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The flap that came out of the recent NAFCU Conference in Las Vegas regarding why there aren’t more volunteers on national credit union organizations’ boards is certainly nothing new. It comes up all the time. Whenever this touchy topic arises, some say that without a percentage of volunteer directors these boards are not as effective. Others claim that as volunteers they have a right to be on national group boards. Still others state emphatically that volunteers have only themselves to blame for this obvious lack of national representation. In interviews and letters, the point was also made by several involved CU folks that individual volunteers themselves need to do whatever is necessary to get elected since these board positions are filled by voting not by any type of appointment. At least two volunteers currently serving on national CU organization boards chimed in that volunteers seeking these offices need to work hard at getting elected just as they themselves have done. I think everyone would agree that having a mix of CEOs and management staff on these boards along with volunteers would be good for the organization. After all, volunteers bring a different perspective to the decision-making table than those who are fulltime paid staffers. However, the current voting poll on the Credit Union Times Web site (cutimes.com) asking if CU volunteers should have more representation on national boards does add an interesting perspective with its almost equal spilt vote between yes and no so far. Why are there so few and in some case no volunteers serving as policymakers in these credit union groups? The number one reason is that volunteers have a much tougher time getting elected than paid staff. And a big reason for that is that as a group, credit union volunteers in general have an image problem. Although it is never said out loud, volunteers are often thought of like those at the credit union level, some of whom get on their CU’s board and stay on it forever. Often times some of them contribute little. Other times some aren’t up to speed and make little effort to rectify that situation. Also, there are just enough credit union directors who worry more about their next expense paid trip than the business of setting policy for their credit union that they tarnish the image of volunteers in general. One national director, a volunteer, asked in a letter to the editor how many directors get to read Credit Union Times except at a conference? Of course my admittedly prejudiced view is that every volunteer needs to regularly read this publication to stay informed. That aside, his point was how little at least some directors do to keep themselves fully informed. His observation is part of that image thing, too. Do too many credit union people think of too many volunteers as being uninformed on basic credit union and industry issues? Even if true, could it be because in contrast CU staffers work fulltime at keeping on top of credit union matters while at least those volunteers still working must concentrate on their own fulltime jobs? In another letter to the editor, another volunteer made this important point: “The associations want our attendance at their conferences and our dollars in their coffers, but do not want our input into what should be presented, or how the association should be managed.” To which I might add, and the association parades volunteers (along with small CUs) in front of the politicians where necessary to make the point that credit unions are different. Someone mentioned that directors may not be willing to make the time commitment necessary to serve effectively on any national credit union board. Let’s put that in perspective. Unless they are retired, a volunteer director would probably have to take vacation time to make board meetings. Or take leave without pay. Even though his or her expenses to and from the board meeting would be covered, serving could end up costing the volunteer money. So is it time that’s the factor? Or money? Or is it the fact that there is an undercurrent of some actively working to not letting national boards get loaded up with retired volunteers like at the credit union level? On the other hand, full time staffers can take time away from their credit union job with no loss of pay or vacation time. This disparity alone makes it much tougher for a volunteer to serve on a national board. Putting all that aside, the fact remains that to get on one of these boards an individual, volunteer or paid employee, has to first get elected. One veteran CU board chairman stated national organizations need to “pick” more volunteers. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. There are no categories (volunteers, CEOs, women, minorities, etc.) earmarked for these boards. Like in any election, those voting have to know you before they will vote for you. Who gets the most exposure on a regular basis, a volunteer or a CU CEO? Exactly! Yet, there are all the usual ways for volunteers to also get known. But how many take advantage of these opportunities? The frustrating thing to those volunteers who brought the issue up again at NAFCU’s conference in Vegas is that they did demonstrate that they were qualified. They did commit to the time necessary to serve. They did throw their hat in the ring. They just didn’t get elected. They haven’t said so but they also probably feel that they didn’t get elected for all the wrong reasons, like that volunteer image thing. I think there should be some volunteer representation on national CU boards. But since they can’t be appointed and need to get seated the same way as all current directors, they need to work harder at getting exposure and grassroots support just like the few volunteers did who are currently serving with distinction at the national level. Good luck! 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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