It’s not a complaint. It’s advocacy!

People are vocalizing- perhaps more than ever before- a desire to see change. There is strong sentiment that we have been failed by our government, by large corporations, by organized religion. The only one looking out for the little guy is the little guy him (or her) self.

This attitude affects the way people interact with the businesses they use. People have assumed a responsibility to advocate for exactly what they want, and believe that businesses should be responsive.

This new way of doing business is a far cry from the world to which Henry Ford introduced his Model T: It is said that he claimed consumers could get the car in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. Choice today looks nothing like that. Instead, consumers expect a highly customized experience that works exactly as they want it to. The car should not only be the color a person prefers, but should also be equipped with technology compatible with their smart phone, with seat selections that remembers exactly where the driver likes to be, and integration a nav tool pre-programmed with their favorite stops.

It makes sense that consumers now expect exactly what they want from something they own. After all, many companies are happy to provide consumers the right cars and an individual seeking customization for something they will personally use is perfectly reasonable. But what about when this desire for customization extends beyond a single product where ownership is clearly held by the purchaser into how the business itself is run?

A few weeks ago, I received a notification from about a campaign they thought I would be interested in. I’m not a frequent user of, but over the years there have been a few causes that have stirred me to sign a petition. These have primarily been causes related to advancing cooperative business or building opportunities to create gender or economic equality. For those of you who use less often than me, this website offers individuals- anyone in the world- the chance to connect across geographic and cultural borders to support causes they care about.

Causes. To me, this means advancing social justice issues or offering solutions to community problems. Causes can include clean water; affordable housing; improving the foster care system. In my world, causes do not include adding up gold stars faster so I can get more free coffee from Starbucks.

They. Just. Don’t.

And yet… Earlier this month when Starbucks revamped its rewards program, there were two young men who started a petition because they were bummed that it might take them a few more weeks of Starbucks visits to get their next free coffee. This baffled me. Starbucks is a for-profit business that can do what it wants with its rewards program and a few less free coffees a year is a tough “cause” to get behind. Why bother with the petition?

Here’s why: These guys love Starbucks. They are loyal to Starbucks. Starbucks has achieved its goal of becoming their “third place” (home and work are 1 and 2). With that level of connection, feelings of ownership are stirred. Starbucks became part of them; they feel they are part of Starbucks. They believe they should have a voice in running their company.

The reality of course is that these guys do not have ownership of Starbucks. Your members do have ownership of your credit union, though. Do any of them feel strongly enough about their role in your organization to create a grassroots campaign to improve your business?

Last week I attended a credit union meeting where a member nominated himself, from the floor, to run for the Board of Directors. He gave a speech that made it clear he wanted to see change in the credit union. A slate of candidates had already been put forward by the nominating committee and the expected outcome was that the slate would move forward with no discussion. The nomination from the floor changed all of that, spurring a rather robust dialogue. This credit union’s bylaws allowed democracy to be practiced in this manner and leadership handled the process with the gratitude that should be shared when a member-owner takes an active interest in being a bigger part of the organization.

I was proud to be part of our cooperative movement during that meeting. When immediately after the meeting (that went at least twice as long as anyone expected) the CEO told me how much he learned that night (rather than making it seem like an inconvenience), I was delighted. How great to observe an organization with members that would rather stay and be part of making things better than walk away when something doesn’t go right!

Have you built something at your credit union (or, taking a look in the mirror, have I at my trade association?) that creates such fierce loyalty that when a member feels hurt by a new process or policy they work toward change instead of walking away? People can get coffee or financial services almost anywhere. It’s an amazing accomplishment to build an organization that becomes the only place someone wants to do business, to the extent that a campaign would be launched before business would be pulled.

What have you done to create a culture that cultivates and responds to member advocacy efforts?

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki started her career with credit unions in 2001. She has taken on leadership roles at credit unions and state and national trade associations. Now, she uses her experience ... Web: Details