Who Will Be Our Mr. Rogers?

The credit union movement needs to tell its small stories, the ones that bankers can't tell.

 
 

Fifty years ago, public television was under attack. In six minutes of testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Mr. Rogers — yes, that Mr. Rogers — turned things around. Today, the credit union movement is under attack. So, who will be our Mr. Rogers?

In 1969, the Nixon administration wanted to cut funding in half for what was then known as educational television. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle felt federal support was inappropriate, wasteful, and served no real purpose.

 

 

Opponents told a good story. They had good facts. Educational television was created around universities and the federal government had no role there at that time. And thanks to strong federal regulation, think CRA for television, regular TV was loaded with public service programming, including lots of reasonably good children’s shows.

But Fred Rogers — a Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh who made small local shows for kids — had a better story. And he was a much better story teller. Watch and listen.

We don’t have Mr. Rogers, but we do have good facts. And we have better stories than the bankers. So far, though, we haven’t been telling our stories very well. Instead, we’ve let bankers tell our story. The result is a false narrative that’s full of true facts.

It’s a tough situation. There is so much for us to correct, reframe, retell. We have so much to say and potentially so little time. And we don’t have Mr. Rogers.

We do, however, have 300,000 credit union employees around the country, each of whom, in their own ways, are making small local shows and creating better stories. Our challenge is to empower these folks to tell their stories. It’s not too late to change the terms of debate.  We just need to tell the stories that no banker can.

Also read: What Would Mr. Rogers Say? The TV icon has lessons for the credit union movement in its moment of crisis.

Simple. But not easy. Credit unions are over-worked, trying to take care of members, trying to deal with immediate issues, trying to keep the lights on. Often, when leaders do manage to pick up their heads and look around, it’s at each another. Credit unions are competing against one another and arguing among themselves while the real competitors are laughing all the way to their own banks.

Bankers tell the credit union story out of context, and we let them get away with it. We know the differences the movement makes for members, but too often, we miss the bigger picture. We let our common enemy turn small against large and start brush fires in state capitols that, if they catch, could overtake us all.

It’s Time For Tough Questions

Asking tough questions helps the credit union movement flourish. Make Callahan’s Tough Questions commentary on CreditUnions.com a regular stop for insight on thinking differently about the movement and framing strategies for success.

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If we don’t pull back and see the big picture, members will be left to ask, “what have you done for me lately?” If it comes to that, then keeping the lights on won’t matter all that much.

The genius of Fred Rogers was that he understood the big picture, and he understood how to talk about it through small stories. Simple, accessible stories that no one else could tell. What are our small stories? Who will be our Mr. Rogers?

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March 12, 2018


Comments

 
 
 
  • Mr Rogers is so convincing! Great job Chris on the commentary and context.
    Bill Lantzy