WASHINGTON-In response to the calls for greater transparency in credit union service to those of modest means discussed at the Nov. 3 House Ways and Means Committee hearing, CU-Vote has partnered with Callahan & Associates to bring the program nationwide. CU-Vote is a program started by the Alabama Credit Union League about three years ago with the goal of raising the awareness of members on key credit union issues. “We entered into a partnership with Callahan’s to make our member education program available to anyone nationwide; we had such good success in Alabama,” CU-Vote Director Wesley Emmons explained. He added, “It’s something we think is going to be very helpful.” He pointed to the nearly 87 million credit union members nationwide as valuable political capital that may need to be tapped in a real battle to demonstrate the credit union difference and their grassroots strength. Jon Jeffreys, assistant vice president for Callahan & Associates, has been working with the Alabama contingency to make the nationwide program a reality. “The first step is to make people aware of the program outside of Alabama,” he said. To accomplish this, Callahan’s plans to use its own network of credit union contacts and its www.creditunions.com Web site and other resources. The plan was just finalized a couple of weeks ago, Jeffreys said, but he expects to have eight to 10 of the larger credit unions signed up within the next four to six weeks. His personal goal was to get 10 to 15 credit unions signed up in the first quarter of 2006. After placing a story on www.creditunions.com, Jeffreys said, about two-dozen inquiries came in. From exploring the idea with credit unions, he learned that the larger ones are most likely to sign on first, which will provide solid credit union member penetration. Once a “critical mass” of credit unions has signed onto the program, the message will be much more powerful in addition to being more unified, he commented. While the initial plan for CU-Vote in Alabama was to jump right into politics – Emmons’ specialty for more than a decade – initial surveys showed that credit union members did not even understand the credit union difference. “They need to know what’s worth defending,” he said, so education is a top priority of the program. “We believe that credit unions are unique and that most members don’t even know that,” Jeffreys agreed. “Education is the first step of mobilization.” The dues-based program – which is 10-cents per credit union member, according to Jeffreys – provides a number of support materials from direct mailers to statement stuffers, information for e-statements to one of the latest developments: short DVD clips for credit unions to run in their lobbies. There are items on the www.cuvote.org Web site that member credit unions can use for pages on their own Web site or link to. CU-Vote also produced congressional campaign guides at election time in Alabama. These items were mailed directly to about 600,000 credit union members, which Emmons described as “a big step forward in political maturity for credit unions.” Currently about 75 credit unions – or half the Alabama league members representing 90% of credit union members – participate in CU-Vote, Emmons said. And the results are clear. When the program began, polling demonstrated that only about 25% of credit union members surveyed knew credit unions were not-for-profits and the percent that realized they were tax-exempt was in the teens. Now, those percentages are around 60% and 30%, respectively, according to Emmons. Additionally, before the program was started and individual credit unions were sending some political mailings on their own, only about 5% of credit union members polled said they received election materials from their credit union. During the 2003-2004 election cycle that number jumped to 30%, Emmons explained. He predicted about 50% recognition for the 2005-2006 election cycle. Alabama credit unions acknowledge the benefits of CU-Vote with a nearly 100% retention rate. Callahan’s Jeffreys said CU-Vote membership is a good value at roughly equivalent to the cost of mailing one statement stuffer. “The good thing is that most of the materials created in Alabama are not Alabama specific. They’re credit union specific,” Jeffreys said, so many will translate for other credit unions without tweaking. The biggest challenge will be printing large quantities of materials, especially if there is a huge spike in requests and some large credit unions join, but that is a good problem to have, he quipped. The timing of the national release of the program is crucial, Emmons emphasized. “The hearing was a big step. A bill is the next step and we don’t want to get there,” he stated. Members really respond to credit unions’ not-for-profit angle, Emmons said, adding, “The side benefit is that members will love their credit unions even more.” -

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