1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar


Careers·Change·Collaboration·Conferences·Crash·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·Creativity·CUNA·Filene·Gen Y·Governmental Affairs·Ideas·Leadership·Meetups·Mentorship·News Release·Perception·Professional Development

Say Yes.

Let’s get up around 6am daily and potentially stay up until 2am nightly.  On a daily average let’s do 13,000 steps and burn 3,500 calories without hitting the gym.  But it doesn’t stop there, let’s push through the joint pain, muscle aches and any other bodily issue that may fall to fatigue or soreness because trust me, places that you didn’t know could ache will show themselves during this timeframe.

High-fiving Crash Facilitator, CUNA’s Ariel Bilskey!

However, let’s not forget conditions that require emotional and mental preparation.  Although these conditions may vary, they could include but aren’t limited to: being alert every waking hour, managing hunger or the feeling of being hangry (hungry +angry), dehydration or over hydration, seeing every moment to make an impression for future follow ups, photo opts, converting strangers to friends or family, massive social media updates, patience of a grade school teacher, stamina of long distance runner, and smiles and handshakes, oh yes many many smiles and handshakes for everyone.  Lastly, let’s make sure we are equipped with two very important skills, the electric slide and a new or current dance.  For this example let’s say the Whip and Nae Nae but, it’s ok to only prepare for one or the other, this is a judgment free zone.  Who fills this role and what calls for this type of conditions?  Is it a professional athlete, a politician, or movie star?  Is it a sporting event, campaign, or an awards show?

No, it’s a Crasher at the CUNA GAC (Government Affairs Conference) 2016 and I’m proud to be one.

I can still remember the stages of excitement vividly as the days changed throughout the week.  Although originally nervous, I was at ease entering into this conference thanks to the preparation, structure and leadership of James Marshall, the Crasher team captains, and The Cooperative Trust.  It didn’t take long before the nerves fell by the waste side and were replaced with adrenalin.  Looking back, I am thankful for memories that will last a lifetime.

Carrying my flag at the opening ceremony, in front of almost 5000 people.

I can recall how exciting it was to meet my fellow crashers after many weeks of discussions and online activities.  I’ll never forget my heart pounding as I walked with my association president carrying our state flag surrounded by the claps, shouts and positive energy to kick off the conference.  I’ll recall the unity while everyone bowed their heads in prayer for a divine blessing for the conference and each attendee.

Although 5000 people were estimated to participate, it was the consistent message and unity that I felt throughout the conference.  I remember other defining moments such as the feeling of honor and admiration to meet some of the current leaders of the movement from NCUA, CUNA, and NAFCU, to mention a few.  Knowing that individuals such as Jim Nussle, Rich Meade, Gigi Hyland, Ryan Donovan, and Monica Davy would take their time to invest in us was unbelievable.  To be able to hear their personal stories was a highlight of the conference.  It’s not every day that anyone can get personal time with so many leaders of the movement.  All of this can transpire in one day at the GAC and its worth every moment.  It seems overwhelming, and it is.  Yet in this environment I found the culture had a way of keeping me energized and wanting more.

My experience at the GAC made me even more proud to be a credit union professional.  The feeling that I can effectively create change through advocacy or community reinvestments, to increase financial wellness is incredible. But it was at the GAC where I saw the credit union culture at its best.  The GAC served as a platform to hear the stories across the nation of kindness and courage to fight for what’s right.  From conversations with representatives in congress to random conversations at social events, it was easy to see how the culture of people helping people was contagious.  Information sharing wasn’t frowned upon, in fact it was the norm.  The culture of every individual I came into contact with broadened my understanding of the impact our not for profit cooperative has on the nation.  Every moment was invaluable at the GAC.

For future crashers, it’s important to know that a crasher isn’t one person who is selected to get shipped to Washington DC to meet 51 other strangers from across the nation.  We aren’t just gung-ho credit union advocates under the age of 35 with time on their hands to travel.  A crasher is a person who has said yes and believes in it. That’s it!

But this yes has probably been said a millions times in the mind of a crasher even after several no’s.  This yes is also a readiness.  The GAC is the

Saying YES to singing our National Anthem on day 1.

largest credit union advocacy event of the year with a duration of 5 days, but what about the other 360 days.  That yes is a consistent drive in the movement of a crasher from day to day.  That yes makes them get up early to tend to the needs of members and coworkers a like that isn’t in their job description.  That yes enables the mind of a crasher to innovate, create and establish new ideas that may disrupt the way we used to do things to be relevant to the new needs of a changing society.  That yes understands the social and economic needs of tomorrow and works to get them in place today.  That yes transfers the mind of a crasher to seek out mentors while being a mentor. That yes says I understand the call to action and I am available.  That yes represents the credit union difference.

That, is the heart of a crasher.

Future crashers of the world are the successors that will join hands with the current leaders now.  That is why the GAC is so important.  That is why you are so important.  It is at the GAC where that transfer can begin to take place.  Crashers go through an incubation process in a safe environment and it has the potential to change both your professional and personal lives forever.  Crashing the GAC was a defining moment in my life and it can be the same for you.  All it takes is a yes in your spirit and the rest can make history.

Careers·Community Development·Conferences·Crash·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·Creativity·CUNA·CUNA Mutual Group·Filene·Gen Y·Governmental Affairs·Innovation·Leadership·Meetups·Mentorship·News Release·Professional Development

Crash Course in Crashing

(1) Selfie with Jim Nussle. (2) Meeting with my representatives. (3) Group shot with my fellow crashers!

When you sign up to be a crasher, you create these expectations in your head. You might think “Oh, I’m just going to meet a few credit union people, learn some cooperative stuff and not embarrass my CEO at Thunderpunch.” Ok, we did all these things (maybe not that last one), but it’s just hitting the surface of this amazing experience.

Crashing personifies our feelings as young professionals. We are the future of the industry, and it gives us the opportunity to learn how to be ambassadors of our cooperative brand. When you Crash, you can expect to:


Being a lifetime learner is the cornerstone principle of the “Young Professional.” I think we pride ourselves on this quality because it’s admitting that we don’t know everything but we WANT to know more.  Crashing is like an extreme professional apprenticeship. You take in volumes of information in a short amount of time, but you leave with a new appreciation for your job. Yes credit unions help people, but crashing teaches us that we actually help each other too.


This experience was full of starstruck moments. It is totally intimidating to rub shoulders with people like Jim Nussle, Gigi Hyland and Stan Hollen. But any insecurities you may have had wash away because you are surrounded by bright like-minded individuals ready to hold you up and make you feel included. I compare this feeling to going away to college for the first time: everyone is a stranger at first, but the bonds you create are life-long.


I left DC with a spark *queue “this girl is on fire” by Alicia Keys*. I didn’t just come home with knowledge, I brought ideas. Crashing will do that. Blame it on the group dynamics, but I am motivated to share my experiences, encourage others to Crash and build an advocacy program at my credit union. Crashing has opened doors that maybe didn’t even exist, but now I feel empowered to create them.

As I sit here reflecting on these experiences, my phone continues to blow up with messages from fellow crashers. It reminds me to hold on to that excitement, stay motivated to learn more and continue to share the #CUdifference! Thank you for this amazing opportunity. The energy is real, and together we are going to do amazing things.

Change·Collaboration·Community Development·Conferences·Crash Event·Crash the GAC·CUNA·Filene·Gen Y·Ideas·Innovation·Leadership·Meetups·Mentorship·Professional Development

Dear Future Crashers…

Me outside the exhibit hall for the CUNA GAC!

It is just hours after my final event of Crash the GAC 2016 and I am already thinking about the next group of Crashers for the 2017 session. I have gone from being surrounded by inspiring and motivated peers to being alone in a hotel room, unable to stop replaying the extraordinary events from the past 5 days. I’m definitely feeling all the feels. Yes, the schedule was packed, and yes, I’m super tired, but it has been an experience like none other and I can’t help feeling grateful to have been part of it.

Let me start by addressing a few of your potential questions:

  1. Did you get much sleep? Nope, but neither did anyone else, and it is easier to be awake and happy when you have 51 friends who are going through it with you. (Plus, as James aptly reminded us, you can sleep next week.)
  2. Did you like your roommate? Yes! In fact, connecting with my roommate Tara Efird (South Carolina) was one of the top highlights of the entire experience.
  3. Is James Marshall as British as he seems? Even more so.
  4. What happened at Thunderpunch 2016? Not telling. (Yes, this party is that awesome.)
  5. Who makes this Crash happen? So many people! I’d like to send a huge THANK YOU to CUNA and Filene, who support Crash the GAC and the Crashers. We couldn’t attend without CUNA’s generosity, and wouldn’t have our extra sessions without Filene putting together an awesome schedule. (Note: An extra shoutout to CUNA CEO Jim Nussle who has been incredibly supportive!) Everywhere you go you will meet people that shape your experience – take a minute to thank each and every one of them.
  6. Why should I apply to be a Crasher? Because the experience will change your life, if you let it. You will walk away with close friends, valuable connections, and enthusiasm about the credit union movement.

I would like to call out an important topic: engagement. The old saying “you get out of it what you put into it” is so true. While you can’t help but be inspired by the excellent speakers and in awe of Capital Hill, it is your Crasher duty to engage fully and deeply with the people around you. I know there is often aversion to it, but “networking” is not a dirty word – it is simply the term for connecting with others and exchanging information. How could that be bad? If you put yourself out there, be genuinely interested in others, and keep a smile on your face during the late nights and early mornings, you will reap the rewards.

With my roommate, Tara!

I am privileged to have had conversations with amazing people in the credit union movement and they were all so generous with their time and advice. I took copious notes (often on my iPhone in the corner of a bar so I didn’t miss capturing the wisdom of new friends) and I have a handful of business cards that I will definitely be putting to use when I have a question or need guidance in the future. There are so many great photos and quotes on Twitter under #CrashTheGAC16 and #CUNAGAC that will give you a good idea about what to expect from the sessions, and I already know that I will be revisiting those threads regularly.

As I prepare to head back into the real world, motivated and focused, I leave you with this: Credit unions need you to Crash the GAC. This movement, founded on the idea of people helping people, wants and needs talented young professionals that can carry the torch into the future. If we step up and take these development opportunities seriously, we put ourselves in the position to be credit union leaders that protect members and serve communities. The Crashers have the fire – bring on the torch.

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/

To start connecting please log in first.