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Despite all the good that came out of the CUNA Renewal Project a few years ago, there still seems to be some confusion and outright disagreement over whether or not individual credit unions are direct members of CUNA, at least in the fullest definition of what membership actually means. In the NAFCU organization, membership is clear cut. Credit unions are the members of that national trade group. When I stated in a recent column that an important distinction between the two primary national CU trade associations is that an individual credit union’s “membership” in CUNA must come through its state league, as in the traditional three-tier system, I was told by a CEO who had played a prominent role in renewal that I was wrong. He’s right. I am wrong. But I’m also right. And he’s also wrong. I told you it was confusing. Since renewal was implemented, admittedly credit unions do have a much larger and direct role in the affairs of CUNA. One of the most important and obvious changes just took place as it now does every year about this time. Individual credit unions voted to elect the CUNA Board of directors. They did so by size and location of credit unions, and by category of board candidates. Having a direct say in who will head and govern an organization is a privilege given to members which they exercise when they cast their vote. No argument here. Just having a vote in determining the governance of their organization is a clear indication that credit unions are direct members of CUNA. Not quite so clear, but still important, credit unions, since renewal, relate and interface directly with CUNA in all important areas. Credit unions now have direct input that they only dreamed of pre-renewal. In the old days, for example, when Navy Federal’s CEO Brian McDonnell decided to write a scathing letter to CUNA’s leadership expressing his concerns with the Renaissance Commission’s preliminary recommendations, he would have been under tremendous pressure to do it through his league. The league would probably have done everything it could to dissuade him from sending such a letter by using its political muscle to keep peace in the family. Another example: CUNA CEO Dan Mica now regularly and frequently communicates directly with the CEOs of the largest credit unions on breaking and timely issues. His dual purpose is, first, to keep these movers and shakers directly informed on a most timely basis and, secondly, to seek their support of CUNA initiatives. Pre-renewal, no CUNA CEO would have dared to by-pass the leagues. It is now also common for CUNA to go directly to credit unions for legislative initiatives, for political support, to market products and services, to seek involvement in branding efforts, to look for additional financial support for a new venture, to obtain input, etc. Then there’s the other side of the coin. NAFCU members pay annual dues directly. NAFCU members don’t need anyone’s permission to attend a NAFCU event. NAFCU members can join that organization without first becoming a member of any other group as a condition of membership. Not so with credit unions and CUNA. If a credit union is not a member of its state league, that CU cannot join CUNA directly, even if it is willing to pay higher dues and fees. To me, that makes credit unions indirect members of CUNA, not direct members as in the case of NAFCU. If a credit union CEO decides he or she would like to sign up some staff and volunteers to attend the upcoming CUNA National Symposium in San Francisco, it can only be done if the credit union is a member of the league, and hence CUNA. Or, if the league involved happens to have a policy in place that unaffiliated credit unions in it’s state can attend with league permission. Differing policies for different states. There are many examples of non-affiliated credit unions willing to pay a higher fee to get involved and take advantage of the many outstanding educational opportunities offered by CUNA. But they can’t. My staff and I can attend the Symposium as members of the media. Vendors can attend. Speakers (even those from the banking industry) can attend. Various credit union organizations can send representatives. My milkman can attend. But anyone representing a non-affiliated credit union, at least from certain states, cannot automatically attend. The league has the final say, not CUNA. CUNA and its leagues continue to ignore a longstanding policy governing not-for-profit associations that forbids them to withhold services from eligible potential members who choose not to join. Of course, they are entitled to charge these folks a higher non-member fee, but even it is not allowed to be extravagantly higher than the member fee. Does that sound like the credit unions in these cases have an opportunity to be a direct CUNA member? No, because membership is still, just like before renewal, contingent upon league policy. This is not meant to make a case for non affiliation. Having spent a large chunk of my professional career in association management, I strongly believe in associations and the unity and cooperation they represent. I have always encouraged all eligible members to join the trade group that best suits their needs. To not belong to any such group is not fair because all credit unions share in major successes by credit union trade groups, especially in the legislative and regulatory areas. There are many ways to define membership. But saying that the Renewal Project changed everything and that now credit unions are full-blown, direct members of CUNA just the same as credit unions belonging directly to NAFCU, simply isn’t so. If CUNA ever hopes to achieve 100% credit union membership, they and the leagues need to re-examine some current policies that prevents that from happening, policies that actually discourage potential members (non-affiliates) from becoming full-fledged members of CUNA. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail mwel[email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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