It’s easy to let NCUA assessments have a negative impact on not only your balance sheet but also the attitudes within your credit union. However, the direction of our momentum in 2011 is vitally important to the credit union system’s success beyond 2011.

I grew up living and breathing Kentucky Wildcats basketball, so here’s a sports analogy. Winning teams don’t let the numbers on the scoreboard dictate how hard they play the game. They have true passion, purpose to win, work together as a team and have a positive attitude.

Playing a basketball game is analogous to being a credit union. Stick to the fundamentals, and your odds of winning are vastly increased. Those are cooperation, serving our member-owners and those who are underserved, and doing business the right way as governed by our not-for-profit structure.

Passion should come from the vision of wanting to serve your members better than they could ever dream to be served elsewhere. I tell my employees frequently, “If you don’t truly believe we are the best financial institution for our members, then we’ve got a problem.” Moreover, I encourage them to have conversations with me about their perceptions of the credit union.

If you have a good product, truly operate by the credit union founding philosophies and the passion isn’t there, you either have a failure of leadership or you need new people. You can’t make someone have passion, but it is something everyone on your team needs to have.

We all have a common purpose. Helping people better their financial situations is the crux of our industry.

Clearly define your credit union’s purpose, and that purpose needs to be behind everything your credit union does, whether it’s operations, marketing or human resources. Focus on what sets you apart, and make sure everything you do is a reflection of that differentiator.

We tend, when the economic and political landscape gets tough, to solely focus on our own credit union. But now it is as important as ever to remember that we are all part of something greater, a regional, statewide, and national credit union system.

Getting involved in political advocacy is critically important. So many credit union leaders pass on political advocacy, leaving it up to other credit unions and their trade associations to handle. The only way to affect change for credit unions is to get out there and fight together.

Cooperation also means collaboration and innovation, two things that will be key catalysts for future successes. The innovative efforts of one credit union in one state won’t help credit unions gain market share nationally. But 7,500 or so credit unions pooling their innovative efforts could win a lot of games together.

Now is our time to shine. Regardless of what we encounter, we will maintain a positive attitude.

Be positive about the fact that we are still lending, experiencing member growth and meeting our members’ financial needs. We need to lead with excitement and optimism, and let that energy seep into every fiber of what we do.

This year cannot be a wait and see year. Let’s stick to the fundamentals, reignite our passion, sharpen our purpose and let’s work together to win this game.

The Crash Network is a grassroots organization of more than 100 young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships, online collaboration and development projects. Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.

Amanda Thomas is marketing and business development manager at Members First Credit Union, Columbus, Ohio. Contact: 614-462-6850 ext. 101 or