MECHANICSBURG, Pa. -- What do chocolate bars and NAFCU/PAC teddy bears have in common? For starters, the sweets and beanie bears are helping Members 1st Federal Credit Union to raise thousands of dollars each year for the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association Political Action Committee and for NAFCU/PAC, respectively.
When it comes to PAC fund-raising, it's tough to beat Members 1st.. That's why this year, the winner of the 2008 Credit Union Times Outstanding Political Action Award goes to Members 1st FCU.
By far, President/CEO Bob Marquette said, the CU's biggest PAC money-maker is the Members 1st Annual Golf Tournament, netting around $33,000 a year, a third of which goes to NAFCU/PAC. The event is really "top-drawer," he said. "Everything is free. We have it at the Range End Golf Club in the April time-frame. It is sold out every year." PAC fund-raising can also be much simpler endeavor, however. In fact, Members 1st raises a lot of its PAC dollars simply by selling NAFCU/PAC bears and Hershey's candy bars.
On the bears alone, Members 1st raises between $25,000 to $80,000 annually for NAFCU/PAC, while sales of candy bars--which go for a mere $2 a piece--bring in around $8,000 a year for the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association PAC, according to George Nahodil, the CU's executive vice president.
By confiding such information, Marquette--who is quick to point out that he shares Credit Union Times' Political Action award with the all of "the associates in our credit union"--hopes he and his colleagues will set the bar for other credit unions to get involved in PAC activities. "It's just so easy to sell a candy bar or a bear," said the CEO.
"Just this morning," Nahodil interjected, "when we had our branch managers' meeting, we emphasized the importance of selling the PAC bears and the PAC candy bars."
Members 1st has been so successful with such endeavors that it has been awarded NAFCU's White Hat, which recognizes the credit union that raises the most money for NAFCU/PAC, every year since 2003.
Marquette was the driving force behind setting a Members 1st and NAFCU/PAC record by one contributor of $80,000 in 2005, which nearly doubled the previous records of $44,000.
"Politics and money are a fact of life," Marquette remarked. "Credit unions should really think that political contributions are a way to reward our friends [in Congress]. If we wait until legislation has been submitted that is anti-credit union, that's too late." According to Marquette, "it is critical to support the state and national PACs."
Staying in touch
Marquette is an adviser to Representative Todd Platts (R-Pa.), and serves on his "Friends of Platts" Committee at home in the district. According to George Nahodil, executive vice president of Members 1st, "We visit our congressmen twice a year in their offices. Once at the CUNA [Governmental Affairs Conference] and once at NAFCU's Congressional Caucus." Nahodil also noted that Members 1st sends out an electronic newsletter that goes out on a monthly basis to the relevant congressional representatives.
"We want them to know what is going on," Nahodil said, "We are community focused here and we want our representatives in Congress to know that."
Members 1st is also very involved in the community, and while it's certainly not the main goal, the credit union ensures the lawmakers know about those efforts. The community activities in question range from Senior Olympics to several children's charities to the American Heart Ball. One of the most important things Members 1st does, according to Nahodil, is financial education. "We are at the high schools three times a week," he said.
Clearly, Members 1st FCU's PAC activities offer some good visibility as well. "If we give the perception that we are a 'little credit union,' Marquette said, "it diminishes our political capital. We want to support charities that are good for our community, but that also give us political exposure."
When asked about the national trade associations, NAFCU and CUNA, Marquette noted that they need to be visible with lawmakers and congressional candidates, and contributing to political campaigns is an important part of that. Marquette added, "We need to support the national trade associations in their efforts to stave off negative legislation."
Members 1st has also contributed to the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association PAC and helped to raise $25,000 for that fund.
Member satisfaction and fun with fund raising
Members seem to like what Members 1st is doing. "Here is the credit union difference," he said. "We have a 98% member satisfaction rate. People need to know that. That's the vision of political and social humanitarian involvement. What bank can say that?"
The credit union also makes its fund-raising activities as painless as possible. "We make it a strategic goal in our organization," Nahodil added. "Raising PAC dollars needs to be fun. We sell hotdogs to our associates; let them have a dress-down day for $5.00. We have a catered dinner with the president--all these activities raise PAC dollars."
Despite the misgivings of some toward money and politics, Nahodil said, his organization does not have any hang-ups about it. "PAC's are clean," he said. "They give our national trade associations the right to be at the negotiating table." He emphasized that, "credit unions are serving the average American and that the only way legislators will know the difference is through PAC activities."
The big picture, Marquette feels, is to be able to continue to support our members. "This is why we have PAC activities," he emphasized. "This is the big picture."
The CEO hopes other CUs will follow in his footsteps. "It's just so easy to sell a candy bar or a bear," he mused. "Just think, if every credit union in the movement raised five or ten thousand dollars for the PAC, what kind of a war chest we would have."