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The Alaska Credit Union League is alive and well despite what I wrote in this space a couple of years ago when its leadership decided to convert to an all-volunteer operation with no paid staff whatsoever. Here’s some of what I said in that column: “The Alaska Credit Union League will continue to be called the Alaska Credit Union League, but after the recent decision by that group’s leadership to operate without any paid staff, an association headquarters, etc., it will likely be little more than a name before too long. It was a good little league. Despite all good intentions, it will be missed.” I was wrong. What I saw unfold at the 2003 annual meeting and conference in Ketchikan, Alaska, was how credit union CEOs, their staffs and their boards, all wearing volunteer hats, have made the only all-volunteer league in the country a success. Frankly, it occurred to me that the invitation to be the keynote speaker was extended because that’s exactly what they wanted me to see. That’s okay, because whatever the reason I traveled to America’s last frontier, I got to participate in one of the most professional credit union conferences I have ever attended. And I have been to hundreds. The scene of this year’s meeting, Ketchikan, is a tiny town of 11,000 plus strung out along the inside passageway in Southeastern Alaska. Visitors by air must take a ferry from the airport located on a neighboring island. Hotel and meeting space are at a premium. These facts alone could make hosting a meeting there a challenge. Yet, the meeting facilities, hotel accommodations, meal and break functions, hospitality, and three nightly social events were all first rate. More importantly, the conference program itself, designed around the theme “First for Alaskans,” was big league. The all-important educational program featured timely topics presented by NCUA Vice-Chairman JoAnn Johnson, a couple of big hitters from CUNA and CUNA Mutual Group staffs, and nationally known speakers. Special events such as the award programs were handled with dignity and aplomb and the fund raisers were financial successes. Conference volunteers also produced excellent meeting materials. Professional name badges, workbooks chock-a-block full of important information, handy pocket programs, generous handouts and giveaways, specially printed notepads and pens, and classy conference signage, could only be described as first class. In fact, Alaska’s volunteers put to shame counterpart materials seen at a great many other state and national credit union meetings including some with large full-time staffs. An observer could not be blamed for thinking putting on a conference this size must be a piece of cake. It isn’t. Even a full-time, professional meeting planning staff must work super hard to handle the multitude of pre-conference, on-site, and behind-the-scene details that conferees take for granted (as they should) when a conference runs as smoothly as this one did. Kudos to Leslie Ellis, CEO, Credit Union 1, and her multi-talented staff, volunteers all, and all the other many volunteers under her direction, for making it all happen. If Leslie ever tires of managing the second largest credit union in the state, she could step right into a meeting planner’s shoes without missing a beat. By the way, there was even one session devoted specifically to an open discussion of the pros and cons of having an all-volunteer league. From that session, which was facilitated by Bob Teachworth, CEO of Denali Alaskan FCU and league chairman, and from lots of individual conversations, here are a few of the thoughts I came away with from Ketchikan: The all-volunteer league can and is working for Alaska’s 13 credit unions. The majority of credit union folks in Alaska believe as firmly today (some even more so) as they did when they made the decision that they don’t need any paid staff, even part-time, to function effectively. That feeling is not 100%. There is a minority undercurrent among some credit union staff and a few individuals on their boards that eventually some paid help will be necessary for the Alaska Credit Union League to continue to function and improve. Vendor support, especially the generous sponsorships of major events and materials provided by the CUNA Mutual Group, is crucial to the league’s success, especially for the annual conference. More than a dozen credit union suppliers were in attendance and provided support of some kind such as sponsoring a break. Without their help, it wouldn’t work. For the most part, individual credit unions continue to demonstrate a willingness and ability to contribute enormous amounts of staff time and to provide other resources to continue to make the league and its annual conference a success. However, there appears to be a very real danger that at some point the current movers and shakers who provide the volunteer muscle may either not be around (five of Alaska’s 13 CUs recently hired new CEOs), or might not be willing to make the personal and credit union time and financial commitment, or simply get burned out. Or all three. The question was asked if running a league is the best use of everyone’s time. Some CU officials confided that not having a league central office to serve as a point of coordination (phone, fax, mail, accounting, etc.) has been a drawback in keeping everyone in the communications and administrative loop. To which diehard supporters of the volunteer concept responded: “Communications and camaraderie between our credit unions has never been better.” All things considered, despite well-documented current successes and still strong across the board dedication, problems could develop down the road for an all-volunteer league. But I have been wrong before, and besides, some crow doesn’t taste all that bad. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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