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57 Voices, One Vision: Powerful Perspectives from Crash the GAC 2024

Here's a look back at the life-changing (personal and professional) experience of nearly sixty emerging credit union professionals had crashing this year's America's Credit Unions Governmental Affairs Conference held in March.

The Crash Program

Stepping into GAC, it is hard not to feel the excitement buzzing throughout the conference. In all that excitement, there is a small room in the corner of the convention center filled with fifty-seven fresh-faced young professionals, each with their own aspirations and ideas, ready to create change within the credit union movement.

The Crasher Program began approximately 15 years ago when a group of young professionals gathered to show that when it comes to advocating for change, age, and titles do not matter. Ready to create waves in the credit union industry, this group crashed the Governmental Affairs Conference, an event typically attended by board members and credit union executives. Today, their legacy lives on through the Crash the GAC program, hosted by Filene's Cooperative Trust.

The Power of Connection

During GAC, Crashers have the opportunity to meet some of the industry's most passionate leaders and critically engage with the issues facing their organizations today.

More than that, Crashers get to interact with one another and create a space of vulnerability, trust, and friendship. They get to discuss the challenges they are facing not only in their professional lives but in their personal ones as well. Spending a week in that room creates a camaraderie that feels almost magical. That connection is powerful. That connection allows these emerging leaders to return to their organizations at the end of the week, armed with the knowledge that in at least one state across the country, another individual believes in them and the change they are trying to make.

"For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible. This was an experience that will give you the opportunity to establish contacts across the nation (actually, the world). If you come into this program with an open mindset and as your true self, I have no doubt that you will leave as a better version of yourself. The experiences offered through this program are unmatched. Just apply."
De'Andre Davis
CSE Federal Credit Union

Why Crash Matters

Over 4 million Americans are turning 65 this year; and more CEOs will continue to retire. Credit Unions looking toward the future need to start recruiting and retaining younger professionals that are passionate, full of ideas and still have hope for the future. We can train skills – we cannot instill the innate motivation to make the world a better place than when we arrived.

It is rare to find a singular room with that kind of enthusiasm and devotion for the credit union industry. It is also rare to find an opportunity where an emerging professional gets to advocate right alongside their CEO, but that is why the Crasher Program is so important. The Crasher Program isn't just about attending sessions; it's about showcasing passion, ideas, and hunger for change.

The people who crash are the future. Credit union leaders shouldn't miss the chance to listen to them. These individuals have long roads ahead in this industry. Their voices matter. By embracing their insights, we ensure that the credit union movement continues to evolve, adapt, and thrive.

"Coming into this, I didn't know what the Crashers were or what they stood for. I am not very confident in my own abilities and try to fade into the background more often than not. However, I have a boss who believes in me and compelled me to apply, assuring me I was worthy. I wasn't sure I agreed, but I applied. …By the end of the Crash, I had found my voice. Now I feel prepared to tackle my career with a newly found sense of self and a huge network of bright and upcoming professionals to help push me forward."
Natalie Waltz

Crashing the GAC is the beginning for many, but for a lot of Crashers they’re nearing the end of their journey with credit unions. Let’s think about why that might be and how we might find ways that encourage our most valuable assets to stay. The Cooperative Trust can help – we can create that feeling of knowing, but then it’s up to your credit union to take that spark and harness it into the powerful energy needed to move our industry into the future.

Expanding the Canvas

There is no denying Crashing America’s Credit Unions GAC is life-changing for many. And yet, for the 57 people we invited to join us this year, we left 195 folks feeling like this opportunity is out of reach. You may read this and think, many things: “Shouldn’t this program be accessible for everyone?” “Why does it need to be so challenging?” “Of course, it’s expensive and smaller credit unions struggle to afford it.” Perhaps, your reaction is different. No matter – getting started in the larger credit union canvas can seem daunting. Often the most common hurdle is how to pay for their Crash experience. Next comes lack of knowledge – not knowing where to go, or what programs and organizations exist. Last, we see a lack of connection. This manifests in emerging talent not being part of the professional development budget and middle management also having little awareness and or autonomy of the various professional development communities available to credit union team members.

We have the chance to include the people and voices missing at the highest strategic level. The ways credit unions can get their people ready for the challenges ahead is to simply expose them to the credit union network. This means allocating budget dollars, plugging middle managers into the professional development programs offered by Filene (Crash Course, i2, and i3), your state’s league and your local chapter, as well as other organizations like America’s Credit Unions, African American Credit Union Coalition, CU Pride, Global Women’s Leadership Network, and WYCUP to name just a few.

By encouraging your team to get involved at the community level, you are offering more than development, you are offering them a chance to connect with others, feel passion and excitement for the work, and create reflexive opportunities that will build deep loyalty to your organization and the credit union network.

"To my employer, American Eagle Financial Credit Union and the Credit Union League of CT, your support, encouragement, and belief in me have been incredibly meaningful. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to grow and contribute within such a supportive environment. Representing our state and credit unions was an honor."
Pamela Guijarro
American Eagle Financial Credit Union

Taking Strides Toward the Future

If your credit union is focused on leadership development, we've pulled together our list of action steps for you to take towards the future growth of your emerging talent. 

  1. Budget for young and emerging leader development. Determine this based on your credit union’s size and resources. Plan to budget $5,000 - $7,000 per year per person.
  2. Plan to bring an emerging leader to a conference every year. To accomplish this step, the organization needs to make a plan in advance. Once these dollars are allocated, create a process for your team to join a conference with the executive leadership team. Create criteria for eligibility, make it fun, and share the experience and success of that person with the team.
  3. Invite young and emerging talent into the boardroom and other strategic planning sessions (where appropriate). This works especially well if the board already knows the leader or is used as a follow-up to bringing the emerging leader along to a conference, like GAC.
  4. Encourage and demonstrate the power and necessity of building a network of peers/mentors. Include your leaders in on your networking adventures. We often have Crashers asking, “How do I start a conversation in a networking situation?” or “What do I do if I am in a room full of strangers?” These skills are best learned in action, but hearing how a successful leader builds a network in an invaluable life skill.

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