What Would Mr. Rogers Say?

A half-century after he helped save public broadcasting, what can the TV icon, and my family friend, teach the credit union movement in its own moment of crisis?

The GAC last week provided many memorable moments. There were meetings and conversations about how to keep the credit union movement growing and thriving coupled with speeches from President George W. Bush and Gen. Colin Powell.

It was a historic week of looking forwarding that ended, for me, with a blast from the past.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and the minister of my childhood Presbyterian church was also a remarkable family friend Fred Rogers.


Yes, when I was a kid, Mr. Rogers would come to my house. No, he did not take off his shoes. Yes, he always wore those cardigan sweaters.

I assumed he came to every kid’s house. That wasn’t the case, but it was through a very special visit in 1969 to one house well, the Senate, actually that Mr. Rogers secured his spot in living rooms across the country. That’s when Mr. Rogers the host, puppeteer, writer, and songsmith behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood appeared in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications to, essentially, save public television.

Watch his testimony. It’s worth six minutes.

Fast-forward to 2018. The credit union movement faces headwinds, including some inconvenient ones we don’t want to talk about. Tax reform will give our already deep-pocketed banking adversaries more resources to spend on perception and influence, and credit unions are as firmly as ever in their sights. The war with banks is on again.

Will those within our movement stand together as we face challenges posed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in Congress or the legislature in Iowa? Or, will it be every credit union executive for themselves?

Can the movement unite to defend the credit union tax exemption and the credit union difference itself? As CUNA, NAFCU, and the state leagues evolve, we’re beginning to see perceived winners and losers. Will that help or hinder the greater cause?

As every study on financial regulation pulls into question the role of an independent NCUA, will the movement fight for the agency’s continued independence? As the debate over the dual-chartering system heats up, is the movement willing to stand up for this structure?

As these smoldering issues burst into flame, what would Mr. Rogers say? Who will get up and tell OUR story of a century of financial inclusion that’s still going strong?

Also read: The credit union movement needs to tell its small stories, but who will be our Mr. Rogers?

Is there anyone we would agree on? What would we hope they say?

Are there principles we as a movement still agree on that we can communicate effectively? Or, is the movement just 5,500 individual organizations that happen to share the same charter?

Do we still have common values, or are we better off choosing sides within the movement and fighting alone?

It’s Time For Tough Questions

Asking tough questions helps the credit union movement flourish. Make Callahan’s Tough Questions commentary on CreditUnions.com a regular stop for insight on thinking differently about the movement and framing strategies for success.

I fear some might say, Jon, get out of your bubble. We aren’t and haven’t been a movement for quite a while now. That’s sad, but I can imagine it happening.

One of the critical issues the movement needs to address now, as it nears a possible fight for its life, is what can those within it do to unite around a message that will both win the day and the years ahead for the member-owned financial institution model?

Maybe framing the debate this way will lead to dialogue that unites us. As Ed Callahan said, Only though collaboration can the bantamweights compete with the heavyweights.

Answering tough questions requires honest assessment, introspection, and consultation. It’s an arduous process, but tough questions demand nothing less. Callahan’s Strategy Lab helps credit unions think differently about how to frame challenges and develop answers. Learn more today.

March 6, 2018

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