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After reading Mike Welch’s column in the Sept. 19 issue of Credit Union Times, “There are different ways to define membership,” it got me to thinking about what it is that really matters about the work we do at CUNA and the Leagues. In particular, I was affected by the concluding remarks in his column: “If CUNA ever hopes to achieve 100% credit union membership, they and the Leagues need to re-examine some current policies that prevents this from happening, policies that actually discourage potential members (non-affiliates) from becoming full-fledged members of CUNA.” Agreed. The CUNA-League system does not have 100% affiliation. Over 90%, but not yet 100%. Leadership at CUNA and the Leagues want the non-affiliates to become members. Big ones, small ones.all credit unions. Our League is proposing substantial change in its governance process to the members in a couple of weeks. Other Leagues have been doing the same. Renewal was a major process of change for CUNA. It complicated, not simplified the task of managing our national trade association. But there are few who would argue that CUNA has become the `world-class trade association’ that we envisioned years back when Renewal was conceived. Still, we do not yet have 100% affiliation. Welch’s Sept. 19 column leaves the impression that CUNA needs only to break membership ties with the Leagues to have a legitimate shot at reaching 100% affiliation. In my view, CUNA would be at considerable risk of losing affiliated credit unions if the current policy of joint CUNA-League membership were abandoned. In December of 2000, I invited Dan Mica to come talk with several of our largest credit unions. Reason.the credit union CEOs had been asking me if they could only pay their state League dues.they didn’t want to pay the portion that goes to CUNA. By talking things through with Dan, we were able to avoid disaffiliations that would have cost CUNA over six figures. I believe that a number of other credit unions would think along the same lines if CUNA membership were optional. And, at least in our state, I do not recall hearing a single credit union ask if they could join CUNA, but not the League. One of Welch’s examples about the downside of existing policies related to attendance at CUNA meetings. He implies that the requirement of affiliation is keeping credit union people away. At any particular event, there may be a couple of potential participants turned away. But, Mike doesn’t acknowledge the positive implications to conference attendance that active League involvement provides. Again in our experience, we work hard at the League to encourage Georgia credit union leaders to attend the GAC.have had well in excess of 100 for years. By contrast, our support for the Symposium is limited to promotional mailings and the like. Despite having a great San Francisco location, Georgia attendance was only shaping up to be a couple dozen. My point, CUNA benefits considerably from its interdependence with the Leagues. Welch is fond of illustrating this topic by relating to “Brian McDonnell’s ability to write a scathing letter” or perhaps to pick up the phone and call Dan Mica. Well Brian can.and does write letters, call Dan and even ask for (and get) a private audience with the CUNA Exec Committee. But, this is not going to happen for every credit union CEO.direct membership or not. Leagues are an effective way for most credit union leaders to have influence. Representative democracies exist for good reasons. Technology reduces, but does not eliminate the need for representation of views. Reaching out to non-affiliates is extremely important. This is done all the time at Leagues and routinely by CUNA. It has been my experience that the reasons for being non-affiliated rarely have to do with the current policy of joint CUNA-League membership. And, I have never heard a credit union CEO tell me that the inability to contact Dan Mica directly is the intolerable thing that keeps them apart from the family. This, at least in my thinking, suggests that (more) direct membership at CUNA is a solution for a dramatically over-exaggerated problem. In addition, and more important, there is a strong resentment beneath the surface toward non-affiliated credit unions by the ninety percent-plus that do hold up their end of the log. I was pleased with Welch’s pre-conclusion acknowledgement of the benefits of unity and cooperation. The Renewal process was dedicated to the pursuit of unity within the credit union system. While not perfect, the 24-person CUNA board was designed to ensure that the views of the entire membership were represented. The views of representatives (ie: League officials) were reduced from 100% to 25%. Operationally, CUNA is delivering content directly to the end users where technology makes that possible. Leagues are more focused today on regional resource sharing and avoiding duplication of effort with CUNA. But, cooperation is not natural behavior. Leagues still play a huge role in causing cooperation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Governmental Affairs. Ask Mr. Mica what it took to achieve passage of HR 1151, build Credit Union House and have influence in the drafting of bankruptcy relief legislation. If for no other reason, we should be careful about creating the conditions for breaking apart the interdependence of CUNA and the Leagues. If pure direct membership is all that matters, there is, as Welch points out, always NAFCU. If effectiveness of our trade association activities is the highest priority, then the CUNA-League membership policy deserves a more balanced portrayal.

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