Powerful Cause – Positive Impact: GAC Takeaways

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 13 March, 2013
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On more than one occasion since the end of this year’s Governmental Affairs Conference, I’ve been asked what my takeaways are.  To be honest, it’s difficult to have perspective so soon after such an event; however, as I contemplated the question, I was repeatedly drawn to the theme of this year’s GAC — Powerful Cause – Positive Impact.  These four strong words both individually and collectively describe my takeaways from this year’s CUNA GAC.

Powerful:  On the first day of GAC, I tweeted a photo of 4,200 credit union advocates in the Convention Center hall.  Most advocacy groups envy the turnout and passion of our GAC.  Sometimes, that can be lost on us.  On Wednesday night, after our hill visits, a credit union CEO pulled me aside at a reception to talk about his day on the Hill.  He said to me, “There must have been something big happening on the Hill today because it was really hard to get around.”  Yes!  When you unleash several thousand advocates in the halls of Congress, people take notice; when they understand that these folks represent 96 million members of credit unions, they really start paying attention! What we did last week was a demonstration of the power of our cause.

Compressed GAC

Cause:  The numbers are impressive but they alone do not make the impact; rather they serve to amplify our cause.  Credit unions every day are fulfilling their mission to promote thrift and provide access to credit to their members.  The memory of the financial crisis is still fresh in the minds of most on Capitol Hill; and what credit unions did during the financial crisis to help their members is an ultra-current reminder of the importance of our cause.  Our efforts last week helped us make the case that credit unions are as important to consumers and small businesses today as they have ever been.

Positive: When briefing groups that visit Washington on Hike the Hill, I often remind them that our goals in advocacy are to encourage Congress to enact legislation that helps them serve their members; defend credit unions against legislation that makes it more difficult to serve their members; and to do both of these things while maintaining the positive image that credit unions earn through the service to their members.  One of the great things about advocating for credit unions is the fact that we are almost always for something and only rarely against something.  Even when defending the credit union tax status, we have the opportunity to advocate for the tax status – and this positive perspective makes a difference on the Hill.

As a Congressional staffer, a League staffer and a CUNA staffer, I have had the fortune of participating in about a dozen GACs.  Each is different, of course, reflective of the time and conditions under which credit unions are operating.  This year, the positive energy and excitement was palpable.  And why shouldn’t that be the case?  Credit unions are coming off some of the best years in their history; the size of the movement has hit an all-time high; membership is growing at record pace.  There is a lot for the credit union system to be excited about, and that excitement and pride translated into our advocacy message on Capitol Hill.

Impact: So what was the impact of our powerful cause and powerful message?  Based on the early feedback we’re receiving from credit union participants and Congressional participants in last week’s Hill meetings, it is clear we had a positive impact.  Our message on the credit union tax status has received nearly universal acceptance; members of both sides of the aisle are beginning to better understand how regulatory burden holds credit unions back; and we’re seeing more Members of Congress embrace the notion that credit unions that are serving their members well should be allowed to continue to do that.

Everyone who participated in the GAC should take pride in what took place last week; but we should also be mindful that advocacy is a process, not an event.  Bill Cheney opened the GAC with a call for credit unions to Unite for Good around a vision that Americans choose credit unions to be their best financial partner.  It can be said with confidence that credit union advocates in the days following the unveiling of this vision united for good on Capitol Hill to make a positive impact on behalf of their powerful cause; however, we must continue to build on this momentum in order to fulfill the vision we share.

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