More Than Anything Else, Advocacy Is Telling Your Story

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If you are attending the GAC and reading this, then I am preaching to the choir. Being involved politically is no longer an optional part of our business lives in the credit union movement. It's a necessity. What has changed? Nothing. It has always been prudent to be politically involved, even at the absolute minimum through the simple act of voting.

Beyond that, however, I find that each of us exercises various levels of involvement in government relations, and this, quite frankly, is a cause of concern. Today, credit union officials cannot remain on the sidelines.

Let me ask one question-do you know your congressman? Have you ever met him or her? Their job is to represent us as their constituents. They welcome our letters, phone calls, visits, and participation. If not, go to www.house.gov. Type in your zip code at the home page and you will be directed to your elected congressional representative.

Understanding Advocacy

Advocacy is not just traveling to Washington and marching around Capitol Hill. It's much more. Advocacy is multi-leveled and multi-pronged. Advocacy is lobbying, relationship building, issues management, and fundraising. It is grass roots and more.

The beauty of advocacy is that you decide the intensity level of your advocacy. The intensity can be as simple as voting at each election to campaigning for an elected official or even running for office yourself.

The part of advocacy that seems to loom largest for some people is fundraising. In our political process, elected officials require money to support re-election. So it's no wonder that they naturally listen to those who support them monetarily. More important though, is getting a sufficient number of votes to win re-election. So remember, your vote is much more powerful than your pocketbook. If you stand on the sidelines, things happen without you. If you jump in and play the game, you exert influence and control.

The Myths Of Advocacy

There are a variety of reasons people choose not to get involved in advocacy.

"All politicians are corrupt."

A generalization that broad is simply not true. As with any profession, there may be one or two bad eggs among a host of decent and honest folks. People, in general, are good and want to do good. Many of us are doing our jobs the best we can for the greater good, and this is true of our elected officials as well.

"I can't afford all the fundraisers."

Politics is not just about money; it's also about relationship building. You can be an advocate on your issue through many channels such as meetings, letters, and working with the elected official's staff. Attend the fundraisers you can support, but going to every single one is not necessary.

"I am a member of the party not represented by my elected officials."

So what? Elected officials have to represent all constituents. This also includes the constituency of credit unions for those elected officials with responsibility for financial services in Congress. If they don't hear information from you, they will base their decision on whatever information they are receiving from others. Most elected officials like to hear the different sides of any given issue so they can make an educated decision on their own.

That is why relationship building is so important. Any professional lobbyist will tell you the importance of building relationships with your elected officials when you don't need something. Then, if the time comes when you do, you already have someone who knows you. Politicians appreciate these relationships and value them more than having a constituent approach them in dire need whom they have never met before.

Advocacy In Action

Here are several items to do when engaging a strategy of active advocacy.

* Work with your state league. If you are a rookie, you can get all the help you need from the folks at your state credit union league. They have the relationships and the "know how" to lead you into advocacy at your comfort level.

* Start locally. This may mean as local as your city council. Much of advocacy is relationship building and many of our elected officials got their start at the local level. Participate in local events as much as you can.

* Be aware of the issues. Here again, our state leagues and our national trade associations can help you. They have professionals who stay informed by being on the cutting edge of legislative and regulatory developments. Monitor the information coming from these officials.

* Be active. This means choose and take a course of action. Write a letter, participate in a meeting, and attend an event or fundraiser. Tell your story where you can. Advocacy won't come to you-you must go to it.

The Benefits Of Advocacy

As with most things in life, you get what you put into it. Advocacy is no different. If you do nothing, you will receive very little or no benefits at all. The more you contribute to the political process, government relations and advocacy, the more benefits you will reap. These elected officials set policy that governs the way we do business. It seems only natural that you would want a seat at the table where policy is taking shape rather than ending up with something with which you can't live.

The Bottom Line

Do what you can. Above all, advocacy is telling your story and you have a great story to tell. If you don't tell the story, someone else will and who knows what he or she may say!

Sheri Ledbetter is Director of Public Affairs at WesCorp and can be reach at sledbetter wescorp.org.

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