NAFCU and CUNA are the main national credit union trade associations, but the credit union industry is home to tons more regional and niche associations.
There are almost too many options these days. There are groups for technology, marketing, community CUs, volunteers, CUSOs, etc., etc. I am not criticizing any of these groups. I know CU leaders who find them much more valuable than the big associations. Kudos to those groups for staying viable in a changing market.
It's also great that credit unions have so many options, but how many can credit unions really afford to belong to? Does it make sense to pay dues to three, four or even five groups? It seems hard to justify. I just hope CUs are keeping their eye on the big picture political issues when considering what groups to join. I think given what is going on with banker attacks and the political climate it's crazy for CUs to belong to these niche groups, but not CUNA, their league or NAFCU.
As a whole, credit union league affiliation rates are very solid right now. Many leagues boast over 90% affiliation, with only a few falling below 80%. But most states still have glaring gaps in affiliation-namely mid-size and large credit unions that for whatever reason choose not to belong to the league.
Whenever I come across one of these CUs, I'm always compelled to ask them why they are not members. It's a fascinating experience because often the reason has to do with some triggering event that happened many years ago, or for personal differences. It's not uncommon to hear from an unaffiliated credit union that they can't get along with a league leader who has too big of an ego. It could also be that the league zigged when this particular CU wanted it to zag on just one particular issue. Sometimes it's as petty as who was invited to a certain event, why someone wasn't included in an event picture, or why someone was passed up for the board. True stories!!
And of course there is CUNA. Credit unions that don't believe in CUNA take themselves out of the running for league membership. Remember, you can't belong to the league without belonging to CUNA, and vice versa. There are CEOs who think Dan Mica makes too much money, and thus don't belong.
Credit unions that don't belong to either their league/CUNA or NAFCU have to ask themselves why, and they have to have a good answer. Now more than ever credit unions have to band together for the greater good. Let the bankers argue with each other. Credit unions have to find unity to stand up to the many challenges they face. It's time to put aside the personal conflicts and petty ego problems and make decisions that will benefit all credit unions. On the state level, obviously a strong, financially healthy league is good for credit unions. Leagues need money and cooperation to pull off things like statewide branding initiatives such as the one New Jersey just launched and Utah has been doing with much success in recent years. These initiatives won't succeed unless the majority of CUs in these states buy into them.
For those CUs that can't get along with a particular association for some reason or just choose not to belong, there are still ways to help your fellow CUs. Paragon FCU in Montvale, N.J. is a great example of that. The CU is not a league member, but stepped up and contributed money to the state's new branding campaign, meanwhile many N.J. league members haven't donated yet. Paragon saw the value in the new campaign, and didn't let politics stop it from doing what was for the greater good.
Unfortunately some very large CUs use their high membership dues as a bully pulpit. Large CUs often get catered to so the associations are ensured of their dues. There are many examples of large CUs pulling out of NAFCU or CUNA because they didn't get their way. Often they rejoin after a change in leadership, policy, or just a lot of coddling by the association. Shame on large CUs that wield their dues to get attention for matters that might not be truly important to the state or industry as a whole. They need to look at the greater good.
But there is a flip side to this story. Credit unions paying dues do expect a level of advocacy and service. If they truly don't believe they're getting it, pulling their dues dollars is the best way to be heard. The way the CUNA/league system is set up-having to belong to one or the other-has consequences. Credit unions that don't like their league, but love CUNA (or vice versa) can't have it both ways, and neither can CUNA and the leagues. Over the years, some states have had a second league pop up in their state because a number of CUs thought differently than the state league. The industry certainly doesn't have the time or the money for that any more.
The flip, flip side of this story is association leaders can't lead with the fear of CUs pulling out. They have to lead by doing what's right for the majority. Sometimes this may mean aggravating one CU or one segment of CUs, but if it's for the greater good they have to stand tall.
I have yet to mention money as a reason for CUs not belonging to the major associations because if a CU can't afford to pay dues it may have bigger problems than association politics. But with so many associations out there today, money could become an issue for CUs belonging to multiple groups. Maybe for a $100 million FCU, belonging to CUNA/state league and NAFCU is indeed too much. It's no different than CUs having to limit how many out-of-state conferences their boards can attend. It can get pricey.
When it comes to deciding which association to belong to, CUs with budget concerns must choose the one they believe is their best advocate! Once they choose their advocate, then they can move on to the niche players.
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