Expanding the story – Communications as an advocacy tool

As credit unions, our differentiator is not just in our structure as not-for-profit financial cooperatives, it’s in our heart and commitment to both our members and our communities.

How that plays out in our day-to-day activities often generates incredibly powerful stories. They can range from how a short-term loan helped a local florist, salon owner, or coffee shop to critical financial education programs that build budgeting and savings foundations for students. In nearly every case, there is an impactful story made possible by the Credit Union Difference.

So, what happens when that structure is targeted for attack by a piece of potential legislation, or a strategy is executed to question the legitimacy of credit unions’ operating decisions? A variety of tactics are unleashed, all woven into the fabric of a well-planned advocacy strategy.

One of the critically important tools in the advocacy toolbox is a well-crafted communications strategy. When these types of attacks happen, and ideally, before they do, it’s time to deploy it. As partners, the league and its member credit unions can work together to build a unique set of messages and compelling stories that share the great work being done for members and in communities. This can also dispel most, if not all, arguments against them as not-for-profit financial cooperatives.

The beauty of the strategy is that the stories are real. They are genuine results of the commitment and investment made possible by the structure of credit unions and the heart that drives us to carry out our mission. It’s pretty tough to argue with that kind of platform.

Real-time example

Recently, this idea played out in real time in Arizona. True to form, the bankers launched an unmerited attack from a couple of fronts. They were able to secure both an article and opinion piece in the Arizona Republic, calling into question credit unions’ tax exemption because some credit unions invested back into their communities through sponsorship of local sporting/community venues. It made the unfounded assumption that credit unions use fees collected, such as non-sufficient funds and overdraft charges, as a means to fund these partnerships.

The reality is, credit unions’ not-for-profit, cooperative structure is what determines how they are taxed, not the services or products they provide.

GoWest Credit Union Association worked to publish a response titled  “Let’s set the record straight on credit union’s ASU stadium naming deal” authored by President and CEO Troy Stang. Stang’s piece offered a clear, factual perspective on the positive impact credit unions have on Arizona’s economy and the communities they serve. It effectively addressed and dispelled misconceptions presented in the original article(s) while highlighting the value and not-for-profit, cooperative structure inherent in credit unions.

Shortly after the response article ran in the Republic, GoWest led a group of credit union advocates to Washington, D.C. for its Fall Hike the Hill trip. During that trip, advocates held 38 meetings on the Hill, including time with Arizona’s legislative delegation. In those conversations, the bankers’ argument came up. But, because we were able to correct the record in the response piece with factual evidence, it was a non-starter and the lawmakers saw the attack for the false accusation it was.

Turning into a positive

The Arizona situation opened a door to opportunity. The impact and investment stories from credit unions are the fuel for the communication engine that drives proactive conversations with media and elected officials. When deployed, these messages create a constant, consistent positive “buzz” so that when, not if, attacks come again, their impact will be nothing but a small blip on the radar.

Jennifer Wagner

Jennifer Wagner

Jennifer Wagner is EVP & Chief Advocacy Officer, GoWest Credit Union Association. Web: https://gowestassociation.org Details