Volunteers Want More Representation On Trade Boards

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An issue that's been simmering for years is finally coming to a boil following NAFCU's annual business meeting, where CU directors criticized the lack of volunteers in leadership positions in the movement's trade associations.

Just as uutgoing NAFCU Chairman Diane Furnas was about to adjourn another uneventful business meeting at the trade group's 38th Annual Meeting, a voting delegate rose to the microphone.

"Credit union volunteers are partners in this movement. We, along with our member/owners who vote us into office, are what sets us apart," said Marlene Schwartz, chairman of State Department FCU. "There is a growing concern that volunteers are not proportionally represented at the national level, particularly within decision-making bodies."

Schwartz and one other volunteer, Bob Scott of Pentagon FCU, had run for seats on the NAFCU board but lost to two CU executives.

"While NAFCU does slightly better than CUNA with volunteer representation, an increasing number of volunteers believe that neither organization has worked at creating an inclusive environment," Schwartz continued. "The NAFCU board has both the opportunity and responsibility to address this concern before it becomes a problem. We need to start a dialogue on this subject soonest."

NAFCU's new chair, Mike Vadala (CEO of Summit FCU) immediately reached out to Schwartz, she reported setting up a time for the two of them to discuss how volunteer participation in NAFCU can be facilitated.

"This has been in my heart for a long time, but the time wasn't right before now," Schwartz said after the business meeting adjourned. "If we want to keep those things that set credit unions apart, then we need to step forward. It's going to take a partnership between the trade associations and the volunteers."

Two other volunteers, Scott and Phillip Carlin of Treasury Department FCU, stepped up to add their voices Schwartz's. Another volunteer present had something to say as well.

"If volunteers want to participate in the leadership of the movement at the national level, they have to develop the qualities and skills to be recognized," said Dave Gilbert, chairman of Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU and the sole volunteer on NAFCU's board. "This is not to be given on a golden platter."

NAFCU CEO Fred Becker agreed that the lack of volunteer participation is a growing concern, but noted that the fact that it isn't easy to get on the board is a good thing, because it means getting the best talent. "We have looked at this issue, and we continue to look at i," Becker offered. "I'm very concerned about it. We had two volunteers on the board, and one is already gone and Dave [Giblert] will be leaving in two years."

Schwartz emphasized that she doesn't believe there's been an intentional effort to exclude volunteers from the board, but suggested NAFCU needs to work harder to reach out to directors.

Visibility Is An Issue

Part of the problem is that volunteers lack the visibility of CEOs. For example, it's more common that CEOs attend multiple conferences throughout the year, giving them more of a chance to get to know one another, while volunteers more typically go to just one or two meetings. When it comes time to vote, the candidate who has had more opportunities to meet others in the movement across the country has a decided advantage.

Another issue is who is doing the voting for the credit union, suggested Carlin. "Oftentimes the ballots go to the CEOs," he explained. "The only reason I get the ballot at our credit union is because I asked for it. Apparently, only one board chair asked for the ballot, and that was me. The ballots should be sent to the board chair and then [copied] to the CEO."

The problem with that suggestion, Gilbert noted, is that the ballots are sent to the credit union office, and while the CEO is in that office every day, the chairman is only there once or twice a month. "It's largely the responsibility of the board of the credit union to tell the CEO, 'hey, we're going to vote on this,'" Gilbert suggested. "Many boards defer to the CEO because the CEO is the only one who actually knows the candidates."

But NAFCU isn't the only trade association with few volunteers on its board, in fact, Schwartz said NAFCU is one of the better groups, since it does at least have one volunteer on its board.

"CUNA's next," she asserted. "[CUNA CEO] Dan Mica raises volunteer bashing to an artform," adding that when volunteers have tried to bring this issue to CUNA's attention, the trade group has shown little or no interest in addressing it.

Though CUNA currently has no volunteers serving on its board, it's not because the trade group doesn't want them, according to CUNA's Mark Wolff. "We do welcome volunteers on the board," he said. "We had one, Darrell Pierce of Collins Community Credit Union in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2003, but we haven't had one since. We have an incumbent who is being challenged by a volunteer in this upcoming election."

It's not that volunteers are banned from running these boards, it's that so few do.

"One of the issues is the time constraint," Wolff noted. "Most directors have a full-time job in addition to their volunteer responsibilities, and the time required may be too much for them to get involved at the state and national level."

As for "volunteer bashing" on the part of Dan Mica or CUNA, Wolf said that simply isn't true. "Dan Mica consistently extols the importance of volunteers in the movement," he said. "Our ability to point to the involvement of volunteer boards of directors-people who get involved not for pay but for the love of their credit union-has been critical in helping to differentiate ourselves on Capitol Hill."

But CUNA cannot be trying to promote one group over another in its elections, he added.

"This is a democratic process," Wolf offered. "We do offer education programs that are tailored to directors, and I think that happens at the league level, as well, but we can't offer programs that would try to promote one group over another."

'Voting Members' Defined

Credit Union Executive Society only allows "voting members" to run for its board, and voting members are limited to CEOs, vice presidents and senior management of credit unions and CUSOs, according to Barbara Kachelski, SVP of CUES, who noted the trade association was formed primarily to address the professional development needs of CU executives-as the group's name implies.

Still, there are special divisions for suppliers and directors, and there is a way to amend the bylaws to change who gets to be a voting member. "In fact, they were just recently amended," she noted. "We used to have a requirement that a voting member be a full-time employee, but with more credit unions offering flex time, that requirement was eliminated."

But the problem isn't just at the national level. At least one state league has been approached about increasing the level of participation by volunteers.

In a white paper and petition obtained by The Credit Union Journal, OBee Credit Union has asked the Washington Credit Union League to try to "draw elected credit union officials back into WCUL affairs."

In order to make this happen, the petition suggests WCUL take the following actions:

* "Rediscovering its [CU] officials-listing their names in WCUL records and accumulating contact information."

* "Creating outreach program for officials [that] encourage them to participate in league elections, governance, committees and legislative programs."

* "provide resources necessary for elected officials to participate in league affairs," including networking and communications, education and financial support.

* "Assure equal treatment for all member/stakeholders (credit union directors, supervisory committee members and senior staff)."

In the white paper, OBee suggests that over time volunteers essentially have disappeared from the operations of the league and that this needs to change. "The disappearance of [volunteers] is so profound that WCUL now largely ignores them," OBee states in its white paper.

A Growing Desire

While the league suggested there are a number of inaccuracies in the white paper, Byron Edgett, chairman of WCUL, wanted to emphasize that the document "represents a lot of effort [and] is thoughtful." And it also represents a growing desire among volunteers to get more involved in the league, and that is a positive for the movement.

"We are seeing a renaissance of interest by volunteers," said Washington Credit union League CEO John Annaloro. "It appears that there is returning interest by volunteers to serve on league boards, as well as the boards of NAFCU, CUES and CUNA. This is good for the movement."

The league said it is pleased with this growing interest on the part of volunteers.

"We have a great democratic process that is completely open to volunteers," Edgett commented. "We haven't had any volunteers run for the league board in many years. We welcome and encourage their participation on the board and with the league."

Whether it is due to a lack of interest among board members, as some CU observers have suggested, or because CEOs and the trade associations prefer it this way, as the white paper suggests is the case at WCUL, it is becoming a vital issue for the entire movement to address.

"Credit unions always make a big point of their volunteers. Our volunteer boards are a major distinction between us and the banks," said one credit union activist. "If we aren't ensuring our volunteers continue to act and lead in a significant way, we open ourselves up to a whole new set of vulnerabilities." (c) 2005 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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