When Everybody Knows Your Name, Lobbying On Behalf Of CUs Is Much Easier

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If anybody has earned the right to drop names, it's Bill Dawson.

One of the founding members of Henrico County Federal Credit Union and its current board chairman, he is on a first-name basis with practically every key political leader with ties to Virginia and D.C.-a status he has worked hard to get.

"All of our delegates know me by first name," he said. "And, if I should call one of them 'Delegate' or 'Senator,' they say, 'Call me Brad or Steve."'

Not surprising, then, that Dawson, 74, is also one of the Virginia and D.C. Credit Union Leagues key volunteer lobbyists, a job that he says is never a challenge.

True, the "new legislators have to be educated," he said, but most are already on board with key credit union issues. "Of the 15 or 18 delegates and senators that I know have told me there's a need for credit unions and they do not want any taxations" Dawson said. "I think most of them belong to credit unions themselves."

That said, there are some who say that credit unions aren't doing what they were originally organized to do, Dawson said.

His response, "If you are going along the railroad tracks and you stop, eventually you are going to get run over. (This helps them) understand why we have to get community charters and why we have to expand."

Dawson's own credit union, HFCU, started when about 250 employees each pitched in $5, he said. "At the beginning, we had a retired Army major come in and work about two hours a week," he said. Many years later, HFCU has $68-million in assets, 15,000 members and several branch locations.

"All those years, I just stayed involved," he said. "I was elected to the board and served as president and chairman."

What Dawson doesn't highlight is the extreme effort and commitment he makes to keep the relationship between the credit union industry and the powers that can control it on good terms.

"Bill helps with campaigns and fundraisers," said Brian Duvall, Director of Public Relations & Communications at the Virginia and D.C. Credit Union Leagues. "He has volunteered countless hours helping candidates raise money, do mailings...put out campaign signage, attend events, make introductions and much more."

Duvall said Dawson's volunteerism at both the state and federal levels have earned him several key league awards.

Dawson said that league officials a few years ago asked him to give them some idea of how many hours he devoted to volunteerism. "I kept track for about three or four months, and all I can say is that it was a whole lot," he said. "Some days, I work six to eight hours straight."

Dawson, who served in many key board positions at HCCU since its humble beginnings 41 years ago, said it's all part of the process.

"You've got to get out and work for your political leaders-whatever they may want you to do," he said. "For example, for the last several months, I have been getting signatures of registered voters for a (potential candidate) for governor."

Admittedly, the work is time-consuming- "Sometimes, I'm out there all day long" -but worth the effort. Not only because he likes being active, Dawson said, but because he knows there are rewards for the credit union industry.

His influence has been key in getting many of them as guest speakers during the Leagues' annual Legislative Breakfasts.

Since retiring from his longtime position with Henrico County and his 36-year position as a reservist with the Coast Guard, Dawson has worked on behalf of many political candidates, "putting up yard signs and spreading literature in subdivisions."

After working on his first successful campaign for a congressman, Dawson said, word quickly spread about his enthusiasm.

Soon, he was being asked to join several campaign quests for political seats. It doesn't hurt, he said, that he drives an antique pick-up, which attracted a lot of attention when it had political signs attached to it.

The key to making volunteerism work for you, he said, is to get noticed by political leaders.

"Once they see you and know that they can depend on you, that really has a lot of influence on them," he said. "So when they ask if there is anything they can do for you or whether there are any issues that you have, you have their attention."

While Dawson said he doesn't spend much time knocking on politicians' doors, he has done some lobbying for specific issues.

"Last year, we had a rally at the capital, so I made appointment with all the legislators and senators," he said. "I've done the same thing in Washington."

Dawson said, for the most part, he feels welcome, but has experienced times when "we've gone in and the bankers are waiting right behind us or vice versa."

Often, he'll just drop by to say hello or provide information about a pending issue, he said, adding that he also attends political town hall meetings, breakfasts and fundraising events.

In addition, Dawson said, he puts time aside on Thursdays and Fridays to volunteer at his local Baptist retirement home.

"They have a store for the residents that I like to help out in," he said. "Sometimes, these people just need someone to talk to. I like doing it."

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