Advocates in Action: WECU Walks the Talk

By Samantha Beeler, Grassroots Manager, NWCUA

Board Member Bruce Burpee presenting checks to Senator Erickson and Representative Buys. From left to right: Robert Langei, Senator Erickson, Wayne Langei, Jennifer Kutcher, Mark Minickiello, Representative Buys and Bruce Burpee.

Electing credit-union-friendly candidates helps to create an operating environment that eases the regulatory burden and allows credit unions to focus more on their members. Selecting those candidates and raising funds for them is a science. Getting the board, the staff and the members on board is part of any successful strategic advocacy plan.

Bellingham, Washington based WECU sets the gold standard, according to Mark Minickiello, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s vice president of legislative affairs.

“WECU has it down to a science”, said Minickiello. “Wayne Langei and his team at WECU do a fabulous job hosting legislators at the credit union.”

Minickiello was on hand in early June when Langei and his senior leadership team hosted a pair of state legislators.

“They started by inviting the legislators to the credit union to meet with the board and supervisory committee members. Board Member Bruce Burpee presented the lawmakers with a CULAF campaign contribution and Wayne discussed the latest happenings at the credit union,” Minickiello noted.

Minickiello gave a legislative update as well.

“But it is so much more than that,” he added. “The real meat of the event comes from the interaction between the credit union staff and leadership with the legislators. Wayne does a fantastic job of talking about WECU’s market share, the make-up of their membership, their philosophy on community support and the credit union’s vision.”

WECU has 350 employees, a total membership of over 72,500 and assets of $1.02 billion.

“At the most recent visit,” Minickiello said, “Wayne brought in a group of recent hires to meet the legislators, who asked them where they were from and whether WECU hires local residents and promotes from within.”

The visiting legislators — Senator Doug Ericksen and Representative Vincent Buys — received first-hand, affirmative answers to both questions.

By a show of hands, the group of eleven recent hires indicated that nine of them were originally from Whatcom County. Langei, who is nearing retirement, explained that WECU has been transparent in its succession planning and executive search. The process is nearing completion, Langei noted. He introduced Ericksen and Buys to three senior staff members who have been job shadowing him for the past year and who are under consideration to replace him.

“Those are the types of exchanges that stick with legislators”, Minickiello noted. “Visiting the credit union, hearing directly from its leadership, seeing and meeting those members who serve on the board, getting to ‘kick the tires’ — those interactions are simply invaluable to our advocacy efforts.”

Lessons Learned From Wayne Langei’s Advocacy Model:

Wayne Langei giving Representative Buys and Senator Erickson a tour of Meridian Center.

  1. Hold the meeting at the credit union. Regardless of how big or how small your headquarters or branch is, holding the meeting at the credit union gives legislators an opportunity to meet some of your staff, and to see them in action helping members.
  2. Have a campaign contribution check to present if possible. It helps to make the memory of the visit a lasting one. Running for office is a very personal decision and no one likes asking their friends and family for contributions to the campaign. Presenting them with a campaign contribution from CULAF will be greatly appreciated.
  3. Invite your board or supervisory committee members to join you. The credit union leadership elected from your membership goes beyond the credit union. It’s likely your board or supervisory committee members know the legislators. It also serves to show just how credit unions are different than banks; credit unions leaders are elected from the membership.
  4. Give visiting legislators a tour. It is unlikely a legislator will forget having been to your credit union. When credit unions cross their mind, whether it is suggesting to a friend that they join one, or deciding how to vote on some pending legislation, they will remember having sat in your branch.

Sound like fun? It is! It’s also vitally important. Credit unions were created 80 years ago by the swipe of a pen. Almost since the very beginning, credit unions have been characterized by banks as having an unfair competitive advantage. Hosting legislators at your credit union provides you with an opportunity to showcase your philosophy, products and services. It also gives legislators a firsthand view of how people have come together to reach their financial dreams, and helps ensure credit unions remain viable and valuable for years to come.

Questions about this story? Contact NWCUA Grassroots Manager Samantha Beeler: 503.350.2218, sbeeler@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Federal.