Report From The States
While credit union leagues and trade associations-and even individuals CUs, themselves-are mor apt to use professional lobbyists, one of the great strengths of the credit union movement has been in its truly grassroots approach to political activism. Professional lobbyists are important, but lawmakers know and value the difference between a "hired gun" and a volunteer.
The Credit Union Journal asked state leagues: How do you use volunteers and directors in your lobbying at the state and national level, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of volunteers as lobbysists? How have you addressed those weaknesses?
Alabama Implements Ambassadors Program
Birmingham, Ala.-The Alabama Credit Union League uses volunteers in lobbying at the state and national levels through petition drives, Hike-the-Hills, and the Credit Union Ambassadors Program. Our Hike the Hills are held at the state and national levels, and recently we have implemented our new Credit Union Ambassadors program. Ambassadors, which is a credit union grassroots legislative contact initiative, is made up of volunteers as well as executive staff with a connection to, or relationship with, those who hold elected office in Alabama. Ambassadors maintain regular contact with elected officials and they are a superb connection between credit unions and elected officials.
The biggest strength our volunteers bring to our lobbying efforts is their commitment and dedication to the credit union movement. Serving without compensation, our volunteers show the true credit union difference through their efforts. They help show lawmakers the numbers behind credit unions and the loyalty credit union members have for their credit union.
As we have been fortunate enough to experience, if your volunteers are well prepared for lobbying efforts and have a strong foundation of knowledge on the issues, there simply are no weaknesses.
Alaska Enjoys Long, Healthy Relationships
ANCHORAGE, Alaska-The Alaska Credit Union League has had a very long and healthy relationship with our Congressional Delegation which consists of two Senators and one Congressman. We generally have a group of approximately thirty credit union representatives that attend the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference each year and hike the hill to their offices. The group consists of credit union volunteers, both board members and supervisory committee members as well as executive management staff. In addition to GAC we host local social events, utilizing them as speakers, we insure that we are well represented at other gatherings and events that they will be attending and are sure to engage them and remind them of the good that Credit Unions perform for Alaskans. Our efforts appear to have paid off as we worked hard to have U.S. Rep. Don Young co-sponsor CURIA last year, which he did despite the negative campaign the bankers ran against us.
Volunteers Are Valuable Advocates In Arizona
Phoenix, Ariz.-The Arizona Credit Union System feels their volunteers and directors are very valuable advocates for the credit union movement.
Their experience in the movement as well as their philosophy and belief in the credit union difference makes them a very credible voice. The strengths of this approach is that lawmakers are dealing with their constituents and not paid lobbyist therefore their testimony is viewed as direct interest.
Also, our volunteers and directors are very willing to contact our federal and state lawmakers for political functions and campaign work. We provide ongoing education to our volunteers and directors through both the CUNA and state-wide governmental affairs conference plus special articles in our newsletter.
Volunteers Make Vital Personal Connections
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.-Volunteer and director involvement in our lobbying efforts is critically important to the Arkansas Credit Union League. While our retained lobbyist works every day on our behalf, we utilize our volunteers and directors to make personal contacts with our senators and representatives both at the State Capitol and in Washington. They tell their credit union stories during Hike the Hill visits and through email correspondence when called upon.
Before we send anyone to speak with legislators, we try to educate them on the specific issues we will be addressing at the meetings. We give them talking points and ask them to discuss how these issues will affect their credit union and their members. Usually, depending on the comfort level of the attendees, a spokesperson will be elected to lead the discussion.
We think it is vitally important that our legislators hear from our volunteers and directors. They are the best ones to articulate how legislation will affect them in the future or how it has impacted them in the past.
Message From Everyday Citizens Is Strong
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif.-In California and Nevada, volunteers lobby side by side with CEOs and other credit union staff. The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues encourage CEOs to bring board members on advocacy trips to Sacramento and Carson City, and to Hike the Hill events in Washington, D.C., and to district fund-raisers.
The advantage of enlisting volunteers as lobbyists is that they are able to speak on credit union issues as everyday citizens who are committed to credit union ideals but who do not have a financial interest in credit unions. Legislators are sometimes surprised to learn that directors are volunteers, which reinforces the message that credit unions are fundamentally different from banks. Additionally, because credit union directors come from other walks of life than the financial services industry, such as education, business, or unions, their meetings with legislators demonstrate that credit unions are integral parts of the legislator's community. Legislators often prefer to meet with private citizens, rather than representatives of special interest groups, and rightfully perceive volunteers' enthusiasm as heartfelt and genuine.
All of this is especially true in Nevada. Because Nevada has a part-time legislature with small districts, legislators are much more likely to already know credit union directors as members of their local business communities. Relationships are often already established before legislators are elected, and are much more likely to be informal and personal.
Conviction, Dedication Makes Impression
ARVADA, Colo.-In the fall of 2004, the Wyoming and Colorado Credit Union Leagues each implemented a Legislative Liaison program to activate credit union staff and volunteers in the legislative process. This program encourages liaisons to strengthen and develop relationships with elected officials, as well as encourage their credit union staff, members and volunteers to do the same. Through these relationships, they are able to educate our lawmakers about the importance and uniqueness of credit unions to the 1.5 million credit union members in Colorado and 179,000 members in Wyoming, 1 in 3 citizens in each state. Liaisons reach out to federal and state legislators through attendance at various events and functions, such as fundraisers, Hike the Hill, the annual Legislative Forum and Reception, and the Governmental Affairs Conference.
The conviction and dedication of credit union volunteers to the movement is a key factor in influencing legislators. They are not paid to promote the interests of credit unions-they do it because they believe. The strengths of our volunteers can only benefit the credit union movement when everyone is working in unison and kept up-to-date. Keeping credit unions and their management, staff, volunteers and members informed of the latest legislative news is essential to our lobbying efforts.
Constituents Are Powerful, Effective Lobbyists
WALLINGFORD, Conn.-The Connecticut Credit Union Association believes that it is essential that credit unions be involved in the political process, along with their association or league, in developing strong relationships with elected officials in both Washington and in Connecticut.
The most powerful and effective message that can be sent to an elected official is a message from an informed and organized constituent. Legislators appreciate understanding directly from their constituents how issues will affect them both personally and professionally. These discussions play a very important role for each legislator in the formation of their position for or against an issue they must act on.
CCUA continually advocates that Connecticut credit union staff, volunteers and directors either become involved or enhance their involvement with our grass-roots lobbying efforts. There is no detriment to legislators knowing that their continents, in concurrence with their association or league, are watching, understanding and participating in the legislative process.
Delaware Calls On Volunteers for Lobbying
NEW CASTLE, Del.-The Delaware Credit Union League supports a statewide governmental affairs committee, which consists of 16 members-half of them are volunteers or credit union board members. These volunteers help provide information to our members in Congress regarding credit unions (all Delaware credit unions are federally chartered which lessens the need for state lobbying efforts). They also write letters and send e-mails that help convey credit union philosophy and point out issues affecting their credit unions. They participate in Hike the Hill visits, often acting as group leaders. These volunteers help to fashion and promote a plan for political action and CULAC fund-raising at their own credit unions and on a statewide level.
Since these volunteers usually are serving on their own credit union boards or committees, they often face constraints on the amount of time they can give to political action. This might be considered a weakness of volunteers as lobbyists, but it is easily overcome by their zeal to help champion the credit union difference.
Independent Voice Makes Difference In Fla.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-The Florida Credit Union League utilizes volunteers generally at each of our major lobbying efforts, i.e., GAC, Hike the Hill and our state's Legislative Summit. These individuals are extremely useful because they are unpaid volunteers who are not dependent on the credit union for their livelihood and are generally viewed very favorably by lawmakers.
There are two weaknesses that hover over all volunteers. First, since they are not employees of the credit union they generally are not familiar with the nuts-and-bolts operational issues. Second, their schedules, because they do have competing factors in their lives, sometimes from a scheduling standpoint makes it difficult to commit them to events on a regular basis.
The Florida league approaches both areas with information prepared to backup the volunteers' visits to Washington and Tallahassee. The league also maintains a large list of volunteers to call on just in case scheduling is difficult for others.
The league has found that each of these operational issues are easily overcome with consistent monitoring and research.
Unpaid Directors Are CUs' Greatest Strength
DULUTH, Ga.-In Georgia, we recognize that credit unions' volunteer boards of directors are their greatest strengths. They take an active interest in how their financial institution is run. Although they may not know or understand all of the issues, they do have the greatest commitment to the credit union movement.
It is important to put the issues affecting credit unions in front of all those who are involved with credit union operations, including staff and volunteers.
Keeping the lines of communication open helps us to keep the volunteers well-informed when they support us in our lobbying efforts. We do this through many of our publications, both online and printed. Educational opportunities are made available at our annual meetings to help them become stronger advocates for Georgia credit unions.
Volunteers are encouraged to participate in many of our lobbying activities at both the state and federal levels. We've been very fortunate that our volunteers are willing to help us when needed. We believe that they are the heart and soul of the credit union movement and help us to make the greatest impact. Credit union volunteers are the greatest spokespersons we could ever ask for when talking to legislators.
Volunteers Add Different Dimension To Efforts
HONOLULU-Volunteers and directors have been extremely effective as advocates for Hawaii's credit unions, especially when they are constituents of the elected officials being visited. Because they are unpaid constituents rather than "hired gun" lobbyists, these individuals add a totally different dimension of credibility in the eyes of elected officials. They also help to reinforce one of the primary differences in credit unions from other financial service providers-volunteer leadership.
However, because these individuals are generally not directly involved in the daily operations of their credit union, some may not have a high level of familiarity with certain technical issues being advocated. Therefore, Hawaii Credit Union League conducts periodic briefing sessions to help make volunteers more aware of the issues and positions they will be advocating.
The league also tries to have individuals who are conversant on the issues accompany the volunteers as a resource. Lastly, the league prepares a booklet of major issues and positions that volunteers can leave with staff of the elected official. The booklet serves as a good reference guide for the elected official to make informed legislative decisions and provides several points of contact if more information is needed on a particular issue.
Idaho Putting A Real Face On The Movement
BOISE, Idaho-Volunteer involvement is one of the most critical elements of our lobbying effort. When volunteers make the effort to attend credit union visits by legislators, legislative events, our state GAC, CUNA's GAC and Hike the Hill, it puts a "real face" on credit union issues. Volunteers speak about what the credit union means to them and how laws, rules and regulations impact them as consumers. Volunteers are generally passionate about their credit unions and sincere in their support of the credit union movement. One volunteer is often more valuable than two lobbyists when urging legislators to support credit union issues.
The biggest challenge is when the volunteer either doesn't understand the issue sufficiently to express their point of view or when they understand the issues but do not feel comfortable talking about them. We try to overcome these challenges by 1) educating volunteers about the issues while also seeking their input and 2) getting volunteers to meet with their legislators in a variety of settings so they feel more comfortable. We work to help volunteers see their legislators as regular people doing a job. We also seek ways to make the meetings less formal-so they can mix and mingle and not feel so intimidated.
Lawmaker Interview Program A Success
NAPERVILLE, Ill.-Volunteer credit union lobbyists play a critical role to augment the Illinois Credit Union League's legislative efforts at the state and national levels.
Volunteers provide a wealth of resources including effective grassroots driven by a genuine desire to benefit the credit union and community. As constituents who live or work in the district, they also provide background on local politics and help build an emergency legislative contact network.
ICUL utilizes volunteers to attend fundraisers, respond to legislative action calls and participate in ICUL's candidate/lawmaker interview program. This program is especially important to inform candidates and lawmakers that a substantial number of politically active credit union members exist in each legislative district. Interviews, usually arranged by ICUL, also provide an opportunity for volunteers to get better acquainted with lawmakers and determine their attitude toward credit unions.
Each year, ICUL coordinates lawmaker interviews in conjunction with CUNA's GAC, fall congressional Hike the Hill, ICUL's state GAC and Chapter Lobby Day program. Lawmaker visits and/or candidate interviews are also arranged by ICUL's local Chapter Legislative Forum Representative Network.
The chapter interviews are held in the local area and provide yet another opportunity to acquaint lawmakers with local credit unions and their members.
Volunteers Are The Heart Of CU Movement
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-Indiana maintains a network of key contacts, many of whom are credit union volunteers. These people are active in local politics and can be counted on to bring positive visibility to credit unions in a number of ways. They come to Washington (Hike the Hill); they call and write legislators and are peer leaders at their credit unions-frequently recruiting more volunteers-whenever the situation calls for it.
As we all know, volunteers are the heart of the credit union movement and personify credit unions' cooperative spirit.
We find that volunteers are the best at describing what their credit union means to them and in Indiana we have many who have been involved in credit unions and in politics for a long time.
The fact that they are so willing to get involved on a political level makes it very easy for us to demonstrate the difference between banks and credit unions.
Iowa Offers Directors Lobbying Scholarships
DES MOINES, Iowa-During our legislative battles with bankers, both at the statehouse and in Washington, D.C., Iowa credit union volunteers have aggressively engaged in grassroots politics. Directors have regularly attended the GAC and provide a perspective to federal policymakers which is helpful to our overall lobbying efforts. In addition, chapter functions, regular state lobbying visits, and special events such as legislative fundraisers always have broad director participation.
Recognizing the importance of director participation, Iowa credit unions have established a scholarship fund to pay for directors to attend certain legislative functions.
In order to ensure the best use of the volunteers' time, we utilize technology to educate directors on policy issues and keep them engaged in the legislative process. Directors are encouraged to sign up to receive regularly e-mailed legislative updates from the league.
We also ask them to provide grassroots support by sending e-mails to policymakers utilizing programs such as "Cap Wiz." To make it as easy as possible, the league prepares the text of the message that will be sent to lawmakers-and the directors can add their own message at the end, if they choose.
We are always mindful of the fact that our volunteers only have so much time to give to credit union issues.
We try to use their time and energy on issues that they can impact, use their resources sparingly but effectively, and make sure they understand the results of their work and how much it is appreciated by the movement.
Volunteers Carry Weight With Lawmakers
WITCHITA, Kan.-Our legislators have told us that contacts from the volunteers carry a lot of weight. All of our credit unions have been asked to provide us with key legislative contacts from both staff and volunteers. Volunteers often have valuable legislative contacts that provide us with a strong relationship with legislators.
These personal relationships give us extra clout to ask legislators for their support. Just as an example, one of our credit union volunteers served in the Kansas National Guard with one of our legislators.
When legislative alerts are communicated to our credit unions, volunteers as well as staff are asked to contact their legislators. Volunteers are also invited to our legislative functions such as our annual Day at the Capitol to visit with their legislators.
One of our challenges is to make sure volunteers understand specific issues. They may not have as deep of a knowledge base or understanding of a specific issue since they are not involved in day-to-day credit union operations.
Policymakers Must Be Part Of The Process
LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Kentucky's volunteers are very active, especially at the Federal level. The strengths are that they are the policy makers and can tell their credit union's story in a very effective way.
They are the ones who put hours upon hours of personal time in making their credit union strong and don't get compensated for it (one of the biggest differences in credit unions and banks).
They are the epitome of people helping people. How can a credit union be politically active and support the necessary issues if the folks at the top don't understand and participate.
As far as a weakness-it is sometimes hard for them to separate their "personal" views regarding candidates and who the PAC may or may not support.
Volunteers Are The Backbone In Louisiana
HARAHAN, La.-The Louisiana Credit Union League utilizes volunteers in our lobbying efforts both in Baton Rouge and Washington, DC.
Our volunteers are the backbone of our movement and are one of the reasons that we've been so successful in connecting with our elected officials. However, because volunteers may not understand the broad impact of current issues that are before their elected officials, the league constantly works to educate our volunteers on these issues.
The league provides educational opportunities annually on lobbying and current issues at our state governmental affairs conference, keeps volunteers informed about issues on a regular basis through our publications, and produces specially designed publications for the state and national GAC to assist volunteers in effectively lobbying their representatives on current issues and the impact that they will have on the movement as a whole.
Legislative Job Shadow Fosters Relationships
WESTBROOK, Maine-In Maine, credit union volunteers are an integral part of our political involvement because they offer an important perspective to legislators. Credit union volunteers often communicate directly with their representatives and senators about issues important to them and their credit unions.
A key strength in using volunteers in this way is that it fosters and builds local relationships between legislators and credit unions. To encourage involvement in the political process, we have a Job Shadow a Legislator Program. Through this program, credit union volunteers are paired with their legislators and spend a day at the State House "job shadowing."
This program has not only proven beneficial for volunteers but it is also an educational opportunity for the legislators-they learn first hand about credit unions, their role in their communities and the credit union difference.
One of the challenges we face is helping volunteers to understand that legislation introduced at the state and federal level that does not affect their credit union could at some point later in time. We work to overcome this challenge by educating our credit union volunteers on the issues that impact the entire movement.
Through education, our volunteers gain a better understanding of the issues, and in return, they are able to do a more effective job communicating with legislators on the state and national level.
CU Difference Is Demonstrated By Volunteers
COLUMBIA, Md.-Volunteers are the most tangible difference between banks and credit unions. Volunteers give their time, their expertise and remind legislators that the volunteer spirit is alive and well in financial cooperatives. In real estate, it's location, location, location that counts.
With legislative visits, its preparation, preparation, preparation that counts. Any credit union official-staff, board, CEO-must be prepared to address some very specific issues in short periods of time in a legislator's office. Maryland is so close to Capitol Hill that we don't fly in for visits, we drive in through Washington traffic.
We have to keep our focus while watching the clock-both to get our points across and to make sure our credit union folks make it back home in time to beat the rush hour and pick up kids at school.
Our volunteers are always ready to stand up for their credit unions, and do a great job of being vocal about their belief in the credit union system. After all, they contribute their time and efforts to the cause. Speaking from the heart about what's good about credit unions comes naturally to many of them. Legislators hear that and respect it.
Massachusetts Shares Its Secret Weapon
SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass.-Volunteers are the secret weapon of credit union lobbying. They have the relationships that reach back to the neighborhoods that the lawmakers call home.
When the volunteer's mom was the school nurse in the Congressman's elementary school or when the volunteer's sister worked on the Senator's first race for city councilor there is a very special connection.
The credit union volunteer has instant credibility. That credibility is borne not only of the length of the relationship but also of the depth of the shared experience. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Massachusetts Congressman Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil said it best when he said, "all politics is local."
Personal Relationships Are Key To Success
PLYMOUTH, Mich.-Michigan has 410 credit unions and over 4.4 million credit union members statewide. Therefore, it no surprise that the support of credit union volunteers and directors has been vital to getting the credit union message across to our elected officials in Lansing and Washington D.C. In Michigan, we have been fortunate that a majority of credit union volunteers are active in our lobbying efforts. For instance, 84% of large asset size credit unions in Michigan participate in political action.
We utilize their operations knowledge to emphasize the direct impact legislation could have on credit unions. We also take advantage of personal relationships volunteers have developed with lawmakers and staff. Lawmakers care about the people who put them in office and a local, personal relationship that a volunteer or director has with a lawmaker can be far more effective in securing issue support than our efforts as professional credit union lobbyists.
One potential problem with using volunteers and directors in lobbying efforts is that because they have full-time roles to play outside being credit union advocates, they are not as well-versed in the legislative process and expect immediate change.
They can fail to consider that lawmakers must balance all sides of an issue and that change can be a long process. Secondly, because volunteers have outside roles they tend to get side tracked and discuss non-credit union specific items during lawmaker meetings. That is why as government affairs professionals we work hard to educate our volunteers on the legislative process, to have realistic expectations and to stay on the credit union message during key lawmaker meetings.
Unpaid Directors Differentiates Movement
BLOOMINGTON, Minn.-Lobbying done on behalf of credit union volunteers and directors is a critical component of credit unions' legislative advocacy. Most importantly, it distinguishes us from other for-profit financial institutions and gives the message that we try to convey a personal touch. The biggest challenge is to make sure our volunteer lobbyists are well-informed on a variety of subjects, and to communicate a uniform message to our legislators on both the state and federal level. This is accomplished through issue briefings and talking points distributed at all major events.
We hold an annual Credit Union Day at the Capitol early in the legislative session to bring credit union professionals and volunteers to St. Paul to acquaint themselves with our state-level elected officials and our key issues for the upcoming year.
On the national level, Minnesota traditionally brings more than 100 representatives to the Governmental Affairs Conference in February and holds two Hike the Hill events, in the summer and in the fall.
Lawmakers See Difference For Themselves
JACKSON, Miss.-Many volunteers are some of the best "lobbyists." They are excellent examples of one of the most unique qualities of credit unions.
They can effectively explain credit unions' "not-for-profit" decision-making process and are also knowledgeable of specific instances where their own credit union went well above and beyond expectations to serve members' needs. Volunteers are very passionate about credit unions, and while this could be considered a weakness, the benefits of their lobbying message are simply too great to even address the issue in most cases.
First-Hand Experience A Valuable Lobbying Tool
ST. LOUIS-Missouri credit union volunteers take part in lobbying efforts on both the state and national level. During the Missouri Credit Union Association Annual Meeting, volunteers meet with lawmakers during a legislative dinner and one-on-one meetings. MCUA and credit unions hold in-district meetings for both state and U.S. lawmakers. And you will always find at least one volunteer-and usually more -among our group during our Hike the Hills to Washington, D.C.
Volunteers and directors are a key part of our lobbying success. They exemplify the credit union difference-people volunteering their time to help others achieve financial success. They know firsthand what their credit union has done to improve the lives of fellow members and can share that message with lawmakers.
Volunteers may not be as familiar with specific bills and some can be hesitant to approach lawmakers, although that reticence is usually short-lived. By debriefing volunteers beforehand and giving them some dos and don'ts as well as information they can refer to during meetings, MCUA helps volunteers go into legislative meetings with confidence. Volunteers can focus on sharing their knowledge and passion for the credit union movement, which demonstrates the credit union difference to our elected officials.
Volunteers Lend Credibility To Lobbying
HELENA, Mont.-The Missouri Credit Union League uses volunteers in our lobbying efforts. Volunteers continue to be one of the unique identifiers of the credit union movement, so we encourage their involvement to underscore the difference between not-for-profit credit unions and their for-profit competitors. The only concern about using volunteers to lobby is that they may not be as up-to-date on the issues since they don't "live and breathe the credit union day-to-day" (this is a concern that many of them have expressed)...this is easily remedied by providing talking points, other educational materials, and opportunities for discussion on the issues prior to initiating the lobbying contact.
Volunteers often have relationships with lawmakers and policymakers outside of their "credit union role" that can prove to be very useful. Additionally, volunteers have credibility since they're not "paid talking heads" like a lobbyist or a credit union professional with a vested financial interest.
Nebraska Infuses Emotion Into Political Efforts
OMAHA, Neb.-We ask volunteers and directors to get involved in the campaigns of those candidates who support credit unions and the credit union movement. We ask volunteers and directors to make a financial contribution to the NCULPAC or directly to a candidate's campaign so that credit union leaders will have access to the candidate after they are elected.
We set up events such as breakfasts, luncheons, and receptions throughout the year with our state and federal elected officials and their staffs, which provides our volunteers and directors the opportunity to speak with the officials about the legislative agenda of credit unions.
The strengths of utilizing volunteers as lobbyists are that they bring strong emotion to the issues important to credit unions, they give credit unions a face with legislators by helping their campaign efforts, they assist in educating legislators on the mission and issues of credit unions, they show legislators that there are activists ready to hold them accountable, and they identify new issues that are affecting their local credit unions.
The weaknesses of utilizing volunteers as lobbyists are that they are less accountable and that they may not thoroughly understand the details of an issue that they are discussing with the legislator. We have worked to make sure that our volunteers have a specific task that they are responsible for and this gives them ownership of the results. We have worked to make sure that the events we hold are well organized and that those who specialize in a specific issue take the lead in meeting discussions on those particular issues.
Citizen Legislature Appreciates Personal Touch
CONCORD, N.H.-New Hampshire is a state which has one of the largest citizen legislatures in the world. People in New Hampshire grow up knowing their elected representatives. Politicians in New Hampshire expect to hear from people they know and the people who know them expect their representatives to listen to them. Fortunately credit union volunteers are among the most active and engaged participants in this process.
It's no surprise that when the national networks come to New Hampshire every four years for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary they haunt diners, and volunteer fire department potluck suppers. These are the venues that the people of New Hampshire have traditionally used to communicate with their citizen legislature. Credit union volunteers are right there with the rest of the people of New Hampshire sharing a laugh with their legislators, addressing their concerns and participating in the process on the grassroots level.
CU People Pay Attention To Issues-And Vote
HIGHTSTOWN, N.J.-The New Jersey Credit Union League encourages volunteers to join in our lobbying efforts in many ways, but most importantly at several Hike the Hill events-including the Governmental Affairs Conference at the end of February. It's a wonderful way to let legislators know that credit union people pay attention to the issues and vote.
Because our staff is so small-only one person in governmental affairs, who is currently also managing our regulatory affairs and is acting as our general counsel-using volunteers helps us reinforce New Jersey's commitment to credit union-friendly legislation and legislators who support it.
Lobbying Lawmakers Includes 'Sweet' Talk
ALBUQUERQUE-The New Mexico Credit Union Association receives a good amount of assistance from credit union volunteers and credit union employees when it comes to lobbying at a state and national level. Our volunteer lobbyists (volunteers and cu employees) visit legislators, write letters, present PAC funds, go to political and non-political functions and help with political projects like weekly candy deliveries to New Mexico's legislators while they are in session.
While volunteer lobbyists don't always know all of the issues, they are always willing to learn.
Our volunteer lobbyists cannot always commit the time it takes to build relationships with legislators, but that is what the association is here for. We can use all the help we can get and we try to make it easy on the credit union volunteers and staff who choose to help us out. We provide written materials detailing specific issues. We provide talking points at all lobbying activities.
And we make sure all functions to fit their schedule. Our volunteers are an instrumental part of our success when it comes to reaching out to legislators.
Volunteers Bring Passion To Lobbying Efforts
LATHAM, N.Y.-Volunteers and directors are a crucial component of NYSCUL's lobbying efforts at both the state and national levels. They participate in nearly every aspect of the league's key political initiatives, including advocacy days, "Hike the Hills," and GACs.
We feel the strength of New York's volunteers and directors is their passion-passion for their credit union, passion for their communities, passion for the credit union movement.
Members of the group are mainly leaders in their communities. They are in touch with their credit union's operations and philosophy and frequently serve as key contacts to their local legislators. The league is fortunate to have a group of individuals uniquely positioned to help carry the credit union message, as well as our legislative agenda, across the state. The volunteers and directors involved with the league's advocacy outreach know that the more involved they are, the greater the chance of getting credit union friendly legislation passed.
To keep our credit union leaders, staff and volunteers apprised of the latest state and federal legislative developments and grassroots advocacy opportunities, the league recently created a Political Action Network. Members are kept up-to-date on legislative news and advocacy issues on a regular basis via e-mail.
Directors Help Educate Lawmakers On CUs
GREENSBORO, N.C.-In North Carolina year after year we have strong participation in the political process from credit union directors. In 2005 over 50 directors from North Carolina will attend CUNA's GAC (about 50% of total attendance from North Carolina), over 25 will visit the our state capital to meet with members of the North Carolina General Assembly, and several others will be back in DC during May and September for Hike the Hill trips.
The most basic element of lobbying is telling your story. Central to credit union story telling is educating legislators on how credit unions are different from banks. Because of the positions they hold, directors are able to talk about uniquely credit union tenants, like member ownership, volunteerism, and governance, in a very real and personal way.
Volunteers Make The Best CU Storytellers
DUBLIN, Ohio-Credit unions have a great story to tell, and no one can tell it better than credit union activists who live it every day. The Ohio Credit Union League identifies credit union volunteers who have developed personal relationships with state and federal legislators and we invite them to join us for meetings with elected officials.
The strength of using volunteers in this way is that the legislator may be more likely to have an open mind about credit union issues when the message is conveyed by someone the lawmaker not only knows on a personal level, but who is also a constituent. Since volunteers are not registered as lobbyists, technically they don't lobby. But oftentimes, a credit union volunteer from a legislator's district can capture the attention of the lawmaker better than anyone else, and hold it by providing examples of how the credit union serves its members and the community.
Since the level of involvement of volunteers varies from issue to issue, it is important to remember that they should be prompted to defer to league staff any questions the volunteer is not comfortable answering. Staff can respond to the technicalities, while the volunteer relates stories of how credit unions change people lives every day.
Showing Off The Heart And Soul Of Movement
TULSA, Okla.-In Oklahoma, our volunteers are an invaluable part of our legislative efforts. We view them as the heart and soul of our not-for-profit structure, and often rely on them to help tell our story. Recently, we organized a Volunteer Council, which has within its charge to assist in our industry's grassroots and lobbying efforts. The Council is open to any credit union volunteer in the state. In addition, the bylaws of our political action committee call for 3 of its 9 trustees to be volunteers. Volunteers within these two structures are very active within our league and remain abreast of our legislative needs. Many of Oklahoma's credit union volunteers are retirees, which affords them more time to attend fundraisers, visit the capitol and assist with campaigns and other grassroots projects. We find that many of them are also very active in their communities and have already developed good relationships with their individual legislators. These relationships are obviously very important to our lobbying efforts. The volunteer's value in the political process far outweighs any weakness that there might be.
CU Advocate Program Is Vital In Oregon
BEAVERTON, Ore.-Volunteers have been a major part of our lobbying efforts in Oregon since we started the Credit Union Advocate program over 10 years ago. We realized that the message of "the credit union difference' was far more powerful from a volunteer director that from a professional staff person. Volunteers are what make our credit unions unique and someone who spends their own time to further the cause of the Credit Union Movement can discuss the mission and structure of a credit union in a special way.
We are able to utilize volunteers during our Credit Union Day at the Capitol during the state legislative session and during our trips to Washington, D.C. during Hike the Hill and CUNA's Governmental Affairs Committee. We often ask volunteers to have special speaking roles during our meetings with elected officials to specifically discuss the role of a volunteer board director.
We try to educate and train our volunteers on the many issues that face credit unions, however, sometimes they can get off message or be wearing another "hat" when speaking to an elected official. With solid communication, strong messages, and good lobbying material, our volunteers understand their role during the limited time we have in front of a Member of Congress or a state Legislator.
One special volunteer from Portland Teachers Credit Union, Senator Rick Metsger, worked with us during the 1997 Legislative Session to pass a state Field of Membership bill. He volunteers his time to meet with elected officials and to lobby our bill. The next year he ran for the Oregon Senate and won! This year, he is the Chair of the Senate Business Committee where most of the credit union legislation is referred. Talk about volunteers getting involved!
The support and dedication of our volunteers in the area of state and federal advocacy has made a dramatic impact on our programs. We could not be as successful as we are in Oregon without our very special volunteers!
Speaking Neighbor To Neighbor A Strength
HARRISBURG, Penn.-Volunteers and credit union directors are an important part of credit union lobbying efforts in Pennsylvania. They often work with staff at the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, as well as our Governmental Affairs Committee and PAC Trustees, to directly lobby federal and state legislators. These individuals are identified by our Key Contacts Program or Governmental Affairs Committee and are sometimes close friends or neighbors of important legislators. They may even hold political offices themselves. We incorporate these volunteers and directors in office visits and fundraisers and they are often the people who are best known on the local level. We encourage their attendance at the CUNA GAC and at our State Governmental Affairs Conference, where they are an important ingredient in the lobbying effort.
Volunteers and directors are often very involved in the chapter level as well. The may serve as a Legislative Action Liaison at the chapter level and work with chapter attendees to encourage involvement, write letters and make contacts with elected officials. The strengths of volunteers/directors as lobbyists is that they are often wired into the local scene and know the issues and people best. The down side is that it requires a lot of communication and coordination at the league level to ensure that their skills are utilized appropriately.
R.I.: Where Everyone Knows Everyone Else
WARWICK, R.I.-Rhode Island is the nation's smallest state and sometimes it seems like everyone in it knows everyone else. Formal channels are very valuable but the ability to create a bond through shared experience or shared acquaintances is a special advantage.
Credit union volunteers are by their nature generally outgoing and involved. Often they have grass-roots and municipal-level political experience. This type of contact with rising young political figures translates into personal relationships with the people who achieve high political office.
In addition to being a potent and effective lobbying force credit unions are a diverse and statewide group that bring many different life experiences to the task of legislative representation. The also can bring the message home to every corner or the state.
Directors Help Lawmakers Identify With CUs
IRMO, S.C.-Some South Carolina credit union volunteers are longtime, consistent participants in our State House visits, CUNA's GAC and Hike the Hill, and at legislative receptions held statewide. Credit union directors help elected officials identify with credit union positions because of the volunteers' immersion in credit union principles, local friendships, and community status. Quite often, the experiences that led these individuals to take part in credit union leadership are invaluable testament to our core principle that "people are worth more than money."
Volunteers' only potential lobbying weaknesses lie in their level of preparation and vocal participation. At times, they may not fully understand an issue's details or may choose to be a silent presence. While we recognize that any action is better than inaction, we also take every opportunity to prepare volunteers through briefings, conference updates, and league communications so they feel empowered.
Legislators Like Hearing From Volunteers
SIOUX FALLS, S.D.-We are fortunate to have a good number of volunteers and directors that take time out of their busy schedules to attend our visits with legislators at the State Capitol and also at GAC each year.
We keep our volunteers and directors informed on the issues that are of concern to credit unions both at the state and national level. They do an excellent job of representing the credit unions in South Dakota and talking to legislators about the issues.
The strengths of our volunteer representation at these visits and other times throughout the year is that they do a great job of educating legislators about credit unions and their purpose.
Without the assistance of our dedicated volunteers, we would have a difficult time of getting out the credit union message to these folks. Legislators appreciate hearing from our volunteers, as they come from all areas of our state. We know it is important that someone other than just league staff contacts them. Our volunteers are the true grass roots of the movement.
Volunteers Are Key In The Volunteer State
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.-Credit union volunteers are particularly important to our credit union lobbying effort in the Volunteer State. In the past year alone, we have had credit union board members take part in events we hosted for the Tennessee Delegations to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, go with us to meet Members of Congress in their district offices, meet with state legislators we have brought into credit unions in their districts and, of course, these volunteers make up a huge part of our 100-person credit union group meeting with Tennessee Delegation Members of the House and Senate during the GAC in Washington.
The strengths: their passionate interest and concern for our issues, their role in assuring a positive future for their own credit unions and their true representation of the member-owners who elect them.
The only weakness (really a problem) we have ever had to deal with is the individual who wants to pursue some non-credit union issue with a legislator when our appointment is specifically set up to discuss credit union concerns. We ask all credit union leaders to arrange separate meetings for non-credit union issues.
Unpaid Directors Highlight CU Difference
FARMERS BRANCH, Texas-The Texas Credit Union League believes credit union volunteers and directors play an extremely valuable role in our efforts to shape public policy. Credit union volunteers are deeply rooted in their communities, and bring a critical real-life perspective when communicating with lawmakers.
In addition, because credit union boards of directors are comprised of unpaid volunteers, we are able to highlight yet another significant credit union difference simply by utilizing them in our communications with elected officials.
In Texas, we have established an effective key contact program, in which dozens of credit union volunteers who have a relationship with their lawmakers serve as a primary source of contact for those officials.
Additionally, each year Texas volunteers serve as credit union advocates during the Texas and CUNA Governmental Affairs Conferences. They meet with their representatives in Congress and at the state legislature to discuss credit union issues.
TCUL is committed to using volunteers in PAC-related activities. We strive to use credit union volunteers, often along with their credit unions' CEO, as the face of the credit union movement.
Credit union volunteers truly are an integral part of our advocacy efforts.
Utah Calls Upon All CU Members In State
SALT LAKE CITY-We do not specifically call on volunteers for our lobbying efforts. We call upon all members to lobby their individual representatives.
Vermont Offers Glimpse Of CU Foundation
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt.-Volunteers are one of the foundations on which credit unions are based. As such, we find it very important to not only stress the volunteer aspect with legislators, but to have them actually hear from real-life volunteers who donate their time and knowledge for the betterment of all members. Most legislators are very impressed with the volunteer aspect of credit unions. We have used credit union volunteers to offer testimony and to contact their representative legislators directly. As expected, most volunteers don't have the same detailed technical knowledge of paid executives and staff, so we use them in our efforts to provide overall education about credit unions to legislators, as opposed to commentary on specific technical issues.
Virginia & DC
Credibility Is King In CU Lobbying Efforts
LYNCHBURG, Va.-Volunteers and directors are absolutely essential to the success of our lobbying efforts at the state and national levels. Elected officials are much more inclined to consider our message when constituent volunteers are there helping us deliver the message. Volunteers work campaigns, attend fundraisers, host their legislators at credit union events, and share with their legislators how their credit unions have helped them and their communities.
We feel that the greatest strength is the credibility that volunteers add to our cause, because they are sincere and passionate about the issues. They are constituents speaking out about issues that affect them personally. Therefore, they are more credible than league staff or paid lobbyists doing what they are paid to do.
We see strengths rather than weaknesses. Effective lobbying with either volunteers or paid lobbyists is about good communication. Everyone needs to be well informed about our positions and goals on issues before we go to our elected officials. We accomplish this through committees, pre-lobbying trip briefings, our governmental affairs list serve, our Website, our e-newsletter, and our publications.
Diversity Of Perspectives Engages Lawmakers
PARKERSBURG, W.V.-Over the years, we have been fortunate in West Virginia to have had a group of volunteers willing to travel to Washington to speak about credit union issues with our lawmakers. While their backgrounds are diverse, the volunteers have shown a genuine interest in keeping up with the issues affecting credit unions. They have spoken from their own personal experience, and with one effective voice.
Any weakness we see would be the fact that in a situation where short notice is given to travel to Washington on a particular issue, volunteers often have other commitments (understandably so) like their jobs and families and need more advanced notice to travel. It is necessary for us as a league to be sensitive to this, while broadening our base of active volunteer lobbyists to ensure that we can respond when the need arises in the future.
Volunteers Put A 'Real Face' On Movement
PEWAUKEE, Wis.-The Wisconsin League sees credit union people as a great strength in our lobbying efforts. Their strength lies in the "real face" they put on the movement-powerfully illustrating how different from banks credit union's structure and philosophies are. Lawmakers prefer hearing from constituents in their own districts because local people are in a position to vote in future elections.
Plus, they are closer to other issues affecting the district that lawmakers need to consider. We urge volunteers to attend local political fund-raisers and events held by lawmakers, to work campaigns, or simply form and develop an ongoing relationship with lawmakers. A weakness we work to improve is educating volunteers to achieve a comfort level in communicating with lawmakers, as well as volunteers' willingness to financially support candidates.
We do this by communicating often with our grassroots leaders through a bi-weekly publication called Capitol Eyes (emailed to all credit union people who wish to support our political efforts) and by involving them in our State Government Affairs Conference in Madison and our CU House/Hike the Hill event in Washington, D.C.-both of which also involve visits with lawmaker or their staff. Our newsletter alerts credit union volunteers about opportunities to give to candidates and highlights avenues for political involvement.
Assembled, edited by Lisa Freeman