Five ways to get your message to lawmakers.
Stephen Dedene, VP/compliance and risk at $1.1 billion CUES Executive Group and Board member Credit Union ONE, Ferndale, Mich., says visiting legislators in person is almost always the most effective way to bring about change. “I think it’s effective having direct contact with them, whether it’s through staffers or the lawmakers themselves,” he says. “It can involve writing letters to them on a regular basis, or calling their office.”
But aside from actually descending en masse onto Capitol Hill or state capitol grounds, what are the most effective ways credit unions can get their message to lawmakers? Our sources offer a few ideas.
1. If you believe in them, lend a hand. “At different times, [politicians] may have different needs,” says Tom Johnson, president/CEO of STCU ($2.4 billion), Spokane, Wash., a CUES member. “Sometimes they want to get a small group of supporters together to raise some money for their campaign, so being alert and willing to participate in that is helpful. Also, we have not done this here, but I know of other credit union executives in the state of Washington who have hosted evening receptions or events to raise funds for state legislators.”
2. Work with state credit union leagues. Dedene says he initially brought up an ATM skimming incident his credit union experienced with the Michigan Credit Union League. He then traveled to visit three lawmakers with representatives of the league. When you’re trying to effect change, it helps to have backup.
3. Personalize your message. Several years ago, CUNA asked CUs to let legislators know that their members were opposed to credit unions being taxed. Johnson decided to go one better: STCU and about 15 other Washington CUs collected more than 7,500 signatures and showed up in Spokane to drop the binders on their congresswoman’s desk.
“It was specific to Spokane, and it was specific to her, to make sure she understood the people loved their credit unions and she should be very thoughtful about how she approaches the issue,” he explains. “She started leafing through the pages, and she saw page after page after page after page of signatures. It was one of those kind of light-bulb experiences where once in a while you’re able to get through to someone.”
4. Designate a point person. Dedene says every advocacy effort should be driven by one go-to employee. “I would gauge interest from internal staff to see who may have a passion for advocacy and credit union issues, and designate that individual as advocacy leader for the credit union. In order to do it well, I think somebody has to have passion about it.”
5. Do your homework. Johnson says if you want to be seen as a trusted source for financial industry wisdom, you need to be ready for your legislators’ questions. “We try to study up on the issues before we go to make our calls at either GAC or in Olympia, and make sure we’re in tune with what issues they’re going to be dealing with,” he says. “That way, we can give them helpful background information.”
Jamie Swedberg is a freelance writer based in Georgia.