The concept of democracy is built around fair, competitive, and representative elections. For credit union cooperatives, a volunteer board of directors serves as the voice of the membership. The power of a democratic election process is evident in the success of the United States, which at one time was considered a great experiment. But as in national elections, it can be difficult to convey the importance of board elections to credit union members. So how can credit unions persuade more members to vote and entice qualified candidates to run for open seats?
Unitus Community Credit Union, Summit Credit Union, Heritage Federal Credit Union, and Travis Credit Union have all developed strategies to do just that. And these institutions of varying asset size and geographic location have a few tips to help other credit unions fill the ballot and achieve better voter turnout.
Inform The Populace
As one of the oldest credit unions in the state of Oregon — it was founded in 1937 — Unitus Community Credit Union ($938.5M, Portland, OR) has a lot of experience running elections.
1) Advertise elections everywhere you can. Unitus advertises in its newsletter, on phone hold messages, in branch lobbies, and on its website.
2) Encourage staff to recommend members for board positions through their branch interactions.
3) Email members to remind them to vote. Unitus notices a bump in votes following reminder emails.
4) Tell members when seats are open. Members are more likely to run for open board positions where there is no incumbent. Unitus has received as many as 26 candidates in this situation.
Nominate The Right Candidates
Summit Credit Union ($2.0B, Madison, WI) has renewed its focus on what it means to be a cooperative and engages its membership to bring quality candidates to its board.
5) Create a nominating committee. Summit reaches out to members it thinks would make valuable contributions to the board and encourages them to run for election.
6) Give members multiple options. Summit’s nominating committee puts up to six candidates on the ballot.
7) Screen candidates before nominating them to run. The credit union is responsible for serious amounts of money and the board members should reflect the institution’s professionalism.
Make Your Board Representative Of Your Membership
The nine-person boad of Heritage Federal Credit Union ($474.1M, Evansville, IN) includes representation from all areas of the community it serves.
8) Represent your present as well as your future. Heritage, which was founded by members of the ALCOA aluminum company, keeps a balance of blue collar and young professional members on its board.
9) Cultivate friendships in the media. Heritage has a good relationship with the Newburgh, IN, radio station Local 104. Several board members have even come from the station over the years.
10) Look to local leaders. Many local business owners have served on Heritage’s board of directors, which has created a tradition of service that allows a steady flow of new talent to the board.
Build A Legacy Of Participation
Over the past decade, Travis Credit Union ($2.2B, Vacaville, CA) has reshaped its board and supervisory committee to better reflect the diversity of its membership. Its nine-person board and three-person supervisory committee include six men and six women representing different ages, ethnic groups, and skills. For example, serving on the board are a former mayor, a social media and advertising professional, and the superintendent of schools.
11) Educate your members. Travis’ one-year, volunteer-at-large program teaches four members who are also business or community leaders about Travis and the credit union movement.
12) Plan ahead. Travis’ management knows when board seats will become available, so the credit union uses its volunteer-at-large program to prepare interested members and ready them to step into a board role.
13) Create a wealth of possible board members. Five graduates of the volunteer-at-large program are current members of the board or supervisory committee and four graduates are waiting in the wings.
14) Use the talent you have. Given the open election of board members, even participation in the volunteer-at-large program does not guarantee a seat on Travis’s board. But even members who aren’t elected to the board can serve as advocates for the credit union. Travis encourages graduates who don’t become board members to join committees like the supervisory committee and the scholarship committee.