It’s Governmental Affairs Conference week and political advocacy for credit unions is all the rage. Political advocacy has never been more important for an industry that serves over 96 million people and seems to be regulated more and more with each passing year. If you read the title of this blog, you might think that this is a post intended to bash the #DontTaxMyCU campaign and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The #DontTaxMyCU campaign has been wildly successful among credit union folks and it appears that we have even captured the attention of Washington without having to write a big check like some other financial institutions may or may not do. But how much further can #DontTaxMyCU really go? Does it resonate with credit union members? Here’s my take and a few things I believe credit unions need to do if they really want political advocacy to reach a whole different level.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m a political analyst, but we all have a basic understanding of how lobbying goes. Groups of all kinds are knocking on the doors of their respective representatives whenever they get the chance and there are always two basic assumptions in play.
1. The lobbyists have their own agenda. In the case of credit unions, credit union employees want less regulation and we want our tax status to remain the same. We all know why credit unions SHOULD keep our tax status and we also know that if we don’t, we will not be able to provide the services we currently offer, we won’t be able to serve the under served and a lot of us will be out of jobs. We are fighting for our very survival.
2. Politicians (most) know the facts one way or another. This isn’t a new issue, it’s just become so much more real. Politicians are in a constant battle to keep their backers happy. One vote cast the wrong way could mean the end of their career. Essentially, politicians and lobbyists are both fighting to survive.
In any competition or fight, there is always a winner and a loser. If we can assume that we (credit union folks) are up against the banking industry and politicians who like the banking industry because they have a lot of money, we need to be at our very best if we hope to stand a chance on the issue of our tax status.
Knowing how important this issue is, how many of us have thought long and hard about how we are trying to tackle this issue? My guess is that some have, but others are just going through the motions because that’s what they/we’ve been told to do. Here’s the problem: The vast majority of credit union members have no idea that their credit union has a special tax status. Think about that. Now think about how many of your members even know that your credit union’s business model is fundamentally different that that of a bank. Lastly, think of how many of your members call your credit union their bank (I honestly don’t care what members call us, but I think you can see where I’m going.)
If our members don’t know these points, how could a message as simple as #DontTaxMyCU really gain steam in the consumer world? Unfortunately, it can’t. I know that tons of people have gone to great lengths to build an awesome website and create collateral pieces spreading the #DontTaxMyCU message, but those will only be effective if each credit union takes a more proactive form of advocacy through the lens of member education.
This is a pretty complex issue and even some of us in the credit union industry don’t totally understand the implications of a change in our tax status, how can we expect our members to understand the magnitude?
So what do we do? I believe the answer lies in the 5th Cooperative Principle. We need to educate our members in a way that makes this issue real to them. We need to think like we do about other things in our life. We need to think about “what’s in it for me?” At the end of the day, when you are asking someone to do something that is above and beyond what they normally would do (contact a representative), you had better make certain you’ve given them a darn good reason to take action.
How can we educate our members? In my opinion we need to get our members together to really dive into the issue. We should be holding town hall meetings in our branches, we should be creating political advocacy groups among our members. We should be running this thing like were trying to become President of the United States. What message do you think would get more people’s attention:
Because of possible government changes, we may have to raise our loan rates and charge more fees, soon.
A hashtag is great because it’s trendy, but hashtags were never meant to tell entire stories. This is a story and it’s worthy of more than a social media tracking invention. We need to have real conversations with our members that tell them the real life implications of this important issue. I’m not saying the #DontTaxMyCU hashtag is bad, I’m saying it needs to have more substance. When I use substance, I do not mean tweeting or posting on Facebook, “#DontTaxMyCU Go visit this website for more information.” This is not a winning strategy. Besides, when it comes to social media, most posts containing links are clicked on the least (especially on Facebook) when compared to posts of plain text, images and videos. Social media is not the answer for this fight (can you believe I wrote that?) Social media is but one leg on the stool that we need to create if we want to create member urgency and involvement.
With many credit union annual meeting coming up, is this issue on your credit union’s agenda to be discussed?
What are some ways your credit union is engaging your members in political advocacy?