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The question raised at the NAFCU Annual Conference in July – “Why aren’t there more volunteers on credit union state and national boards?” – has taken on a life of its own. I attempted to answer that question in my column in the August 10th issue, but Dave Gilbert, a volunteer and a board member of NAFCU went a step further and provided a detailed answer to a slightly different question: “How does a volunteer get elected to the board of a nation credit union trade association?” His letter to the editor in last week’s issue of Credit Union Times is an excellent game plan by someone who has been there and done that successfully. Every volunteer aspiring to a position on the boards of CUNA or NAFCU or even their state league, or any one of the dozens of other primarily national CU groups, should read Gilbert’s letter and follow his on-target advice. I say that after receiving e-mails from and talking to somewhat disgruntled volunteers after my column appeared. Although a number of suggestions Gilbert makes are frankly basic stuff to those folks already occupying national board chairs, many volunteers wanting to sit beside them have shown me that they don’t have a clue how to get there. Complaining won’t do it. One veteran volunteer I spoke with tried to convince me that there was no place for volunteers to go and talk to other volunteers. He was completely unaware of the numerous volunteer conferences held in many states and around the country. For instance, one of the biggest and best of these, sponsored by an independent group for the last 28 years, was held in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. It merited four pages of coverage in this publication. That conference is one of many throughout the year earmarked for volunteers. Where better to talk to other volunteers face-to-face and to gather contact information for ongoing networking? Which only proves that volunteers need to do a little research if they want to be able to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities already available to get educated (lots more than just conferences), to network with other volunteers (in person and via phone and e-mail), and to gain vital exposure (write and speak). Gilbert’s to do list included writing and speaking on credit union issues. A perfect example of how to do that is to write a letter to the editor (LTE) of this publication which carries more LTEs than all other credit union publications combined. Yet, how many of these letters come from volunteers? Very few. One volunteer confessed to me that he only heard about Credit Union Times for the first time when he picked up a complimentary copy at a conference. So what about volunteers getting exposure by serving on their state’s volunteer conference program committee? Or speaking at these meetings? Tried to do both said one frustrated volunteer and was turned down flat. Does it make sense to develop programs of any and all types for volunteers with absolutely no input from volunteers? I think not! Still another example that volunteers may not be plugged in: The current poll on the Credit Union Times Web site (cutimes.com) has consistently shown more respondents don’t favor getting more volunteers on national credit union trade association boards than do. This surprised me. I thought the poll would show overwhelmingly just the opposite. There are thousands more volunteers as potential voters than paid staff. But I also think this shows that not that many volunteers are aware of the poll, or perhaps do not access the Internet nearly as often as paid staffers. Speaking of the Credit Union Times Web site, several volunteers told me that they didn’t know it even existed. Another thought you had to subscribe to it. (It’s free.) Still another confessed he wasn’t aware that it is updated all day long as news unfolds, sometimes featuring as many as two dozen breaking news items. Is there any more convenient and cheaper way to stay current with credit union issues? We don’t track hits since we don’t sell advertising on our Web site. If we did track them, however, I have no doubt the lowest number by category would be hits by volunteers. All of this is not to say volunteers aren’t smart. They are, but not necessarily about all things credit unions. Outside of credit unions, I can think of a great many volunteers who posses more basic smarts than some credit union CEOs. But they are woefully lacking in the credit union knowledge it takes to be an effective credit union volunteer. And unwilling or think they are unable to get it. I also learned about some shocking policies since that last column. Some leagues do not automatically include all active credit union volunteers on their mailing lists to receive at a minimum the league publication. Volunteers have to find out about it on their own and ask to be put on the list. The reason they aren’t put on automatically is more disturbing. Some league staff and some CU CEO dominated boards “don’t want volunteers to get too much information which they could use to cause problems, “a direct quote by the way. One volunteer asked me if any state or national credit union organization keeps a data base of its volunteers. Does a league keep track of all the volunteers serving its credit unions? Does CUNA track league volunteers? He thought not because his league doesn’t. I simply don’t know the answer, but I do know they should for 101 obvious reasons. Unfortunately, this debate on why there aren’t more volunteers on state and national credit union boards will probably go one forever. Or at least as long as some trade group insiders work behind the scenes to keep volunteers “in their place.” Or as long as volunteers don’t make the extra effort to get elected by following the good advice put forth by volunteer Dave Gilbert. 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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