2004 Election: Take Action to Mobilize Members

The height of the political season is upon us and we are, again, being challenged by bankers. What tactics have credit unions implemented to increase political participation among members?


Credit unions are being challenged by bankers. With elections approaching, the most powerful voice that credit unions have is the combined force of their 85 million members.

Banks may have deep pockets, but the voting power lies with the masses. For the last presidential election 42 percent of voters were credit union members, according to Pinnacle Credit Union in Atlanta.

Last week many credit unions participated in “Hike the Hill” in Washington D.C., meeting directly with legislators to discuss tax exemption. These top-down efforts are balanced by grassroots efforts on a local level.

Mobilizing members to defend the sovereignty of credit unions through their votes will be critical for the future of the industry. The first step is educating members about the fundamental mission of credit unions and why these institutions are worth supporting and defending.

“You can’t skip the education…that has to be the foundation,” said Wes Emmons of CU-Vote. The two-year old Alabama-based organization is a consumer advocacy council for credit unions.

Politically educating members is a year-round focus for some credit unions, like Alabama Credit Union (ACU). Kayce Bell, Chief Operating Officer, noted that the benefits of educating members about their personal stake in the credit union are not just politically-related. Instilling the credit union’s mission in the minds of members strengthens the membership base and provides long-term sustainability.

According to Emmons, credit union education should focus on educating for parties: members, employees, the general public, and lawmakers. He acknowledges that member education is an investment, but says it is better to devote time and resources now than down the line when problems have escalated.

For credit unions without educational programs in place, the time to implement them is now.

How can credit unions mobilize members between now and the election?

The most immediate need is encouraging members to register to vote before the Oct 3 deadline. Of the registered voters for the 2000 election, 86 percent of them voted.

Some credit unions set up voter registrations tables inside their branches. In Alabama, 210 credit unions set up tables in their lobbies and registered over 7,000 voters. In-branch displays can also provide members with access to pamphlets on local candidates.

Other credit unions, like University of Utah Federal Credit Union/Erie Federal Credit Union provide members with links to download voter registration information or absentee ballots on their websites.

Newsletters, e-alerts, or the website of any credit union can feature detailed articles about hot political topics or simply a reminder for members to vote. Credit unions can provide links to information on the position of tax exemption for presidential, congressional, and local candidates on their websites. The Georgia Credit Union Affiliates has instructive links for members to contact elected officials by telephone, e-mail, fax, mail, or in person. It gives examples and suggestions for each means of communication.

ACU found that educating employees benefited the credit union, both in disseminating their message to members and to elected officials. They provided information to any employees who felt compelled to write letters to legislators. Of their 85 employees, 60 wrote letters – some of whom were former bank employees.

Fifty million members have already participated in CUNA’s Project Zip Code. The project allows members to match their zip code with federal and state legislators. According to the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, this battleground state already has over 135 credit unions involved. Credit unions can leverage the data to present to local officials or candidates.

To find out what other credit unions are doing to mobilize members and to learn about additional ways to politically educate your members, then attend Mobilizing Membership to Get Out the Vote on October 7, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.




Sept. 27, 2004



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