CU Young Professionals Reflect on CUNA Advocacy Training

Several dozen young credit union professionals spent a day with CUNA staff and other policymakers and staff this fall, as part of CUNA’s advocacy training program for young professionals. While the training sessions were scheduled to take advantage of leagues in town for the fall Hike the Hill visits, many of the young professionals learned lessons that they said they’ll take with them as they continue their future advocacy work on behalf of credit unions.

“I had been saying for a while that I wish there was some formal training for credit union advocacy.  Advocacy is a responsibility that we all share as part of this movement, yet very few individuals get the opportunity for formal training. Typically it’s done through trial and error, which is not the most effective way to learn,” said Tim Strong, community development manager for Visions FCU, Endicott, N.Y. “The various topics covered provided a strong base for any individual to begin honing the craft of ‘telling the story’ to our elected officials- be it ‘on the hill’ or in district.”

Throughout the sessions, CUNA and league staff talked about CUNA’s advocacy and grassroots work. There were also panel discussions featuring Congressional staffers, who shared how to make an impact in meetings.young adults

“It was great to have the opportunity to practice speaking with the lawmakers who have a direct impact on how credit unions, as a whole, are able to function. What was most beneficial about the training was getting to speak to the people who had experience,” said Bradly Ford, a content marketer with Educators CU, Mount Pleasant, Wis. “The guidance they were able to provide was extremely beneficial because they could tell you how a congressperson might react if you say this or that. The way they guided you through the ins and outs of getting through the conversation and making a request of lawmakers is something I'll take with me for a while.”

Stacey Walker, a board director with XCEL FCU, Bloomfield, N.J., said she had heard good things about the training, but as a participant in past advocacy events, she wasn’t sure if she would learn anything new.

“In the end, I learned quite a bit. I learned to build relationships with elected representatives, to approach hill visits as a team mutually committed to a goal - not simply as individuals grouped together, and to advocate with district offices using best practices,” she said. “From the training, I learned about the power of an emotional appeal. Going into the YP training, I already knew to highlight key facts and figures. What I learned was how to evoke emotion through storytelling. A compelling narrative can be a powerful advocacy tool.”

Walker said she used this technique during one visit, asking one staffer during a visit to picture themselves trying to pay for lunch, but having a card decline multiple times, and be told it was because of a data breach that compromised card information.

Many attendees said they hoped other credit union young professionals would take advantage of the program when offered again.

“I would certainly encourage other young professionals to participate in this advocacy training. The training prepared me for a difficult fight that ensures credit unions will still be empowered to help their members,” Ford said. “It invigorated my already strong passion about giving credit unions more power to help our members and be a benefit to our community. Most of all, I was able to tap into years and years of experience to really understand effective methods and strategy for advocacy. If you want the fast lane to becoming a master advocate, this is it.”

The enthusiasm in the room was palpable for the presenters as well, many of whom were impressed by the active interest of the young professionals.

“You could sense the energy and excitement in the room as the young professionals learned firsthand about the importance of delivering our credit union messages to lawmakers,” said Keith Sias, senior vice president of government affairs for the Illinois Credit Union League (ICUL), who was served as a panelist for discussions. “Having focused on advocacy during my 25 years with ICUL, I realize the importance of developing our future advocates. This program squarely accomplishes that goal.”