this research should encourage any credit union leader to engage members with advocacy communications: Open rates on the emails were as high as 40%, with “click rates” as high as 6% and “action rates” (those who took action by sending their lawmaker an email) as high as 5%.

Less than 0.1% of respondents opted out of these email communications, and neither credit union received any complaints. Taken together, these results could be seen as positive, if not exceptional. But they pale in comparison to the changing attitudes of the members who were contacted.

Eighty-six percent of members who were contacted agree with the statement, “In the future, I am likely to do a greater share of my personal banking with a credit union.”

In other words, the very process of educating members on the ownership structure of their credit union—and especially the value it delivers via more affordable loans, higher interest on deposits, and lower and fewer fees—increases those members’ loyalty to the institution and willingness to engage it for more financial products and services.

Similarly, the study found that 78% of members agree with the statement, “It is okay for my credit union to contact me with information about proposed laws… that impact how credit unions operate and ask me to consider taking action to contact elected officials.”

Not only do educated members want to use their credit unions more, they’re also more willing to act to protect them from legislative and regulatory threats and to advocate in support of a less-restrictive operating environment.

This is a win-win situation for credit unions: Engage members to participate in advocacy and you will not only generate a sizeable grassroots response likely to influence lawmakers, you’ll also increase member loyalty and wallet share for your credit union.

Members’ willingness to advocate on behalf of credit unions extends to the political arena as well. Other CUNA research finds that by a 2-to-1 margin, members are willing to positively consider information shared by their credit union on whether a candidate for office supports credit unions and their issues.

Again, we’ve barely tapped our potential to be a powerful grassroots force in support of candidates who understand and support credit unions.

In short, engaging members on advocacy-related issues is a “win-win” for credit unions. We get a high rate of participation among members, which translates into large numbers of contacts (for legislative issues) or potential votes (for political campaigns), all while strengthening the bond of loyalty between member and credit union in the process.

That’s why member engagement on advocacy is such a critical component of CUNA and the leagues’ “Plan to Win” advocacy strategy. If credit unions are going to “win” in Washington and state capitals, then we have to start by playing to our strengths: engaging our 98 million credit union members.

RYAN DONOVAN is CUNA’s senior vice president of legislative affairs. Contact him at 202-508-6750. Follow him on Twitter via @RyanDonovan.

TREY HAWKINS is CUNA’s vice president of political affairs. Contact him at 202-508-6712. Follow him on Twitter via @TreyHawkinsDC.

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