The Basics of Engaging Credit Union Membership in Partisan Politics

Surveys show that a large majority of credit union members want to hear from their credit unions concerning political issues—presumably as a trusted source of information on candidates. Credit unions have traditionally abstained from involvement in partisan politics, however, whether because of party differences on the credit union’s board of directors or because of an expected backlash from members upset over the use of credit union funds on political issues.

Despite the delicate nature of involvement, partisan politics have become a logical next step as credit unions become more politically active and look for ways of effectively exerting the influence necessary to overcome big bank lobbyists and their inevitable financing.

Dennis Pierce, CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo., has led his credit union in taking the step into partisan politics, and he will be a featured presenter at Northwest Credit Union Association’s (NWCUA’s) Leadership Symposium, scheduled for June 21 in Portland, Ore. Pierce will share what he and his credit union have learned, offering some best practices as well as certain pitfalls to avoid.

CommunityAmerica has been very politically active with Pierce at the helm, and he explained that a great deal of effective advocacy comes from consistency, from building relationships and staying the course over the long haul.

“For us, it’s an ongoing process,” Pierce said. “We’ve been actively engaged in politics, both at the state and the federal level, because we believe it’s important for the success of our institution, but for credit unions in general, certainly, to be engaged and aware of what’s going on politically.”

But what does it look like to be a politically engaged credit union?

“That involves being out there, participating, both in terms of direct lobbying activities and also fundraising, and getting to know the candidates and the office-holders as well as them knowing you,” Pierce said. “The worst thing is to go ask for something and have that be the first time you’ve ever met them, because it is a relationship process to some extent. Unfortunately, I think one of the byproducts of the current times is how partisan everything’s become. But even so, I think knowing who they are, having them know who you are, is a very important part of being able to be of influence. It’s about having them give you an ear and listen to what your issue is.”

CommunityAmerica’s involvement in partisan politics essentially began with what is known as partisan mailings, Pierce said, which involves the credit union sending out mailings to targeted sections of its membership in support of a particular candidate.

“In our case, we did a mailing for a Congressional election in 2010 for a Republican candidate who had a credit union background,” Pierce said. “There’s a process you can go through where you select out from your membership base those who are registered Republican and also in this case registered independent, and you can do selected mailings to them about supporting this candidate.”

Interested in Learning More?

The June Leadership Symposium will be held on June 21 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel. The Leadership Symposium is a free event open to all Oregon and Washington credit union CEOs, and CEOs may also invite an additional staff or board member to attend at their discretion, though according to Nancy Pullen, the NWCUA’s senior director of training and development, “exceptions to this general rule will be delightfully granted if additional staff members will benefit from, round-out, and add to the discussion anticipated at the symposium.”

To register for the symposium or to learn more about the full agenda, visit the NWCUA’s website.

 

Questions? Contact Training Programs Coordinator Yuri Jung: 206.340.4817, yjung@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Article Post.