Jodi is the Iowa Credit Unions League’s Cooperative Trust Liaison, echoing the opportunities available to Cooperative Trust members and emerging leaders across Iowa. Through her support of The Cooperative Trust and World Council’s Young Professional Credit Union Program, Jodi advocates for the advancement and development of the rising talent who finds their way to credit unions. Coming off the tailwinds of Crash the GAC, we often hear Crashers ask, “How can I get more involved?” Jodi answers this question through the lens of credit union advocacy and the ways crashers can get involved year round, not just during the Governmental Affairs Conference.
My favorite part of my job at the Iowa Credit Union League is working with young professionals through the Emerging Leaders Connection (ELC). Throughout the year, we talk about advocacy in Iowa a lot. I can usually sense some nerves when people are first introduced to this topic, and I often hear that politics are “just not my thing.” It is very rewarding for me to see those same people step out of their comfort zones and take the leap into learning more about how they can advocate for the credit union industry. I hope that other young professionals across the country do the same. If this is a new topic to you, then I want to start this blog post with two questions that you may be thinking:
Why would young credit union professionals need to advocate for the work that they do?
We assume that people know all the facts about credit unions and how they operate as not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Good public policy set the framework for this cooperative structure and needs to be maintained so consumers can continue to have a not-for-profit choice in the marketplace. We also assume that people know what an impact you are making in members’ financial lives each day. Unfortunately, most members do not know how to describe their credit union’s difference, and 64% of non-members are not familiar with credit unions. So yes, research shows that we need to advocate for our credit union industry.
Why would young credit union professionals want to advocate for the work that they do?
It is just a job, right? If you feel this way, then take some time to discover your purpose and the value that you bring to your credit union. One of the best ways that you can do this is through The National Credit Union Foundation’s “Exploring Our Values” course. Once you find alignment between your values and your credit union, then yes, you will want to advocate for the work that you do.
You know that you need to advocate, and you also want to advocate. What’s next?
- Do some research.
First, it is important to know the facts. Who is representing your district at the statehouse? The Iowa Legislature website will answer this question for you after you type in your address. Other states more than likely have this option as well. What about those who represent your state in Congress? The United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate websites are helpful resources to find this information. Next, sign up to receive their newsletters. Follow them on social media. If you are really motivated, then attend their town halls.
- Create an elevator speech.
You never know when you will see a legislator, and you want to be prepared. An elevator speech is a brief conversation starter that should be the length of an elevator ride, which is typically about 30 seconds. An elevator speech includes an introduction of yourself and an explanation of what you do at your credit union. My state representative likes to go door to door to meet his constituents and hear about issues that are important to them. Prior to learning about elevators speeches, I would not have been prepared for this. Most situations start as an elevator speech and then turn into more of a natural conversation. You’ve got it from there!
- Prepare member stories.
The credit union philosophy of “people helping people” is something that comes naturally to you. You help people multiple times a day. Whether you are opening an account, refinancing a loan, or educating on products and services, you are truly making an impact on so many lives. While this may just be a regular part of your job, it is not just an ordinary part of the member’s day. There is a story behind every transaction and in every member. Credit unions can collect and share these stories, and as an employee, stories are great to share with legislators during a conversation.
- Learn from others.
At the Iowa Credit Union League, we work with ViClarity to host an annual Legislative and Regulatory Conference and multiple Capitol Hill Days. This is an opportunity for Iowa’s credit union employees to hear about legislative priorities and to talk to their legislators. Other Leagues across the country are hosting similar events. Sign up to receive your League’s advocacy updates and attend their events even if it seems uncomfortable at first. You may be more of a participant in the beginning, but with time and practice, you will feel more comfortable talking at these events. Also, provide feedback and suggestions to your League. A few years ago, several young professionals in Iowa expressed their interest in a training that would provide a refresher of the legislative process. Thanks to the collaboration with ViClarity, it is now an annual event on our training calendar. In addition to League events, sign up for CUNA’s Advocacy updates so that you can get involved at a national level as well.
- Share with your team.
Tell your manager about your interest in advocacy, document your learnings, and share your experiences with others at your credit union. The industry is filled with amazing people who are making a difference, and it is important that we continue to advocate so that we can keep our industry strong. Once you lead the way at your credit union, others will follow.
Being an advocate may be new for you, or it may be something that you have done for years. Either way, I am so excited for your journey and hope that you know what an impact you are making by sharing the credit union difference. I’ll leave you with this quote, which is from an Unknown author - “Your life has purpose. Your story is important. Your dreams count. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact.”