Harborstone Credit Union Takes Political Advocacy on the Road

Washington State Rep. Steve Kirby and Vicky Nelson, business sales and services manager for Harborstone Credit Union, head out on the Governmental Affairs Roadshow.

Janelle Stinson recently attended an all-staff meeting at the Harborstone Credit Union branch where she works as an assistant manager. Twenty minutes later, she became a political advocate.

“That same day, I went online to DontTaxMyCreditUnion.org and emailed my local representatives,” she says. “I was so excited to become a part of the solution.”

Cashier Ashley Peters attended a meeting at her branch, too. “I think credit unions are wonderful for the community,” she says, “but I had no idea how much we have to stand up for ourselves so that we don’t get put out of business.”

Peters and Stinson both understand that now. And that’s why Harborstone Credit Union decided to take advocacy on the road in October and November, creating a Governmental Affairs Roadshow that will stop at every one of Harborstone’s 17 Washington branches.

The goal: to make sure that every employee, at every branch, understands the structure, value and impact of the credit union movement.

“We believe that every credit union employee should be able to fully articulate the importance of credit unions, understand the reasons why credit unions have an income tax exemption, and expertly explain these ideas to our membership,” says Vicky Nelson, Harborstone’s business sales and services manager, who developed the Roadshow idea with President and CEO Phil Jones.

Political advocacy is nothing new for Harborstone. Both Nelson and Jones have actively participated in the Northwest Credit Union Association’s governmental affairs efforts for years, and the credit union is a vocal advocate on both state and national levels. But when Nelson and Jones realized in July that Harborstone was below its goal for CULAC contributions, they knew they needed to find a creative way to motivate employees.

They already had a powerful ally on staff. Rep. Steve Kirby, who represents Washington’s 29th legislative district, works for Harborstone as a business sales and services specialist. He agreed to talk to employees about his role in the legislature and how he supports credit unions.

Nelson then recruited Mark Minickiello, the NWCUA’s vice president for legislative affairs; he agreed to discuss “the big picture” of governmental affairs and the grassroots efforts of the national “Don’t Tax My Credit Union” campaign.

Nelson decided to handle the rest herself, going on the road with Kirby and Minickiello to explain:

  • The difference between credit unions and banks;
  • Why it’s important for Harborstone to participate in advocacy;
  • What lobbyists are, what they do and why developing and maintaining relationships with credit union-friendly legislators’—including the need for campaign contributions—is important;
  • What the acronyms PAC and CULAC mean; and
  • Why it’s crucial to nurture informed and educated communication about governmental affairs between Harborstone employees and members.

Half of the 30-minute Roadshow sessions were held in October; the last one is scheduled for Friday. Attendance was mandatory, Nelson told employees, “because you’re in a wonderfully unique position to share the importance of credit unions with our members.”

“The Governmental Affairs Roadshow is an important part of our ongoing advocacy efforts to first educate ourselves to understand what a credit union is and the reasons credit unions have an income-tax exemption,” Nelson says. “Only then will we be able to fully articulate the importance to members.”

A series of articles, available for internal access only, were written specifically for Harborstone employees to help introduce the basics. For example, what is a credit union? Does Harborstone pay taxes?

A special page was created on Harborstone.com to share details of the credit union’s advocacy theme, “Protect your financial right to choose.” In addition, educational messages are posted once a week to Facebook and Twitter.

“Rarely do you see this level of engagement by a credit union,” Minickiello says. “I’m asked a few times a year to speak to boards of directors or the management of a credit union about the importance of political advocacy, but never have I been invited to visit branches and educate frontline staff.”

Even rarer, Minickiello says, is the opportunity for frontline staff to hear from both a professional credit union advocate and a sitting legislator who happens to be the chairman of the House Business and Financial Services Committee.

“Harborstone employees are getting a unique opportunity and education,” he says. “I have no doubt that they will be fully equipped to effectively advocate for credit unions, understand the credit union difference, and be able to answer questions from any of their members who want to know more about Don’t Tax My Credit Union or the reason we get involved in political advocacy in the first place.”

Nelson, for one, would agree.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to watch the evolution of Harborstone employees as they begin to engage on a whole new level,” she says, “because so many of them previously were not aware of what lobbyists or legislators do and the impact they have on our personal lives.”

Nelson says she’s convinced that Harborstone employees will not only encourage members to become advocates now, but that they’ll also participate in the process themselves.

“Each member and staff member,” she says, “can play an important role in keeping credit unions tax-free.”

 

For more information about Harborstone Credit Union’s Governmental Affairs Roadshow, contact Vicky Nelson at 253.983.7003 or Vicky.Nelson@Harborstone.com.

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Article Post.