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MADISON, Wis. – Interested in tapping into the collective brainpower of 2,400 credit union executives? Then you may want to take a closer look at the CUNA Councils. The CUNA Councils could be the credit union movement’s most visible behind-the-scenes “secret.” A strategic shift by CUES to dissolve its Financial Marketing Association in 1993 jumpstarted what would be the first CUNA Council. A group of marketers approached CUNA & Affiliates to assist them in starting a national marketing council, what is today the CUNA Marketing Council. “Dick Hartley was the first to say that there was a need to create an organization that would create networking opportunities for the best in the country to gather together,” said CUNA Council Forum Chair and Safeway Northwest CU VP Financial Affairs Gayle Rust Gustafson. “Interestingly I’m the last of the council founders and it occurred to me that looking back on our history the importance of what’s been accomplished since that meeting.” The original vision of the council included peer-to-peer relationship building; respect for the value each of the council disciplines bring to the credit union and the credit union system; and to provide opportunity for professionals to grow and learn more about their jobs in an environment where everyone at the meeting/conference had a similar job at the credit union. Today there are six CUNA Councils: Marketing, Human Resources/Training, Chief Financial Officers, Lending, Chief Operations Officers, and Technology. The CUNA Councils’ membership rolls have swelled to over 2,400 members. Each council has its own Web site, list-serv, newsletter, and white papers are published on a regular basis as a member benefit. In addition, each council hosts at least one large annual conference during which they present formal educational sessions and many opportunities for networking and brainstorming with peers. According to Gustafson most of the councils have formed solid partnerships with leagues and they find ways to leverage each other’s strengths to partner together. They have also created a product available to council members called Career ExCell, which outlines the comprehensive professional standards necessary for the growth of key executive personnel. Each council has its own executive committee consisting of up to seven members and the governing body over all the councils is the Council Forum. The Forum is made up of the chair and vice chair from each of the councils and headed by an elected chair. In 1999, the councils created the position of Forum Chair and Gustafson is the first candidate elected to the position. Charged with reviewing the cross council needs at the macro level, the Forum holds one physical meeting a year, quarterly conference calls and constantly communicate via e-mail. Every council has its own bylaws with specific term limit caps of six years. Any council member can run for office but generally those who are active in other committees, conferences and take leadership roles are elected to executive positions. “What makes us unique I think is that we are practitioners looking at the needs in each discipline and we try to bring the best benefits and values to our peers,” said Gustafson. As Forum Chair a typical day for Gustafson usually begins late at night. “We have real jobs and not one dime of our paycheck comes from the council or CUNA – we are strictly volunteer only,” said Gustafson. “Because every council has a unique set of challenges my responsibility is to talk strategy, develop relationships in Madison and Washington, and find out what other resources credit unions need or want. Every executive committee member gives an incredible amount of time and effort but it is so rewarding creating communities of credit union executives, and connecting these credit union professionals with other thought-leaders in their discipline.” Annual council dues are split by asset size; $295 for credit unions with over $100 million in assets and $255 for those under $100 million. Discounts are also available for multiple members from a single credit union. In addition to dues, conferences and sales of research and educational materials help each council generate the revenue it needs to sustain its activities and contribute to its administrative expenses. The total budget for the six CUNA Councils is nearly $2 million per year. According to CUNA & Affiliates Vice President of Executive Development Dean Archer in the early days besides spreading the word about the council, one of the greatest challenges was convincing members that CUNA would not dictate to the council. “That was really the biggest fear- that CUNA being a large organization would take over the councils,” said Archer. “Now 10 years later we’ve proved to members that we only want to help the councils administratively.” According to Archer the benefits to CUNA from that initial meeting are still very much the same today and include: building relationships today with tomorrow’s leaders/CEOs; learn more about the needs of staff at credit unions; and have credit unions help CUNA design educational products or other products better in tune with their needs. A total of six full-time CUNA staffers are devoted to the Councils and CUNA Council Director David Rohn reports to the six boards. CUNA provides its expertise in association management to keep the organizations moving forward. Rohn says that one of the councils’ unwritten missions “is to help develop those people who have the potential to land the top spot at a credit union to grow in their careers over the course of time.” “Some of the most dynamic professional executives came from these council systems and we are delighted that they have decided to remain in credit unions because all of them would do well in any business,” said Archer. “A great deal of today’s council leaders are tomorrow’s CEOs. There are so many out there already in the CEO chair who helped get these organizations off the ground.” Today the councils are the “go-to” organization after every NCUA Board meeting to determine what the impact of particular regulations will be. Plans are underway to further develop not only Washington congressional relationships but also become more politically involved on a state level. “In addition to technology, our biggest involvement the past few years has been on the government affairs side,” said Gustafson. “We’re very proud of the relations we’ve made with the CUNA D.C. staff, which has been mutually beneficial so we want to continue to foster those relationships.” [email protected]

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