The credit union movement’s biggest annual advocacy event, the Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) hosted by America’s Credit Unions, will occur this year from March 3 to 7 in Washington, D.C. and draw an estimated 6,000 attendees, including CEOs, board members, and executives. In addition to networking and informative sessions, the event offers credit union leaders and allies the opportunity to advocate for the movement and amplify a united voice on critical credit union issues.

Doug English sits with Todd Spiczenski, Chief Association Services Officer at America’s Credit Unions, to discuss what changes and improvements attendees can expect and how they can make the most of their time between Hill hikes, networking, and breakout sessions.

What’s New at GAC 2024?

New and returning GAC attendees are in for a new and improved GAC experience. With the 2023 merger of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU), these powerful partners have given the newly formed America’s Credit Unions a significant ability to scale. While many of the foundational elements of GAC, such as sharing bold, new ideas and Hill hikes, will remain the same, here are a few new changes attendees can expect:

  • Mia Perez, CAO at Coastal Credit Union, will follow in the footsteps of the previous emcee, Antonio Neves, hosting GAC events and sessions.
  • A new and expanded Welcome Center will centralize registration, networking opportunities, live media coverage, and all things advocacy, such as learning about PACs and speaking with professional lobbyists.
  • Breakout sessions will offer a more engaging, interactive experience.

How Can Credit Unions Make the Most of Their Time at GAC?

Todd shares some tips for new and returning GAC attendees so they maximize their time, learning, and connections, including these:

  • Get fresh ideas by connecting with new credit union professionals. Consider attending GAC’s initial attendee orientation even if you’re returning for the opportunity to expand your network or mentor among 500 new GAC attendees.
  • Break up your credit union group among various sessions and networking events and share notes and insights later.
  • Select which sessions you’ll attend carefully and leverage post-event recordings of select sessions to share at home.

GAC attendees may also explore industry offerings in the massive exhibitor hall and hear keynotes from the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, and actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. There’s still time to register and attend GAC 2024 here.

Stream the episode for a sneak preview into how GAC’s getting bigger and better than ever, the virtual attendee experience, and how the event has connected credit union advocates and even “crashers” for decades.

Todd Spiczenski and America’s Credit Unions are not affiliated with or endorsed by ACT Advisors, LLC. 

Audio Transcription (pulled from the podcast)

Doug English  00:00

Welcome to “C.U. on the Show.” Today we have Todd Spiczenski from America’s Credit Unions here to talk about GAC 2024. Welcome to the show, Todd. We’re glad you’re here.

Todd Spiczenski  00:13

Thanks, Doug. Appreciate the opportunity. I love talking about our GAC.

Doug English  00:17

We’re excited to join you at GAC this year. How many of us are you expecting?

Todd Spiczenski  00:24

You know, it’s hard to break records year after year but we are on pace to once again set an attendance record. We’re not quite there yet. GAC 2023 had record attendance from the number of credit unit attendees, number of credit unions, and number of vendors that engaged and right now we are tracking slightly ahead of that same pace. So if our last three weeks of registration go as they historically do, we will likely be talking about yet another record GAC attendance, which would be in the 5,500, pushing 6,000 total attendance range. 

Doug English  00:58

Excellent. Part of what we’re doing is to try to build some excitement around GAC and help our very important group to get to the amount of us to really impact the folks on the Hill and make sure they hear our united voice. With that, the merger of NAFCU and CUNA, of course, creates a lot more scale. And in that, how are we going to experience that sense of scale at GAC? Where are we going to notice things are the same? Where are we going to notice things are different? Tell us about the number of sessions or number of exhibitors, any of those things.

Todd Spiczenski  01:30

One of the really cool things about GAC, as we were talking about, is the number of credit union advocates who show up there. So we’re tracking to have the largest number, as I said, that we’ve ever had. We will leverage those folks in a variety of different ways. You know, the primary reason we’re there in D.C. is to advocate on behalf of the credit union movement and on behalf of credit union issues. So there will be Hill hikes and many of the things that are kind of foundational of GAC but some new things that are really I think if you’re the savvy GAC veteran returning you’re going to notice. First and foremost, we’re going to have a new MC, Mia Perez, who is a credit union rockstar. She’ll be kind of the face of GAC and our general sessions. We were looking to make a change from our previous MC Antonio Neves, who did a fantastic job. And the merger and transformation to America’s Credit Unions felt like the right time to bring in a fresh face to our GAC stage. So that’s first and foremost, if you’re a veteran of GAC you’re going to go, “Wait, that’s not Antonio. That’s Mia.” Mia Perez is a rockstar, she’s a CAO at Coastal Credit Union. So if the name sounds familiar, that’s why—she’s one of us. And she has done some MC work for councils in the past. And we are really excited to have her involved. Another thing you’ll notice that will be new and different, we’re leveraging the power of the two associations in an expanded and improved Welcome Center. That’s what we would traditionally call a registration area but you’re going to see a much stronger new advocacy-focused space within that Welcome Center. Our GAC On-Air experience is going to be held right next to that Welcome Center. And there’s also a new media center that’s across from the Welcome Center. So when you walk into the convention center, again, if you’re that savvy veteran, you’re going to go, hey, this, this is really cool. This looks a little bit different than maybe what I remember last year. And you’re going to see that visually. And then the idea and the hope around or strategy around that is to make that area kind of the hub of the event; if you’re not in the exhibit hall or the general session, there’s something going on down in the Welcome Center, in the media center, that you can engage with. Speaking of the general session, when you walk in there, you’re not just going to see a new person on the stage, the entire stage design is going to be different than what you’ve experienced in the past. I think it’s going to feel like you’re closer to the stage; it will feel more interactive. And I think attendees will feel like they’re even closer to those keynote speakers and those general session speakers than they have in the past. We’re also being very intentional about making those sessions more interactive and engaging. That’s a long time to be sitting in those sessions. We want to make sure you’re listening to the messages being shared. And we’re doing so in an interactive way, which is better use of our video boards in there and things we’re doing within the audience itself that will create some excitement and engagement. And then lastly, I would say there’s a lot of changes as you can tell. We’re going to have larger and more breakout sessions than we’ve ever had before. So we’ve had the opportunity to grow the GAC over the years, we’ve expanded our physical footprint where we’ve added another layer of meeting rooms and breakout rooms. And some of those rooms can hold more and more attendees. And then we’re trying to be smart about putting on those breakout sessions that draw the most attendees, match them in those rooms so we’re not struggling and challenged with space and standing-room-only scenarios. That’s a lot in a nutshell of what’s kind of new and changing with GAC.

Doug English  04:52

Yeah, let me ask a couple of questions. So the Advocacy Center that is going to be in the hub of the entry into GAC, what activities can attendees expect to take part in there?

Todd Spiczenski  05:04

Great question. Well, we’re going to still talk about it as our Welcome Center, so to speak, but there’ll be an advocacy focus in there, Doug. And what folks will be able to do is they can go there to learn more about the PAC, and they can make their PAC contributions. There’s usually a strong callout at GAC about contributing to the PAC that will be focused within that Welcome Center; you’ll have the opportunity to meet credit union lobbyists from all over the country. So whether it’s a state lobbyist or a federal lobbyist, there’ll be access to those folks. So you can actually see the people who are the professional lobbyists, and maybe learn some tips of the trade and how better to talk to your legislator and elected officials there. So that’ll be going on, in addition to, hey, that’s where you’d go to register. That’s where you might go to connect with somebody and network with another attendee or peer. Those events were usually scattered throughout GAC. The idea was to put it in kind of this one-stop-shop area for all things advocacy.

Doug English  06:04

Great, great, that makes a lot of sense. Now, how about the exhibitors? You know that exhibit hall is gargantuan with an incredible amount of vendors in there. Have you hit an all-time high on the vendor numbers as well?

Todd Spiczenski  06:17

I don’t know how we did, Doug, because as you know, that thing has been sold out wall to wall for the last couple of years. But we are at an all-time high on the number of vendors that we’ll be exhibiting and we restructured that hall a little bit. It’s the same physical footprint as in the past but we’ve had two theaters within that exhibit hall. We took one of those theaters out so it allowed us more space to add more vendors because the demand is so high from a vendor partner experience trying to get in there. And because we were able to add breakout rooms, it allowed us the flexibility to do that. So the exhibit hall when you walk in is going to be that same glorious, interactive exhibit hall people have come to love and know, there’s just going to be a bit more of it than there has been in the past.

Doug English  07:00

Yeah, bigger and better than ever before. So this podcast is all about the bold ideas, the ideas that can power this credit union movement to create big jumps forward. What are some best practices before GAC as far as where you might spend your time, how to question your own pattern in what you do at GAC? Do you have any ideas about kind of getting away from your credit union group and how you might mix in with others to get some fresh ideas?

Todd Spiczenski  07:32

Love that question, Doug. First of all, the things at GAC that have always come out as the top three—it’s not always one, two, and three in that order but they’re always in the top three—are keynote sessions, exhibit hall, and networking. Networking and collaboration are always in that top three. Sometimes they’re number one, sometimes two, sometimes they’re three. So first and foremost, I think, to get the most out of your GAC is taking the time to spread your wings and meet somebody you haven’t met before. Whether that’s coming to the initial opening attendee orientation even if you’re a savvy veteran; that gives us the opportunity to meet 400 to 500 newbies, if you will, learn what’s new at the GAC, and maybe expand your network to talk to somebody, mentor somebody who is at their first GAC. That would be number one. Number two, a lot of credit unions come in their own individual group, they might have five board members and three staff. One of the things I always suggest is don’t go to all the same sessions; spread out those breakout sessions. Maybe two of you go to four different breakout sessions if there’s eight of you in total. And then regroup at the end of the day and debrief and learn a little bit more about those specific sessions. You can also do that with your network of peers, hey, I’m gonna go to this one, you go to that one, and let’s share our notes afterwards. Third thing I would add, which is something we started last year and we’re doing more of this year is we’re recording more of those breakout sessions. So if you are an in-person attendee, you’ll have the opportunity to get the virtual recording of the GAC and several of those breakouts when you return back home. So if you don’t see them all, you have an opportunity to get some you may have missed, and then also have the ability to share them with your team back at the credit union. So those are some things that’s kind of top of mind coming forward.

Doug English  09:21

That seems really impactful. First question is, are all the sessions going to be recorded and sent to the attendees? 

Todd Spiczenski  09:28

We don’t have the ability to record all the sessions this year. Last year, I think we recorded two sessions. This year, we’re going to be recording, I believe—don’t quote me on the exact number—multiple sessions. They’ll be indicated so you’ll know whether they’re being recorded or not. So if you’re like, hey, I’m not sure if I want to go to this one, or that one’s not being recorded, I’ll go to the one that’s not being recorded. And I’ll catch the recording of the other one when I get back. That’s the way I would kind of play that. That was something that came about from our COVID pandemic days; we created our virtual GAC, as you might recall, did it all virtually. And then when we came out of the pandemic, we created the GAC On-Air, which was the virtual GAC experience live at the in-person GAC. And we kind of dabbled in it last year. You could get the general sessions but we weren’t sure how many would take advantage of this. What we discovered was we had as much demand from people who attended in person as those who were attending virtually wanting recordings. So last year, we had Condi Rice, and there were several credit unions doing their Hill hikes that Tuesday afternoon; they couldn’t be in two places at one time so this kind of let them do that. They could go to the Hill hike, which is the primary reason they’re there and then see Condi Rice when they got back home, back to their credit union. It’s not quite the same as being there but about as close as you can get.

Doug English  10:50

A lot better than missing it entirely. I can imagine that, what often happens is you’re in a session, and you’re taking notes, and you’re thinking actively as you’re listening to the speaker, and then you’re trying to put those notes in a way you can communicate to your team. So what this recording option is going to give us is the ability to just say, hey team, this was really exceptional content. Here are the top five ideas I got out of it. And here’s the link, and we can share that with our teams, and they can go and listen on their own.

Todd Spiczenski  11:23

Absolutely, it’s a real cool value add for those who have signed up for in-person. Really all we’re doing is leveraging what the virtual attendees were already doing for those virtual attendees who aren’t there in person to begin with. It kind of felt like, hey, this is a no brainer, we get so many asks for, hey, can I get the recording of this? Can I get the recording of that when we’re done? And so this is giving the people they want, so to speak. The other thing that’s interesting about that that’s changed over the years since the pandemic, a lot of those keynote speakers would not allow us to record them. Or if we’re going to record them, what it would cost to bring them in would go up astronomically because they wanted to get paid for the universe of people who could see this recording. So we’ve been able to structure contracts with those speakers now that allow us a lot more flexibility to go back out and share those keynote addresses for a limited time post-event that we’ve never been able to do before. So again, behind the scenes kind of things that go on to bring this quality event not just to you in person but virtually as well.

Doug English  12:23

GAC is one of those events that is a spectacular place to get your steps in. How many miles do you think your attendees get at GAC? Do you have a number on that?

Todd Spiczenski  12:35

I don’t have a number but I can tell you I’m usually in excess of 20,000 steps every day of the GAC.

Doug English  12:41

Yeah it’s definitely not a place for your heels. Not a place for your heels.

Todd Spiczenski  12:46

I always tell folks to make sure you bring comfortable shoes and then if you find a comfortable pair buy a couple others so you can rotate them, rotate them through. I might be the exception. I’m probably walking a little bit more going from all of the different facets of the GAC than maybe our attendees do. But you’re going to put a lot of steps in.

Doug English  13:06

Lastly, GAC has been around a long time now. And obviously it is the biggest event in credit union land. Are there any secret stories of GAC, gigantic mergers that were born at GAC or huge ideas that had their infancy at GAC that you can tell us about, just us friends?

Todd Spiczenski  13:27

Just us friends? Well, you know, when the Crash the GAC started, it started with I want to say like 10 to 15 young professionals who wanted to engage with us and through the filing research, we kind of heard the rumors of this. You know, I think part of the idea was kind of it kind of felt like they were doing something that was crashing the big party kind of thing. But we looked at it as a great opportunity to leverage young professionals to get them engaged in our advocacy army. And so we’ve kind of flipped the script on that. And that started, I think, this is the 10th or 11th crash or something like that. And that kind of started as, hey, we were going to do this kind of covert kind of thing and kind of integrate our way to, no, we want to fully embrace this. And let’s work with you and get as many young professional series here as we can. So that’s the first thing that popped in my head was how the how the crasher program evolved from this—hey, let’s get about 10 people and we’ll do this to this huge event that’s integrated as a part of GAC, with the critical goal of engaging more young professionals to be part of our advocacy army to talk about the great things credit unions do in their communities.

Doug English  14:40

Engage the future of the credit union movement. Todd, thank you for your tremendous amount of hours in work and leading the GAC event, the biggest event in the credit union movement each year. Listeners, please make sure to join 5,500 or so of your peers at GAC in Washington, D.C. next month. I will be there. I will be looking forward to meeting you personally. With that, Todd, any final words for our listeners?

Todd Spiczenski  15:09

Hey, listen to Doug, he knows a lot. Register for our GAC and if you can’t join us in person, there’s an opportunity to do so virtually and you can go to to do so. Look forward to seeing you all in D.C. and thanks for the time today Doug, appreciate it.

Doug English  15:24

You’re welcome. See you next month.

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