Explaining the CU Difference to Newly-Elected Officials

Register now


Education Starts Well Before Election
With our active campaign involvement strategy at both the state and federal level, we are educating candidates on the credit union difference long before the primary and general elections. Once they're elected, we continue our outreach efforts, working closely with local credit union officials to build key contacts back in the district as well as in Montgomery, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. With the recent Wall Street bailout, newly elected officials need to understand that credit unions were not part of the problem but are well positioned to be part of the solution. To accomplish this, it takes more than just the efforts of the LSCU staff. We work closely with our credit unions to invite lawmakers to chapter legislative events as well as to visit their credit unions to see the credit union philosophy in action.


Focus On Fundamentals To Tell The Story
We focus on the fundamentals: we are democratically owned, non-profit, and our owners are the people we serve every day. If we can clearly show that all avenues in a credit union lead back to the best interest of the member, we can show the difference between the credit union and the banking models where there is constant tension between delivering profit to stock holders while meeting the needs of customers.

Also, showing the impact that having credit unions in the market has on consumers generally is powerful. The competitive pressures credit union's put on the market benefits all consumers, not just credit union members. In our state, it is also very useful to talk about the penetration credit unions have into the marketplace, as that number is quite high. Further, many Alaskans belong to multiple credit unions which speaks to their dedication to the cooperative concept. Finally, a discussion of the great things that credit unions do for their communities, including Financial Education efforts, can be very valuable.


Framing A Message & Making It Personal
The most important part of what we do is about framing a message that supports our members and their objectives, and facilitating opportunities for them to convey that message personally. The best strategy to do this is to help create a bridge for constituents and credit union leaders within the district to explain the industry. Advocacy comes in many forms, but there is no better advocate for credit unions than the employees and board members with an inside view. Member stories are the most effective approach in illustrating the value of credit unions.


Bringing New Meaning To 'Lunch & Learn'
One of most effective ways to communicate the credit union difference to freshmen legislators is through our Legislative Luncheon we hold at the State Capitol. It is usually during the first week of the new session. Credit union volunteers and staff as well as league staff visit one-on-one with the legislators in a relaxed environment during the luncheon. We use the opportunity to educate them about credit unions.


Interviews, Questionnaires Are A Start
Engaging political candidates and strengthening our relationships with them early in the process are the keys to success. At the state level, the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues' political team interviews all candidates seeking office and provides a questionnaire in order to gauge their involvement and knowledge of credit unions. The interview provides an opportunity to participate in an educational dialogue about credit unions and address any issues the candidate may have well before they are even elected to office.

Additionally, through targeted PAC efforts that are a critical component of our political strategy, we have been successful in electing credit union supporters and defeating candidates who have negative views toward credit unions.

We also connect elected officials and their staff with credit unions in the district to demonstrate firsthand the invaluable financial products and services they provide to the community he/she represents. This is also an opportunity to show how in tune our credit union members and employees are politically; emphasizing that they are voting constituents.

As an elected official's career progresses, we continually reengage and educate them on our issues. This helps strengthen our relationship along the way to ensure credit unions are a priority as they seek higher office. Often times the state legislature is the starting point for many Congressional members.

By taking the time to familiarize them with credit union issues before they head to Washington D.C., they are much better prepared to engage in our issues.


Show How CUs Are 'Keeping Banks Honest'
When working with a new legislator, we find it best to start with the basics: credit unions are not-for-profit financial organizations that operate with an unpaid, volunteer board and focus on serving members-we like to call it "putting people before profits." We explain that credit unions also help to keep banks honest through lower loan rates and higher returns on savings. People also turn to credit unions in times of trouble because, at a credit union, you are a person, not a number. Credit unions work with people to help reach financial goals or help get past difficult financial situations.


Inviting Lawmakers To See For Themselves
Our most effective strategy is to highlight our not-for- profit status and discuss our mission of "people helping people." We do this in a number of ways, but most significantly by inviting them to credit union events that are legislative and non-legislative in nature that educate and make them comfortable with who we are before we have a meeting in their office in Washington or in the district.

These events always highlight our volunteer nature and mission to help and educate our members. For example, we ask them to attend Reality Fairs, which focus on educating students, credit union branch openings, annual meetings, chapter meetings and awards ceremonies. Credit union events are natural venues for educating legislators and are great relationship building tools that ensure a healthy dialogue on issues going forward.


Challenge: Starting (Almost) From Scratch
We have a unique situation, as two of our three nationally elected officials are new to Washington.

We started early and have been there since the beginning of their campaigns, and we continue to feed pertinent information to them about credit unions. We do check in and monitor staff to constantly update our contact lists. Our newest senator has accepted the Delaware League's invitation to attend our annual meeting. The league has also suggested that our elected officials visit with individual credit unions, and we have had some success in making this happen.

Our stance is to be a ready, reliable and accurate source of information to our elected officials. We also keep a dialogue going with staffers in order to maintain a feel for our congressman and senators' thinking on financial and consumer issues. The goal is to maintain an open and honest dialogue so that credit unions get a fair opportunity to present our positions when and as history requires.


Back Up Basics With Hard Data, Results
We start with a brief explanation of the not-for-profit, member-owned structure of credit unions to help them understand that credit unions are more focused on people than on profits. In addition, we would share data from a report compiled by our league that shows quantitative results of the good work that Georgia credit unions do to help people improve their lives. We know that member testimonials are great stories. But elected officials hear great stories from community banks and others all the time. By sharing data showing the number of lives touched by a particular program or service offered by credit unions, or the amount members save because they use a credit union, elected officials can see evidence of the impact credit unions make. Measurable results speak volumes about the credit union difference.


Living The 'Better Value, Better Life' Motto
Our most effective strategy for explaining what CUs and the CU difference are, and the value they provide is to emphasize the motto "Not for profit, not for charity, but for service." We go on to emphasize that a credit union is a financial cooperative, owned by its members who democratically elect volunteer directors to represent member-owners from the credit union's well-defined field of membership.

Lastly, we introduce the league's latest tagline "Hawaii's Credit Unions: A Better Value for A Better Way of Life." Especially in these challenging economic times, consumers are seeking higher returns on savings, lower rates on borrowings and lower or no fees without sacrificing quality. They can find all of that at any of Hawaii's 85 credit unions.


Numbers Speak For Themselves
We tell them that one-third of the population in Idaho belongs to credit unions. Idaho has a population of approximately 1.5 million and credit unions boast over 500,000 credit union members. We then provide the numbers from Project Zip Code as to how many credit union members are in their District (if it is a legislator with whom we are speaking).

We then indicate the various industries and communities that have credit unions with that industry or community within their field of membership. We indicate the things within their district that credit unions do-and call them our unsung heroes because they do this good work without tooting their own horns. We touch on the amount of funds raised for CMN; the NEFE financial education program (in which the free, non-marketing, material is offered in the Idaho Department of Corrections, the Boise Rescue Mission, and schools around the state.

We emphasize that Idaho's First Lady, Lori Otter, is a spokesperson for this program and encourages teachers around the state to take the training offered. We typically finish with the information that credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives in which the profits are returned to the member owners in the form of lower interest rates on loans and higher dividends on deposits, and that in communities where there are credit unions, the costs of financial services to consumers are lower (and we can back that up with a white paper done by a professor at one of our universities).


Grass(roots) Always Greener
We explain to the official that credit unions are member-owned, not-for-profit cooperatives and focus on the local chapters and credit unions in their district. Quite often, our grassroots system allows us to develop key contacts with newly elected officials. The combination of our key contact system, local chapters and our professional lobbying staff affords us the opportunity to successfully educate lawmakers about the credit union difference!


Helping CUs Helps Voters
We emphasize that supporting credit unions is good public policy for legislators due to our member-owned not-for-profit cooperative structure. Consumers and small business owners who belong to credit unions benefit from access to the special commitment to service and value found at credit unions.

Financially, Indiana's credit union members benefit from a combined $143 million per year because they choose to use credit unions instead of banks. This benefit is almost five times the federal tax exemption, so it represents one of the best tax policy investments that could be made.

Allowing credit unions to do even more through expanded business lending is also good public policy because credit unions are locally rooted and located in many communities that need access to more options for business loans, especially local options.

In addition to these points of emphasis about the difference in credit union structure and focus, it is always helpful to follow up with specific credit union stories about how this plays out every day in credit unions across the state.


Making The Cooperative Connection
Our most effective strategy is focusing on the structural differences of cooperatives, acknowledging that we do offer many of the same services and pointing out that banks still have far greater powers than we do. We've found that many lawmakers are familiar with rural electric or telephone cooperatives. So, drawing the comparison between us as the cooperative alternative in the financial services sector is sometimes helpful-particularly with rural lawmakers. As cooperatives, we make sure that they understand we are owned by our members-thus, are motives aren't the same as banks, which are driven by a select number of shareholders.

We typically will address the tax issue head-on. We'll describe how it's easy to look at banks and credit unions simply from a "bricks and mortar" perspective and not understand why we are taxed differently. But, if you dig deeper into the ownership structure and the benefits we provide back to all our members as non-profits, the policy rationale for treating us differently becomes clearer.

At the end of the day, if banks really feel we have significant advantages over them, I tell lawmakers they are welcome to convert to a credit union. But, that includes the shareholders divesting themselves of their ownership and stock options and giving each customer equal ownership. For some reason, banks don't seem interested in that.


Gathering Testimonials Makes The Point
Our most effective strategy is to partner with credit union constituents to explain their programs and demonstrate the positive impact their credit unions have on consumers, small businesses, and the local economy. We utilize a variety of different tools to highlight the important role that credit unions play in the financial services industry as a not-for-profit alternative.

Key among these tools is sharing the credit union member perspective-credit union member testimony, the number of credit union members living in the district, and the growth of the credit union industry as consumers turn to credit unions as trusted financial partners.

In addition, we use statistics to exhibit the strong, stable state of the credit union industry and the benefits that credit union members receive (Kansas credit union members received over $34 million in benefits in one year alone!). Using farm and other cooperatives as an example of the basic structure is effective in Kansas and allows us to further stress the member/owner benefit.

Finally, we rely on the participation of passionate credit union volunteers to share their experiences as living examples of the credit union difference. Combined, these components provide the building blocks for a strong relationship between credit unions and their legislators.


Volunteers Strike An Important Chord
We try to keep things simple. Explaining what a credit union is and how it is structured is the first step. We then state the benefits of credit union membership and how a credit union's presence not only helps its members but consumers also by maintaining a healthy level of competition.

One of the aspects that seems to resonate is the volunteer board structure. It still impresses lawmakers that a financial institution can be ran by a volunteer board of directors that is elected by the membership, no matter how much money they have on deposit. In addition, we stress the financial cooperative term because most people have a good understanding of how a cooperative works.


League Shares Real Members' Stories
Our most effective strategy is to share real consumer/member stories.

Aside from public relations outreach and governmental affairs efforts that stress the value of credit unions in the marketplace, it is important to give our legislators something that is real, something that touches their hearts relating to the people they are serving. We certainly share what a credit union is, its structure and its philosophy, but sharing ways that members have been helped financially makes a huge impact. Simply talking about a member versus a customer is often an eye opener. It shows our legislators that their constituents are part of something special; that we have a passion and concern for their well being and not just their business. We simply remind legislators that credit unions exist not for profit, but to make the lives of their members just a little better."


Real Numbers + People = Real Difference
The Maine Credit Union League views this type of challenge as an opportunity-an opportunity to tell the credit union story to legislators. In Maine, our approach is multi-faceted and involves a combination of materials and information and credit union grassroots outreach. In most instances, especially when a legislator's position is negative, we schedule a meeting with that legislator in his or her district and include a CEO from a local credit union.

The meeting between local credit union officials and the legislator has proven to be invaluable in facilitating communications and building relationships between the legislator, the league and their local credit union.

To go along with these personal meetings, we have created a compelling piece that we distribute to legislators outlining the benefits that Maine's credit unions provide to consumers in the form of better rates, lower and fewer fees and the financial savings that comes with being a member of a credit union.

In addition, utilizing Project ZIP Code, we are able to communicate to legislators the number of credit union members in their district, a statistic that often reinforces the strength and popularity of credit unions.

The Maine Credit Union League believes that educating legislators and gaining their support takes ongoing and regular communications that is done over a period of time through a multitude of tools and resources. As a result of term limits in Maine, the process of building new legislative relationships is one that has become an important part of our legislative strategy and, ultimately, our legislative success.


Highlighting CUs As Consumer-Friendly
Our most effective strategy is to illustrate how CUs are the consumer-friendly choice in the financial marketplace by highlighting how CUs are working to educate consumers on financial matters while providing a range of products and services that allow consumers to maximize their financial potential, thus allowing CUs to invest in the communities they serve.


Featuring People Behind The Institutions
It's important for anyone that is telling the credit union story to remember that credit unions are institutions made up of people. The philosophy that drives our institutions and subsequently forms our practices and policies all grow out of that mission.

This notion is especially important when talking to a newly elected lawmaker.

We commonly define credit unions as "not-for-profit, democratically controlled financial cooperatives." The best way to communicate what makes a credit union special is to isolate the key points of the credit union definition and, in so far as it is possible, to illustrate the real tangible benefit of each of those aspects with an example of how it helps real people, their constituents.

A not-for-profit financial institution has a much more consumer-friendly mission than a for-profit institution. Tell a story about how the credit union's pro-consumer pricing helps individual members.

Democratic control speaks volumes about transparency and accountability. Tell a story about the credit union's annual meeting or the fact that the credit union has a volunteer board and an accessible executive team and how that benefits individual members.

A financial cooperative makes decisions that benefits members and the community, not some far away stockholders. Tell a story about how the credit union invested in a new building in the core of a city that the competition couldn't get out of fast enough-and then tie it all together and explain that this is the credit union difference.


Helping When Others Couldn't-Or Wouldn't
Credit unions lend when others either can't or won't. This was demonstrated in 2009 and 2010 during two of the toughest economic years in America since the Great Depression.

The not-for-profit term that describes our structure is more than words. This ownership structure means that credit unions are more focused on their member owners while banks are focused on shareholder profit-driven objectives.

Consumer research shows that credit union members are twice as likely to trust the credit union and recommend it to a friend or family member. Credit unions are there when their members need them, not just in good times but also in bad. Better rates. Lower fees. Higher levels of trust and service. That's the credit union difference.


Parading 'Hometown Heroes'
Our most effective strategy is to focus on explaining the structure of credit unions and how it's different than banks. We explain that credit unions are not-for-profit and emphasize the "one member, one vote" concept. We also stress that credit union board members make decisions based on what's in the best interest of their members, not shareholders. We want our elected officials to know that credit unions provide the best value to their members because they are focused on providing the best service in town.

A critical component to having a productive legislative meeting is the ability to provide information about an official's home district. Quantitative data is especially effective, including the total number of credit union members per district, the number of branch offices, and-especially in today's economy-the number of jobs that credit unions provide.

Last but not least, we illustrate for our elected officials that credit unions are the "hometown heroes." Credit unions have a long history of service to and involvement in their communities. And a growing number of consumers are going out of their way to reward companies that have local roots, a fact confirmed through statewide consumer research conducted by the Minnesota Credit Union Network in 2010. We make it a priority to remind legislators that credit unions are a part of the today's financial solution, not part of the problem.


Numbers Show CU Impact
First, demonstrate the impact credit unions have on their legislative district. The Missouri Credit Union Association utilizes Project ZIP Code numbers to show lawmakers how many credit union members (a.k.a. their constituents) live in the district. Especially if they do not have a brick-and-mortar credit union in their area, this drives home that credit unions have an impact with their voters.

After we have established "why" they should care with the numbers, it opens the door for explaining the credit union difference. Missouri credit unions are doing a lot of great things for their members, so we utilize real people examples (in both written and verbal formats) and have volunteers meet with lawmakers whenever possible. When real people speak, lawmakers are more likely to listen.

The Missouri Credit Union Association is also working on tools to help credit unions better target efforts with consumers and affect change on the state and federal level. This year, MCUA will conduct a statewide survey of non-members. The survey will provide insight for the Missouri credit union system on how best to move forward in reaching the general public.

And as more people reap the benefits of membership, those growing numbers will demonstrate to lawmakers that credit unions are important to their constituents.


A Riff On All Politics Are Local
Local ownership, local control, local resource allocation…credit unions, by their nature, are home-grown financial institutions.

Here's what one volunteer credit union board member stressed during a meeting with our federal delegation: "I feel a real obligation to our credit union members for the decisions that I make as a board member because I face these member/owners every day at the grocery store, in my business, at church and local sporting events."

Montana's credit unions uphold cooperative principles in a state where the cooperative sector is highly valued. These time-honored principles are: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation amongst cooperatives; and concern for community.

Many of Montana's credit unions offer free financial education, free tax filing services to low income filers, matched savings accounts for a variety of provident purposes (higher education, first time home purchases, and starting a small business top the list), and consumer resource centers.

We value creating partnerships that provide Montanans with the skills that they need for financial success-our most recent alliance brings Montana's credit unions, Student Assistance Foundation, University of Montana, and Carroll College together to provide college funding (through matched savings accounts) and financial education to high school and college students. Montana's credit unions really are different…as our not-for-profit structure, volunteer governance, and commitment to outreach and development illustrate time after time.


Key: Showing Who Owns Credit Unions
Unlike banks, credit unions are owned by its depositors (members). As a cooperative, credit unions are controlled by a volunteer board of directors. This volunteer control is the most significant difference, because the credit union purpose is "not for profit".

The credit union purpose is to provide low cost financial services to the member/owners. This value is generally passed to the member/owner through lower loan rates and higher deposit rates. In addition, credit unions are often able to provide a more personalized service along with lower fees for other products and services. Credit unions often use their strong political voice to protect the interests of their members, and have mobilized consumers in response to burdensome regulatory changes.


CUs Reason For Existence Is The Story
As nonprofit financial cooperatives credit unions exist solely for the lending and saving needs of their members, there are no outside shareholders to please with big profits coming on the backs of consumers. In these difficult economic times, the credit union model has never been more valuable to consumers.


'Not-For-Profit' Means 'Good For People'
Our most effective strategy is to explain to legislators the structural differences between banks and credit unions and how the not-for-profit cooperative structure levels the playing field. This ensures the member is offered products and services that really meet their needs instead of being pushed into products for more profit.

We also explain that structure leads to lower fees and better rates, keeping banks honest through competition. Finally, we try to relate real life examples of the great work being done in the legislator's own district, introduce them to a constituent and/or provide them with a credit union tour.


3 Rules To Politics: Local, Local, Local
Our most effective strategy is to remember the adage that 'all politics are local'. Initially, our strategy would be to contact the local credit union leaders and invite them to a meeting with the official hosted by the Credit Union Association of New York.

During the meeting we would begin by providing the official with tangible examples of the services his or her local credit unions provide to their members and the support they give to the community.

Through these examples we clearly demonstrate what we do, why we do it and how we do it differently than the for-profit segment of the financial services industry.

We would explain that our ability to provide this service and support in this manner is based on our cooperative, not-for-profit structure and the value that this structure brings to the official's constituents.

By providing real stories from local leaders, we can personalize credit unions, debunk the myths and ensure that our elected officials understand our true nature and the vital role we play.


Proving Worth Means Showing, Not Telling
Our most effective strategy is education, repetition and demonstration of value to the community. When establishing connections with newly elected representatives, or building more positive and productive relationships in general, education and repetition matters most. The league works with credit unions in North Carolina to meet with lawmakers in their offices, and hosts representatives in credit unions in the district as well. What we say matters of course, but key strengths and differences at credit unions shine most clearly when we regularly show policy makers the work credit unions do on behalf of their constituents. True credit union champions don't always develop as a result of this process of educating elected leaders, and it's certainly not an overnight process. But over time, we have found it to be a very effective strategy in helping policy makers more fully understand and appreciate credit union perspectives as they weigh decisions that will impact the movement.


A Paint-By-Numbers Approach To Lobbying
We've come to learn that not many lawmakers fully understand our unique structure. So, education is the key. We continually work on creating awareness and promoting thefact that credit unions play a very important role in the financial landscape of the Dakotas.

While we can boast that 30% of the population in both states are credit union members, our market share of deposits is less than 10% in North Dakota and less than 2% in South Dakota. Banks here give us way too much credit in the marketplace and consider us a much larger threat than we actually are-which, we interpret to mean that we're doing something right. Also, if the credit union charter has such a unique advantage in the financial marketplace here, why aren't more banks then switching to a credit union charter? Our message is simple, we are unique in our structure; we're member owned, not for profit financial cooperative that returns its earnings back to its members in value added services and products.


Shining A Light On Real Impact, Results
Our first step is to meet with new legislators early in the process to gauge their knowledge of credit unions and build a foundation by providing shining examples of how credit unions directly impact constituents in the member's district.

We do this through in-district and Capitol Hill/Statehouse meetings between legislators, legislative staff, and credit union CEOs who are prepared with examples of their philosophy-driven products and services designed to improve members' lives.

Credit union leaders also host legislators at their credit unions so representatives can see philosophy in action first-hand. We utilize Ohio's strong chapter system as an opportunity for legislators to speak directly to their credit union constituency at legislative nights. The most recent example was in the Butler County Chapter, where 83 credit union leaders welcomed Congressman Steve Chabot and three state legislators. The league prepares quarterly white papers, called "A Creditorial," which examine hot button legislative issues' impact on credit unions and how they will affect constituents.

To ensure new legislators fully understand what credit unions do, and how and why they do it, legislators are invited to attend financial education events in their district. Our goal is to immerse newly-elected representatives in the spirit and philosophy of Ohio credit unions.


Establish A Non-Confrontational Approach
Elected officials are most responsive when a meeting discussion is presented from the perspective of the official's constituency. Since most elected officials deal with a wide variety of complex issues, they must have a network of resources to help make informed decisions. By establishing a friendly, non-confrontational first impression, we can become a reliable resource.

A reliable resource has a basic grasp of the credit union industry, including what is said about the industry by others, and a clear understanding of current issues. In addition, we must have the ability/willingness to provide timely responses to the official. Finally, never violate the trust of the official.


Living The Difference Makes The Difference
The credit union difference is best explained by our credit union members-the elected official's neighbors, constituents and community members who encompass the CU difference.

Local credit union leaders live the CU difference day in and day out and when they tell their stories to a newly elected official, we have had great success at developing a strong relationship. An elected official's top concern is most always the state of their cities, towns and communities.

The unique role that credit unions play in those communities is a vital contributor to their success. Supporting local small businesses, working with members on their financial needs and goals in a face to face manner and being a good neighbor are what set credit unions apart from other financial institutions. Being able to tell that story is what sets our grassroots advocacy efforts apart from the rest.

Lawmakers have been very receptive to our story that while we were not part of what lead to the financial crisis, we want to be part of the solution to economic recovery and to strong communities. We will continue to welcome every opportunity to tell that story and build a relationship through constant and consistent advocacy opportunities."


Proving CUs Are Better Choice
While we begin educating newly-elected officials with the standard unique credit union differentiation that most leagues and CUNA provide, in Pennsylvania we like to talk about several of our unique credit union programs.

The first program we talk about is the Credit Union Better Choice program, a payday lending alternative that is much less expensive for consumers and includes financial education, as well as a required savings component. Since its inception in 2007, Pennsylvania credit unions have made more than 42,800 loans totaling more than $20 million, resulting in savings to consumers in excess of $14.5 million.

In addition, we talk about the many local financial education projects funded by the Pennsylvania Credit Union Foundation with specific emphasis on projects and credit unions in the new legislator's district.

Finally, we do our best to engage credit union leaders with newly-elected officials so that they may tell specific anecdotes about how their credit union has helped members, businesses, and other community organizations in the new legislator's district. In our visits with the newly elected, Pennsylvania credit unions have received strong accolades for filling the void when other lenders have tightened credit. Legislators are particularly impressed that credit unions have continued to offer small business, mortgage, student, and other loans throughout the most recent economic downturn.

Like many other states, Pennsylvania has a large number of newly-elected state and federal officials. And league staff in conjunction with credit union leaders will be meeting with each and every one of them.


Personal Stories, Intense Focus
When meeting with a newly elected official who knows little of CUs or even has a negative position, my most effective strategy for explaining what CUs and the CU difference are, and the value they provide is to focus directly on the roles of each member as owner and ultimate beneficiary of his or her institution's success.

That individualized status should resonate especially well in these days of intense focus on consumer well being. Further, relating to an elected official credit unions' true economic democracy-one member, one vote-also establishes mutual understanding.

From there we can build the case for credit unions using comparative data on various services, the estimated per-member value, and unique qualities of institutions within region that particular elected official serves. The circular connection among legislator, credit union, and community is a difficult one to break once established.


Digging Deep Into The Numbers
Our most effective strategy is to show the impact and involvement of credit union members in their district. We paint a picture of our role in the district, first by showing our elected officials the numbers from Project ZIP Code, then by sharing member stories and information on our institutions. We urge them to come to the credit union and meet members to gain a complete picture of what we do and the vital part we play in the financial well being of their constituents.


Breaking It Down For Lawmakers Is Key
What you want to do is break it down, and don't get into a philosophical argument. Credit unions are extremely important to a lot of your constituents. There are people out there who can't or choose not to use the traditional, for-profit institutions. It can be convenience, it can be for price, or it can be that they just choose not to-but there's a whole lot of people out there that this movement is very important to.


Local Ownership Means Local Voters
Our most effective strategy is to make sure they realize how many members are likely in their voting constituency, that credit unions are locally owned and controlled, and how many dollars credit unions in Vermont typically save the average household through their better rates and fees.

Given the economy in which we operate and the media focus on too-big-to-fail entities, most legislators we encounter today very much favor the local aspect of credit unions.

The fact that member-controlled institutions can provide better rates and fees resounds in the current economy as well. And, given that about one-half of Vermont's population does business with a credit union, many legislators are pretty surprised to hear just how many of us comprise their constituency.


Telling Real Stories Makes The Point
What's most effective is telling stories. If we can bring in credit union employees who can talk about how they helped somebody-especially if they're somebody that's been turned away by a bank, that's very effective. We try to explain to them that the credit union difference is real, and those stories help immensely, because it personalizes a story about their own constituents.


Painting A Picture Of Positive Impact
Our most effective strategy is having meaningful credit union stories to tell by credit union representatives that illustrate the differences. We won't assume that the lawmaker knows anything about credit union history or structure. Painting a mental picture of how credit unions have positively affected the lives of their constituents is a key meeting strategy. If we can show local "dollars and cents" savings examples we weave those into the conversation. Using unfamiliar acronyms may get a polite head nod, but little else.

To reinforce the message, we bring business cards and "leave-behind" materials which summarize the key points we are emphasizing.

We are mindful that when meeting with the new lawmaker, we determine the time constraints from which we are operating. Many lawmakers are often pressed for time in their DC offices, so it is critical to get our message out in a clear and concise manner.

The House and Senate floor clocks and committee meeting schedules seem to drive the daily pace of events which in turn affects the pace of our meeting.

Sending a follow-up thank you e-mail or letter is an easy way to reconnect with the lawmaker and reinforce our key points.


REAL Solutions Makes Real Difference
Our most effective strategy is using Project ZIP Code numbers to show just how many of their constituents are credit union members. Then, we introduce them to our REAL Solutions program which takes the Credit Union Difference from abstract to practical.

Wisconsin activists meeting with lawmakers and their staff use specific examples of service to members, communities and the next generation to show the essential role credit unions play in the lives of consumers who vote.

Next we recommend they visit our For A Reason… (www.theleague.coop/forareason/index2.asp)  web channel to view short video testimonials from credit union leaders and members about REAL Solutions programs and services. Finally, we invite the elected officials to visit credit unions in their district to see the Credit Union Difference at work.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.