STCU’s Johnson and Pacific Crest Federal’s Philp Honored for Credit Union Advocacy

“That sounds like our credit union,” said Kathie Philp to her tablemates at 2015’s Amplify Awards Dinner.

Up on stage, last year’s Oregon Advocate of the Year Award winner Mandy Jones, CEO of Oregon Community Credit Union, was telling a story about how this year’s honoree engaged her credit union’s members in writing advocacy letters to support credit unions’ tax status, and made sure they were hand-delivered to Congressional offices.

As Jones continued extolling the accomplishments of the soon-to-be-revealed winner, Philp realized that it was her credit union, and that Jones was talking about her.

During the Don’t Tax My Credit Union campaign, Philp, who serves as President and CEO of Pacific Crest Federal Credit Union, mobilized her team to show members the value of not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions. The credit unions offered members electronic or physical letters to send to their members of Congress. She also helped hand-deliver the letters.

But Philp said that her entire credit union deserves the award. “It’s not me, it’s my team,” she said. “I’ve got a great team and I get a lot of support from my staff. And our members are there for us, just like we’re there for them.”

Philp highlighted the contributions of Pacific Crest Vice President Janet Buckalew, whom she called her “partner in advocacy.”

“We get together and make a plan,” said Philp, “and Janet is usually the one to carry it out.”

Reflecting on the 5 Million Member Strategy articulated by Northwest Credit Union Association President and CEO Troy Stang at October’s Amplify Convention, in which he encouraged Northwest credit unions to engage their 5.2 million members in advocacy, Philps said that this can bring members closer to the credit union.

“Member outreach helps members become more engaged,” she said. “By doing something for their credit unions, they become more aware of credit unions as cooperatives.”

Tom Johnson Honored as Washington Advocate of the Year

When Tom Johnson joined the STCU Board more than 20 years ago, there was one Board Member who always attended CUNA’s GAC in Washington, DC. Johnson was curious about the event and wanted to join, but he was not able to take the time off from his job at a university.

This year, serving as STCU’s President and CEO, Johnson was honored as the 2015 Washington Credit Union Advocate of the Year.

He finally attended his first CUNA GAC about a decade ago. “It was a turning point,” said Johnson. “It opened my eyes to the power credit unions have collectively through their presence in Washington, DC, and through the relationships we form with our Senators and Representatives.”

Since then, Johnson has been an advocate not only for credit unions, but for credit union advocacy. “The first thing is to get involved,” he said. “You can’t do this from your office. You have to go to where the legislators are. You have to go to their functions and introduce yourself and be seen by them over and over.

“When a problem comes up, you can’t just jump in, make a call, and expect your legislators to do something,” he continued. “Like so many things in life, it’s about relationships.”

Johnson said that, if credit unions don’t tell the credit union story, someone else will. “You have to be there consistently delivering your story. If you’re not, you leave a vacuum and someone else will make up a story to fill it.”

He said that, over time, legislators come to trust and respect consistent advocates. “What you hope to accomplish is that you not only know your legislator, but your legislator knows you,” said Johnson. “You hope to build the kind of relationship where your legislator feels comfortable giving you a call if they want clarification of a certain topic or want your view of how something will look on the ground.”

He recalled a visit to Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) office on an advocacy trip to Washington, DC. It was clear from her opening remarks that she misunderstood an important issue. The advocates took the opportunity to share their deep understanding on the subject.

“You could see that it was a light bulb moment for the Senator,” said Johnson. “The effort we made to go to DC and spend time with her was very rewarding.”

On the night of the Amplify Awards, Johnson had no inkling that he would be among the honorees. “A number of people contrived to pull this off as a surprise,” he said. “When my youngest son stepped out on stage it was one of those moments when my mind could not connect what my eyes were seeing. I was pretty blown away.”

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790,

Posted in Advocacy News, Awards.