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Ten years after the first one was created, CUNA’s councils, now six in number and with more a possibility, are starting to attract a lot more attention. As CUNA Council Forum Chairman Gayle Rust Gustafson put it during a recent meeting in D.C.: “We as councils represent some 2,500 executive level professional in the six key disciplines. We have a great deal we can continue to contribute to CUNA, the industry, and ourselves.” She might have added that the total budget for the combined councils is now approximately $2 million a year and that CUNA has committed six full-time staffers to work on council activities. Also, the number of programs and services offered to dues paying members of the councils has increased significantly. All this since the first CUNA council, its Marketing Council, was put together almost overnight in the early 90′s at a CUNA-organized meeting of CU marketers in Chicago. It was literally created out of the ashes of a similar group dumped by CUES. After organizing three groups over a period of years, the then CUES board decided to basically get out of the “council” business. Even though a fourth group, one for CU human resource professionals was being discussed, CUES folded two of its existing sub-groups, those serving credit union staffers, into the main CUES structure with its CEO membership. CUNA jumped in to fill the void. Besides marketers who had belonged to FMA (Financial Marketing Association), separate group status was also discontinued by CUES for operations staff. They had belonged to FOA (Financial Operations Association). The third separate group, DEF (Directors Education Forum) which was made up of CU volunteers, was continued and still exists today. The CUES Board took action not because FMA and FOA weren’t successful. FMA membership and conference attendance numbers were healthy and the list of marketing-specific programs and services was growing steadily. FMA had its own governance structure and logo (as CUNA’s councils also have). A number of marketing publications, including a bi-monthly magazine, had been created. The Golden Mirror Awards program was best of class. The story was the same with FOA and DEF. They too had their own magazines, newsletters, conferences, awards programs, etc. DEF, however, didn’t present a threat and besides, it proved to be a good revenue producer. Why then the CUES Board’s decision to disband those two groups and not form any new ones for staff positions? It was somewhat financial but mostly a control issue. The board was concerned that they had created a monster, or more accurately, a two-headed monster that would probably develop one or more additional heads down the road. After all, CUES itself was once a mere semi-department of CUNA, not the stand-alone organization it is today. Originally there was what using today’s terminology could best be described as a CUES Council of CUNA. CUES leadership did not want to see anything similar happen to them. In the case of FMA, its strong leaders were already making noises about being more independent and spinning off from CUES. Although CUNA leadership may today harbor similar concerns about its growing councils, no one talks openly about it. But spin offs happen in the association world all the time. Basically the thought process works this way: we are big enough to have our own full-time staff rather than be part of a multiple management set up. We can afford it. We need to be more independent and not be beholden to anyone but our own members. The organization belongs to them. They foot the bill. Being a stand-alone association takes us out of the realm of sponsor politics. If this sounds like I’m advocating that the six councils become six separate associations, I am not. As the person who introduced the council concept to the credit union industry while CUES CEO, one I in turn borrowed from ASAE (American Society of Association Executives), I feel sub-groups have a strong role to play. But this assumes that they and their sponsors each live up to their end of the original bargain. A big “but.” As CUNA councils continue to grow in numbers, budget, and influence, CUNA would do well to make certain the proper safeguards are in place to maintain the integrity of the current structure. Today, it seems to be working very well. Tomorrow, with a change of leadership, it is conceivable that CUNA might try to exert too much influence, might let politics dictate what its councils can and cannot do, or might get stingy with staff support or greedy when big bucks show up just outside of its grasp. Another caution has to do with the possibility of starting a new council for credit union CEOs and still another for CU volunteers. The ramifications of these moves among other CU organizations should be obvious. Also, see above! What might have made more sense for a new group, especially with the rush by credit unions to convert to community charters, would be to set up a community credit union council. But it’s too late. CUNA has already played a role in creating a separate community credit union association with a relationship somewhat akin to that it has with the Defense Council (not to be confused with CUNA’s six councils or all the CUES councils which function like chapters). Although still finding its way in terms of membership growth, unique programs, etc., this group has even more potential to some day considers being an independent entity. It is already being whispered about. But it has a long way to go. Without CUNA’s current support, it would quickly shrivel up and die. In a perfect world it would greatly benefit all credit unions if every credit union organization could be put in a barrel, stirred up, and a minimum of new ones created that would eliminate the massive duplication the industry now has. Coming up with an industry organizational structure from scratch is something we can only dream about. 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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