CU at the brewery: Reinventing advocacy for a new generation

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The League of Southeastern Credit Unions has raised thousands of dollars for its federal PAC in the last two years thanks to an innovative professional development strategy aimed at boosting young professionals’ involvement in the credit union movement.

The program, known as “CUs on Tap,” is run by Jordan Burroughs, LSCU’s political affairs manager, who launched it after hearing about a similar program at a different league a few years ago.

“Craft beer has really blown up in Florida in the last four or five years,” she said, adding “When you’re traveling throughout the state you get a good feel of what the city or town is like if you go to the local brewery.”

This fall will be the third year LSCU has offered “CUs on Tap” in conjunction with Corporate One Federal Credit Union, which sponsors the events. LSCU and Corporate One reps will visit six breweries across Florida between August and November in what Burroughs called “a fun way to get out and drink some beer and support the industry.”

It’s not all fun and drinking games, though. The events have raised between $6,000 and $7,000 for LSCU’s federal PAC during each of the last two years, and Burroughs said that with awareness of the events already high, the league hopes to increase that figure this year.

“On top of that, it’s really more about awareness of advocacy and political giving, and getting young professionals used to giving an annual contribution every year,” she explained. While high-level credit union executives can sometimes be hesitant to give to a PAC after already paying league dues, added Burroughs, “I’ve been reaching those folks by them just wanting to come out and have a beer. It’s a good way to ease people into PAC giving without having to throw politics at them or get too into the weeds. It’s been really important to open up the awareness and get people interested in political giving, even at a small-dollar amount.”

The events also function as professional development sessions, hosted by Corporate One, which take place before the beer tasting starts, with Corporate One even providing professional headshots for participants at each gathering.

“We have young professionals and older professionals alike who come out – and maybe some people who are just really into beer and maybe don’t care as much about supporting the credit union industry but just love that brewery,” said Burroughs, adding “that’s a good way for me to tackle them and talk to them about political giving.”

Partnerships and pints

According to Corporate One EVP/CFO Melissa Ashley, the willingness to sponsor the event comes from a longstanding relationship with LSCU, where Corporate One has about 120 members in Florida alone. While Ashley elected not to go into specifics on the events’ costs, she said they are part of Corporate One’s annual sponsorship agreement with LSCU.

“We have a member engagement initiative and we work to meet our credit unions right at these events where they’re there,” she said. “sometimes it’s a formal thing like a convention or an informal thing like CUs on Tap that allows for relationship building and hearing what everyday issues they’re dealing with. We feel like we’ve built a great partnership with LSCU…it goes back to that mutually beneficial relationship of working with credit unions together and partnering. We get a lot out of it – access to young professionals is critical to understand how we can help them grow and thrive in the credit union movement.”

Burroughs said each CUs on Tap draws between 30 to 40 people, and Ashley said attendance has grown each year, which is why Corporate One continues to support it.

“These folks are the future of credit unions, and as folks are getting older and retiring, we need them to step up as leaders, so we’re very supportive of that,” said Ashley.

Bubbling up

LSCU’s events have been so successful that other state leagues are beginning to put their own spin on the model. Chief among them is the Ohio Credit Union League, which this year is bringing its series of town hall events to breweries across the state. Corporate One is based in Ohio and also sponsors the OCUL’s events.

“Our town halls are fireside chat opportunities for members not only to connect with each other but connect directly with League President Paul Mercer and Corporate One President Lee Butke,” explained Kim Connor, director of consumer awareness at the Ohio league. “It’s an opportunity for [OCUL members] to bounce ideas off these industry leaders. The main focus is to build the connections with regional peers and Corporate One and OCUL by having those conversations directly with Lee and Paul, and then that brewery tour component is just a fun spin-off event we’ve included.”

The Ohio events – known as Pints, Peers & Progress – will be held throughout July and August in several cities across the state, including at big-name locations like Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland and Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati.

“We did a lot of research, but we also tried to pick locations that were central and convenient for people,” explained Melanie Koch, OCUL’s manager of governance and corporate support. “We want to make collaboration accessible, and part of that component is that the venues themselves are accessible, well-known and they’re fun opportunities for us to get this type of collaborative event started.”

None of the organizers who spoke to CU Journal said they had encountered any resistance to hosting an event that was tied to alcohol consumption.

“You get a group of credit union people together and they like to eat and they like to drink, so I’m just doing what the audience already likes,” quipped LSCU’s Burroughs.

Ohio’s Koch said beer is just the gateway.

“Of course the craft beer is a huge attraction, but [the events] don’t take all day or involve big travel for the folks involved,” she noted. “It’s a couple of hours, they get together and there’s learning and relationship building….It’s the fun nature of it and the fact that it’s not real time-consuming. Those are the big drivers of it.”

And, in classic credit union fashion, there’s also an opportunity for potential growth. League representatives in both Ohio and Florida said they don’t believe any of the participating breweries are credit union members, but there’s always the hope that the events may inspire owners to make the switch.

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Professional development