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Crash·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·Governmental Affairs

Turns Out, Governmental Affairs and Tie-Dyed Shirts Do Go Together

2015 Crashers! Photo credit: Andy Janning.

“I’m Minnesota,” or as many of my Crasher friends would adoringly point out as they repeated it in the way I supposedly say it, “I’m Minnesooo-dah.”

Early this March, I spent nearly a week with complete strangers in our nation’s capital talking about credit unions. I’ve learned it’s a great topic to kumbaya over because when it was time to say goodbye, I was like, “That’s it? Can there be more?” Not to mention, I knew I was genuinely going to miss this group of people I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet.

Officially, this group was called “Crash the GAC 2015,” and it was made up of one “Crasher” from every state. What were we crashing? The mother of all credit union get-togethers: the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) – moving forward, known as the GAC.

This year’s GAC brought together more than 5,000 credit union professionals from across the country to talk about all things credit union – legislative issues that affect us, policies and practices we should implement, new technology we should offer, and so. much. more. To summarize GAC and all of the information it covers would sell it much too short, so I offer you this: if you ever have the opportunity to go, GO!

The purpose of having Crashers at this type of event is because the Crash group is made up of credit union professionals who are 35-ish and just dipping their toes into the cooperative pool. I don’t want to give you the impression that we were all “new employees,” because some Crashers have worked at their credit union for more than five years. What I mean is that we all are on the cusp of experiencing, or are currently experiencing, a point in our credit union careers at which we ask, “I love this, but how can I grow more, do more, give more back to our members?”

And those questions are the glue that helped us stick together and support each other through six days of a nonstop, bootcamp-like schedule of early morning meetings and late night social oblitunities. I combined obligation and opportunity here because, for some reason, the word obligation has a negative connotation, like “I was forced [obligated] to go. Ugh.” In no way were these social outings a drag – they were scheduled, and for the most part, structured, so we would accomplish brainstorming, networking, innovating, dancing (insert more powerful verbs ending in –ing here).

When you bring together a group of more than 50 people who don’t know each other, it sounds like something that could turn out like Survivor. But this group of dedicated professionals is eager for the opportunity to learn about ways they can better themselves so they in-turn can better their credit unions and the credit union movement. It was the recipe for something magical.

Because of this incredible opportunity to Crash, I’m more engaged in my job as a marketing specialist at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union than ever before. I’m hungry for more knowledge; I’m seeking more networking opportunities within the credit union industry and beyond; and I’m more vocal about why I love my credit union.

“How do you prevent yourselves from having conference amnesia?” We were asked this question as a group before we left the conference. We decided the proper remedy would be to stay in touch using The Cooperative Trust website, a website designed to connect credit union professionals using a forum atmosphere. I must point out, we all returned to our lives on the evening of Thursday, March 12, and there hasn’t been a day since I haven’t texted, messaged, or responded in a forum to one of my fellow crashers, and I don’t see that dissipating any time soon.

The experience was like a pink and blue tie-dyed shirt. For laundry purposes, it could be washed in a cycle of its own, but you choose not to because its bright, cheery colors should be shared and remembered – just like Crash the GAC 2015 and my 50+ new buddies.

big. bright. minds.·Collaboration·Crash·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·CUNA·Filene·Gen Y·Governmental Affairs·Leadership·Professional Development

#CrashtheGAC15 or: How to Change a Life in 144 Hours


By: Grant Gallagher, External Affairs & Financial Education Specialist at Affinity FCU
NJ’s own “non-fist pumping fist pumper”

When I received my first email about “Crash the GAC” from Candice Nigro, VP of Marketing, Communications & Business Development of the New Jersey Credit Union League, in 2013, I thought it sounded like an interesting concept. I had heard good things about the GAC from my senior leadership prior to my attendance as a crasher, and as someone who has their hand in credit union regulatory and legislative advocacy on a regular basis, a “free ride” to the premier conference covering this topic seemed almost too good to be true. I ap­plied my first year, to my disappointment, with no success. Fast forward to January 16, 2015, the day I received my application outcome (and accep­tance!) as a crasher, a day that would, unknow­ingly to me at the time, change my personal and professional life forever.

To “Crash the GAC” to some means to go and be disrup­tive. Shake up an institution that has the median age of 110 and has forgotten that the future of credit unions lies in the hands of a generation more comfortable tweeting to an audience of 1,000+ followers than picking up the phone and calling a single individual. To me, “Crashing” was a 144-hour crash course in credit unions, cooperatives, advocacy, networking, training, and much more. Despite my familiarity with issues such as preserving the not-for-profit tax status of credit unions, stopping merchant and retailer data breaches, increasing the MBL cap, relieving regulatory burden, and the need for access to supplemental capital, it was not until after hearing numerous anecdotes in regards to how these issues are directly impacting other credit unions on a day-to-day basis, that the urgency, and my understanding, of these issues became expo­nentially clearer.

Trying to summarize the experience of a crasher in the space I have here is an unjust task. Not even Mark Twain or E.E. Cum­mings could pen the words succinctly enough to fill such a space. Regardless, I will try: The experience was awesome; the people even more incredible. Just to clarify, when I say “awe­some”, I do not mean it in the all too common use as “neat”, “cool”, “great”, or “terrific”, I mean it quite literally as “inspiring awe”. The crashers were led by James Marshall of the Cooperative Trust, a subset of the Filene Research Institute. Within moments of meeting this amazing group he miraculously crafted, I couldn’t believe I had lived my life without knowing them prior to becoming a crasher. I met 52 credit union advocate crashers, and 4 crasher leaders, and one incredible photographer, in Washington, D.C., and left with 57 new friends. The crashers did not just network; we bonded, we laughed, we cried, we formed inside jokes within hours of meeting, and we formed a network of friends that stretches from Alaska to Florida.

While the breakout sessions, exhibit floor, receptions, and general sessions were brimming with compelling individuals and inspiring speakers such as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, USA (Ret.); former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer; and chair, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group Arianna Huffington; the “pièce de résistance” was truly the small group roundtable sessions every morning/afternoon. These sessions would occur every day and would feature four speakers from CUNA, Filene, CUNA Councils, other state leagues, cooperatives, NCUF, and more. They were structured so that each of the indi­viduals would present for 10 minutes on their area of exper­tise, and then the small table discussions would com­mence, with a speaker as­signed to each of the four small groups to discuss the pre­sentation, their topic of ex­pertise, or any burning ques­tions that any of the crashers may have had in regards to anything in the credit union world. Rinse and repeat, until all speakers had their chance to present. The discussions most importantly stressed that the crashers’ opinions were important and valued. All of the guest speakers made it clear that the future of credit unions is in our hands, took our questions, comments, and opinions seriously; as a young professional, that is an unfor­tunately rare commodity to come by.

Most of the small table sessions took place at 7 a.m., after a late night, and it may only be those of you that know me, and my distaste for mornings, that will truly appreciate just how much more powerful that makes my accolade for those sessions. I am happy to divulge that I love to sleep, but in the six days I spent crashing the GAC, I slept a total of 17 hours. If I could do it all over again, I would not change a single second. Both the days and nights were long, but when you are in the midst of a once in a lifetime opportunity, you realize you can sleep when you’re dead. Despite lack of sleep, all 52 of us still managed to happily keep to our daily, grueling 18-hour schedules.

When I received that first email back in 2013, I never thought it would lead to an experience that I, and all 51 other crashers unanimously, would call “life changing”. My experience has inspired me to pursue forming a young professionals network, has given me the passion to make sure the voices of young credit union profession­als are heard, has strengthened my belief in coopera­tives, and that the greatness provided by them is greater than the sum of their parts, and it has solidified a place in my heart for credit unions. It was an incredible privilege to #CrashtheGAC2015, and while I cannot express my thanks to the magnitude it is deserved, my sentiments go out to Filene Research Institute/The Cooperative Trust, CUNA and The Foundation, to the New Jersey Credit Union League, my boss Lauretta Farrell, and to all of the leadership from Affinity Federal Credit Union, who not only joined me in attendance, and for a selfie, at the crasher’s annual party THUNDERPUNCH, but also encourage my professional development on a regular basis. Thank you all for your encouragement and support of myself, and of the crash program.

Lastly, to anyone who has the opportunity to send a young professional to “Crash the GAC”, I would highly encourage it. It is an investment in the young professionals in your credit union that has an exponential potential return. The CUNA GAC that you know and love is only a tenth of the content and experience that the crashers receive. To those young professionals who have not considered applying, or have applied and not been selected, it is an experience you will never forget and something worth pursuing unyieldingly. To my fellow NJ applicants for Crash the GAC 2016, I offer you the best of luck; as someone who is already planning next year’s application, I hear you are up against some stiff competition.

To get a firsthand look of my experience “Crashing the GAC” see my photos/live tweets by following me on Twitter @thegrantg.

The views and opinions expressed above are solely my own and do not reflect those of Affinity Federal Credit Union, the New Jersey Credit Union League, or Filene/the Cooperative Trust.

Crash·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·Filene·Governmental Affairs·Professional Development

From crash to cooperative: how to change a life in six days

By Brian Rich aka BRich aka the guy from Idaho

It’s not often you meet someone, spend six days with them, and create such a bond that you’re brought to tears upon separation. It’s even less common when you can say this not only happened with one individual, but with more than 50 of them simultaneously. And yet, this is exactly how Crash the GAC 2015 played out for dozens of young credit union professionals from across the country.

The Crash the GAC 2015 crew | Photo by Andy Janning

Call it a product of sleeplessness, physical exhaustion and emotional depletion if you want, as those individual factors undoubtedly created the perfect environment to reduce 50+ Millennials to a sobbing mess on the final day of the conference. But these realities aside, this emotional breakdown (or crash, if you will) couldn’t have existed without a passionate buildup first taking place; the kind that happens when community-minded young people are glued together for six days to cultivate the future of the cooperative financial movement and determine how our careers will contribute to that development. Six days where 10 miles of walking and 18 hours of activity each day, followed by four hours of sleep each night, is not only common but incapable of subduing the enthusiasm generated by the bonds forged through the process. A process that took a group of disparate individuals scattered across the country and, with a touch of beautiful irony, created a cooperative group greater than the sum of its parts – a group that could serve as the very model of cooperative behavior we seek to establish across the cooperative national landscape as we know it.

Just as the 2015 crashers are greater than the sum of our parts, so was our experience crashing the GAC. What could have been a tremendous – albeit isolated – learning experience for any one of us instead became a movement within a movement. Because of this shared experience, we now enjoy an unstoppable momentum across the country, where this group of crashers has ignored the reality that we now span 5,000 miles and has instead grown even closer, thanks entirely to social media, this brilliant Cooperative Trust website and the simple fact that Millennials are obsessed with texting, group chat and instant messaging. To wit, in the week since we returned home, dozens of messages have been exchanged on the topics of business development, cooperative partnerships, financial literacy and other topics that allow our collective wisdom to spread far beyond the walls of our offices and credit unions. Many of us – myself included – have even joined with our state’s former crashers to create local young professional groups to keep the momentum going locally.

2015 Crash the GAC embrace for a group hug

If you look close enough, most of us are crying | Photo by Andy Janning

I know I can speak on behalf of my fellow crashers (we’re close like that) when I say this program changed our lives. And with the same degree of certainty, I can tell credit union leaders across the country that this experience, and the action items generated by it, will permanently bolster the credit union movement as a direct result of our time spent together. It would be impossible to quantify my gratitude for the privilege that was Crash the GAC 2015, but I’ll attempt to say thanks nonetheless. To James Marshall and Filene Research Institute/The Cooperative Trust, CUNA and The Foundation, to the Idaho Credit Union League and to Connie Miller, my CEO and awesome boss leader, thank you for your support of the crash program. I can’t tell you how much this program meant to the crashers, but I can promise we’ll attempt to show you through our actions over the coming months and years.

Careers·Change·Community Development·Crash the GAC·Innovation·Leadership

Hi Chris!

§ a note from james §

Hi everyone,

This is some really exciting news! I would like to welcome Chris Fraenza into The Cooperative Trust family!!!

As many of you know, at the end of 2013 Theresa Hilinski moved on from The Trust. We wish her nothing but success for her future and thank her for everything she’s done over the years.

But change brings new challenges and lots of excitement. Chris is a young credit union guy through and through. We’re so so excited to have him as he brings a wealth of experience. He’s great with people, children and pets too! We couldn’t ask for anyone better than Chris to join us on our journey as we take The Cooperative Trust forward.

Party time!!

§ a note from chris §

Hi everyone!

I couldn’t be more excited to begin working with The Cooperative Trust and all of you great young people! I am no stranger to credit unions, young adults, and the issues that we face personally and industry wide. As young adults, we play a very important role in shaping the future of credit unions—what we can accomplish is limitless.

Like many of you 2014 brought many changes to my life, I started a new role at Filene Research Institute as the Research and Innovation Catalyst. One of my main responsibilities will be to assist the Trust’s leader, James, in all the cool stuff that we plan to make happen. My new role also allows me to help credit unions create “Impact” and engage with our valued membership. I cover a lot of ground and move fast, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I can’t wait to see many of you at Crash the GAC ’14. Please reach out and say “hi” and keep on doing what you’re doing. Ya’ll are awesome! (I’m not from the south but I think it sounds better!)



Twitter: @cfraenza

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/christopher-fraenza/39/279/9a9/

Crash the GAC

Your 2014 GAC Crashers!

It’s finally here! It’s finally here!!!!!!!!!

Your 2014 GAC Crashers! Check them out!

Crash the GAC

Crash the GAC 2014!

Welcome, welcome!

Today, we have some seriously amazing news for you and I hope you have your party hats on because you are NOT going to want to miss this!

We are ever so delighted to announce that The Cooperative Trust, CUNA and your state leagues/associations are joining forces to launch the search for our Crashers for the CUNA GAC 2014!

This year, we are attempting to get 1 crasher from each state and the District of Columbia represented at this year’s GAC.  That’s right, 51 Crashers in D.C.  Applications are now open, click here to go and fill one out!

Applications close on December 17th 2013.

Every Crasher will receive a full conference registration from CUNA. If the chosen Crasher’s credit union can’t cover all of their travel expenses their league may be providing some funding to help too!  More details about available sponsorship can be found on the Crash the GAC site.

With more Crashers than ever before, a deeper dive into the world of credit union advocacy, and support from state leagues, Crash the GAC is going to help arm our young professionals with ideas to stay involved when they return home.

Crash the GAC will bring young credit union professionals together, running a tailored program alongside the main event and allowing for mentor sessions with key individuals from the likes of National Credit Union Foundation, Credit Union National Association, National Credit Union Administration, Filene Research Institute and CUNA Mutual Group.

We also got a cool little quote from Jill Tomalin, EVP and COO of Credit Union National Association:

I believe we need to develop next generation leaders to grow, promote and sustain the credit union movement. The CUNA GAC is the premier, annual, must-attend program for engaged credit union staff.  We look forward to working with The Cooperative Trust to expand the presence of young professionals in the 2014 Crash the GAC.

Head over to www.crashthegac.com right now to find out more and complete an application form.

Seriously, why have you not gone to www.crashthegac.com yet?

REALLY?! You’ve still not clicked and visited? You really need to hurry up!

Good luck with your application. If you have any questions, email us at: trust@trust.coop

Collaboration·Cooperative Economy·Crash the GAC

Crash the GAC 2013: What’s Ahead

This year’s Crasher projects have been in full swing the past few weeks.  Since we returned from DC, (four) groups have been working like crazy to prototype their ideas on creating more accessible lending options for cooperatives, through a cooperative fund. You’ll find their individual recaps through the links below on the steps they’ve taken so far.

The Projects

LoCoSo (local, co-operative, social)

Team members: Chris Friederich (team lead), James Marshall, Jennifer Tebbe & Meghan Storck

The Cooperative Bucket

Team members: Ashley Dietz (team lead), Amanda Brenneman, Olivia Rockers, Mitchell Michiels & Liz Weger

Community Cooperative Catalyst (CCC)

Team members: Sean Flynn (team lead), Justin Mouzoukos, Lindsay Estok, Blake Woods & Josh Smith

CU Grow Foundation

Team members: Danielle Frawley (team lead), Erin Ballard, Brittany Hilton, Chad Holz & Ashley Pierce

The Judges

We’ve been lucky enough to secure four well-respected judges to provide feedback and direction to our teams.  Over the next several months, each of the judges will be piping in with their thoughts on how the teams can improve their projects and refine their focus.

Bryan Sims
Tansley Stearns
Impact Director
Tim McAlpine
President & Creative Director
Todd Marksberry
Executive Leadership

Next Steps

As you can see, the teams have jumped in with two feet and already have plans for what they’ll revise for their second round of prototyping.  In early May, each group, along with our judges will be meeting up through a Google Hangout to review more in-depth results from their first round of work.  Here’s a glimpse for the rest of the steps they’ll be taking towards a successful cooperative fund:

Round 1: Prototype 1 – Due April 2nd
Round 2: Prototype Results – Due April 30th
Round 3: Prototype 2 – Due June 4th
Round 4: Prototype Results – Due July 9th


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