Successful Advocacy Requires a Full Toolbox

By Heather Anderson

Greg Mesack, NAFCU senior vice president of Government Affairs

Despite their best intentions, credit union leaders can become worn down by the daily grind. Each day brings a new challenge to managing regulation, competition, market conditions, risk and a labor market so unsettled The Washington Post has called it “The Great Reassessment.”

In life, playing defense is a necessary evil. However, a winning organization must also reserve time and energy to play offense so it can take advantage of opportunities and advance its own agenda.

It’s not enough to hold the line. You have to move the sticks.

Greg Mesack, NAFCU’s new senior vice president of Government Affairs, knows how to play defense. He’s worked in Washington for 22 years advocating on behalf of financial institutions and payment providers, becoming very well versed in the issues facing credit unions. In fact, he was named a top lobbyist by The Hill.

Most recently, Mesack joins NAFCU from the law and lobbying firm of GrayRobinson. Prior to that, he was Managing Director and Partner at Eris Group and his clients have included the Mortgage Bankers Association, Financial Services Institute, Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, TransUnion, PayPal, Western Union and Nike.

Mesack holds a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Miami University.

“You can’t get caught in the rut of doing the same thing day after day,” he explained. “Don’t get me wrong, you still have to do the blocking and tackling, but you also have to be ready to identify opportunities and move on them.”

Mesack will head NAFCU’s compliance, regulatory, research, PAC and lobbying efforts. He said the trade association’s path forward will be supported by two key areas: strong relationships and an all-encompassing approach to advocacy.

“You won’t find out where the next attack or opportunity is unless you’re out there talking and working with people and building relationships,” he said, adding, “But NAFCU can’t build those relationships alone, members have to do that. They’re the ones with the passion.”

Trade associations don’t exist to serve themselves, they work for their members. That means providing members with the tools they need to turn their passion into action on Capitol Hill. That means providing successful grassroots campaigns, convincing research and data, follow up visits from individual lobbyists and a place on committee staff meeting agendas.

Successful advocacy combines relationships with these tools, giving members the power to solve problems and capture opportunities.

Mesack has worked with a variety of financial services providers, including fintechs, and in his last position, he represented clients in some new industries. New relationships gained in that position will benefit NAFCU on Capitol Hill and across Washington, further enriching the advocacy toolbox.

A few years outside financial services also provided some inspiration to be creative and innovative.

“Oftentimes, the problem isn’t that you didn’t properly execute the solution,” Mesack explained. “It’s that you misunderstood the problem. If you’re in a rut and you’re not gaining ground, maybe you need to try a different way.”

Going against “the way we’ve always done it” makes people uncomfortable, he observed, but people feel a lot better after a win than another draw or a loss.

Make no mistake, Mesack isn’t the kind to shake things up just for the sake of change. He plans to retain many of the successful strategies already put into place by the association.

“I prefer to give people clear expectations, clear guidelines under which to operate and let them do their job,” he said of his management style. “I want my team to be the best they can and do the best job possible for our members.”