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Financial strain is transforming CU Leagues' grassroots activism.

From Maine to Texas, the financial crisis and the corporate shocks buffeting credit unions have given rise to innovative approaches to political advocacy and grassroots activism that could serve as models.

The Texas Credit Union League last month formalized the appointment of legislative coordinators for each of the 520 CUs in the state to help increase the number, speed and quality of contacts with both state and federal lawmakers on key CU issues.

"What with so many challenges hitting credit unions from all sides-corporate stabilization, card interchange, business lending and much more-we've found a critical need for much more coordination on 'call to action' and 'action alerts,"' declared Jim Phelps, the league's grassroots director.

Phelps said so far 100 Texas CUs have responded with individual names of those responsible for political advocacy.

"We want to act more swiftly to contact lawmakers," he said. "You just can't have 50 or 100 alerts go out to the Texas congressional delegation, which numbers 34."

Meanwhile, Georgia Credit Union Affiliates earlier this year held its first Grassroots Academy as part of its grassroots liaison program, similar to Texas but with informal Hike at Home visits to lawmakers at the state capitol or in-district locales. The league's program is designed to educate and mobilize CU employees, volunteers and members.

Liaison appointees are provided with sample letters, briefing sheets, message points and other tools to make contacts with "credit union loyalists," said the league.

At the academy, the grassroots liaisons learn about the legislative process and key issues facing CUs, as well as how to build strategic relationships and activate "their spheres of influence when the time comes" for urgent action.

The Hike at Home meetings can have high impact, according to GCUA, since they provide a forum for CU leaders to discuss the issues. "Hike at Homes are planned around the legislators' schedule," explained the league.

One Georgia CEO, Terry Hardy of the $62 million MembersFirst CU of Decatur, said he found the experience of "sitting down with other credit union people right in the district offices of one of our congressman very productive."

Heading north, the Maine Credit Union League said it has long recognized that CU advocacy needed enhancing, so it is splitting up its long-standing governmental affairs committee into two groups effective next month.

After the change, the GAC will be divided into a unit to hammer out league policies and positions, and the other for "political involvement" designed for those executives skilled at making the contacts, understanding the process, and those who enjoy campaigning, said John Murphy, MCUL president/CEO. The two groups have different mindsets and approaches but still can work together in the final run-ups to making the CU case, he said.

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Author:Rubenstein, Jim
Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:Aug 19, 2009
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