Virtual Advocacy Your Legislator Will Never Forget

If you’ve logged on to see any virtual meetings of the Washington State Legislature this year, you’ve seen the everyday business of deep dives into the budget, hearings on proposed legislation, and votes on bills. You may also have noticed the virtual environment is hardly a barrier to stakeholders eager to get their points across.

“We’ve seen people testifying from home, from the front seat of a car, and now and then with a pet in the picture,” said Joe Adamack, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s Vice President, Legislative Affairs for Washington.

While the pets may bring a smile and some of the constituents’ settings may be memorable to lawmakers, the message is what actually moves the policy needle.

Credit Unions Have a Story Lawmakers Will Pay Attention To

More than 200 attendees to NWCUA’s Virtual Washington Credit Union Day at the Capitol last week got some firsthand advice from Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-28) about sharing information legislators care about. She’s a parent, a former college administrator, public health official, small-business owner, and legislator who serves on a number of key committees, so she understands her constituents’ needs and the pressure on the legislature to address them.

“I think the work you do to help our small businesses stay afloat, the work you do with loans and flexibilities, thereby helping their employees is critically important,” Leavitt said, when asked by Adamack how advocates can leave a lasting impression.

Leavitt encouraged credit unions to tell their legislators about the work they do to help people of color obtain access to capital, the ways they support vulnerable populations, and the financial education they offer to thousands of students and adults.

“I think a lot of my colleagues don’t know how involved you are in the community,” she noted. “You are part of the economic recovery solution. If it weren’t for you all, we might not make it.”

Stories that changed a specific member’s life make a difference as well, because as Adamack pointed out, “the legislature is ultimately made up of people representing people.”

Data is also critical.

“One of the best tools we have as we advocate in 2021 is data,” said Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy Officer. “When we back up our message with data, it can be an advocacy game changer.”

Wagner shared Washington Credit Unions’ Economic and Community Impact Report, the result of an analysis by economists at ECONorthwest and a survey of NWCUA member credit unions. The survey measured community impacts during 2019, and COVID-19 services provided by credit unions from January through June of last year. It finds the majority of Washington residents — 4.75 million people — have chosen not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions as their financial services partners. Other notable datapoints are the overall $6.9 billion impact credit unions had on the economy, the 86,883 hours of volunteerism contributed by credit union employees in 2019, and the $491 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans they funded for small business at the peak of the pandemic.

Credit unions’ economic impact and community service priorities are driven by their not-for-profit, cooperative structure — another message to share with legislators.

“Elected officials want to hear from you, because you are solving so many issues in their communities,” said Troy Stang, NWCUA President and CEO. “Leave them with a message about how our structure makes us different and that is why we are so committed to consumers.”

Editor’s note: A record number of first-time advocates turned out for the Virtual Washington Credit Union Day at the Capitol, and they report feeling well-prepared to share the credit union story with legislators. We will meet some of them in next week’s Anthem newsletter.

Posted in Advocacy News.