Community CUs' Growth Can Be Seen In Their Trade Group

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With its fourth annual meeting just concluded and membership nearly doubling in size after only four years, the National Association of Community Credit Unions (NACCU) is balancing the need for a strong, independent voice for community charters with its desire to remain solidly united with the movement as a whole.

No single topic highlights this coming-of-age growing pain than the question of how and to what degree the trade group will get involved in political action, as was evident when the group met here last week.

NACCU, which has been contracting with CUNA for support staff in much the same way that other organizations have done, has also been working with long-time lobbyist Chuck Zuver, who was doing political consulting for the group. As Zuver's retirement looms, the association has been looking at other options.

"Now that was a hot topic," said one NACCU member who attended the board meeting. "There was some real tension about what we should be doing as far as lobbying goes."

Some suggested that the trade group could be tapping former NCUA board member and CU lobbyist Geoff Bacino to replace Zuver upon his retirement.

When asked about the political action question, several NACCU board members were reluctant to discuss it. The group's new chair, Grace Mayo, who is also CEO of Telesis Community CU in Chatsworth, Calif., emphasized the need for community credit unions to stand firm with the movement as a whole.

"It's important for this to be a combined effort using the appropriate resources," Mayo commented, noting that in addition to a desire for unity, there is also the matter of using credit union resources wisely.

During a session on political activism, NACCU Board Member and Point Mugu FCU CEO Ron McDaniel discussed the trade association's current political action strategy.

"We wanted to make sure that community credit unions have a role in the national political process," McDaniel said. "But with our size and resources, we know we're not going to take on all 535 lawmakers. Instead, we try to influence the national trade associations and their priorities because they do have the resources."

There is also the fact that CUNA, which has been recognized nationally for its political prowess, has been addressing some of NACCU's issues quite well, some NACCU members pointed out.

A Pivotal Year

"CUNA's doing a great job of lobbying for us and the whole movement," said MAX FCU's D.G. Markwell, who served as conference chair for this year's meeting. When asked about what the future may hold for NACCU on the political action front, Markwell responded, "The future is a little unclear on that. But this has been a pivotal year for NACCU. The association is coming into is own. It's being considered an actual trade group worth noting."

Markwell and other founding members of NACCU cited the fact that the annual meeting drew more than 170 people-a greater number than some more veteran trade groups have managed to attract post-Sept. 11-and the group's membership soared to 70 credit unions before the meeting, with as many as 20 more expected to sign up as a result of the meeting.

But with any "coming into its own" comes some growing pains, as well. Several NACCU members and board members expressed the desire for the group to have its own executive director and support staff and be entirely independent of CUNA-though these people hastened to add that this is not an indication of any anti-CUNA sentiment.

"I think NACCU becoming a stand-alone trade association has always been the idea, but it probably won't happen for another three or four years," said NACCU Board Member John Sackett, who serves on the board of Royal CU, Eau Claire, Wis. "I hope we could be shopping around for an executive director soon."

Fellow NACCU Board Member Fred Spencer, who serves on the board of Community CU in Plano, Texas, agreed. "I think we'd like to get to the point where we are independent of CUNA," he commented. "But not anti-CUNA. CUNA does a very good job, but it serves a much bigger constituency and has to have a broader voice. We're the community credit union voice."

While none of the NACCU members indicated the trade group was suffocating under CUNA's control, several did note there have been a few issues-mostly minor, they stressed-on which the two groups haven't seen eye to eye. One example offered: who is and is not qualified to join NACCU.

Who Can Join?

Like any trade organization-particularly one that is still relatively new-NACCU wants to open its arms to any credit union interested in joining, and indeed, the group won't be able to hire its own staff and become a stand-alone association until it's big enough to pay for such resources.

But CUNA does not want NACCU to allow any credit unions that aren't already affiliated with CUNA to join NACCU, one board member said. "I don't blame them, but at the same time, we need to grow our membership, and there are some credit unions out there who would gladly join our group if they didn't also have to join CUNA to do so," he said. "That is a little frustrating."

But there is much more to a trade association than politics, and NACCU is proving itself on the education and networking front with ambitious plans for the future, as well.

A number of attendees who haven't yet joined NACCU commented on the wealth of networking and opportunities to learn from one another-something that was considered invaluable by some of the CUs that have only just converted to community or are considering taking the plunge.

And that, Mayo said, is the whole idea. "Going forward, we're going to continue to grow and get bigger and better, we're going to be a resource for best practices," she said. "We're going to design products together that make more sense, and technology is going to be the tool for us to do this and share it with each other."

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