LAS VEGAS—From young folks who don't know they are a member of a cooperative to third parties trying to disrupt the relationship between members and their co-ops, times are changing. That's why NRECA CEO Jim Matheson believes it's more important than ever for directors to focus on key advocacy roles.

Speaking March 28 to nearly 650 participants attending the 2018 NRECA Directors Conference, Matheson said advocating for the community from inside the co-op comes first.

"To employees of the co-op you are an important resource—even more so as we see these many changes facing our industry," Matheson told directors.

"You're not just the sounding board; you're the source of ideas and how to do something different. And you can support those ideas with your professional experience and your relationship with the community," he said. "And I would suggest that the first place the CEO should look for ideas on how to improve service to the co-op's membership is in the boardroom."

Advocacy outside the co-op is the second role, with Matheson noting the respect directors enjoy in the community.

"They trust you. They will listen to you. You are a key contributor to the co-op's engagement with consumer-owners," Matheson said. He added that members should be "as engaged as possible" as they make decisions "that affect where we go as co-ops."

The third advocacy role is one that Matheson acknowledged not all directors may be comfortable with: political advocacy.

"I believe political engagement and political leadership are critical components of a director's job," he said.

"You bring credibility. Policymakers know that you speak from a position of someone in the real world, and someone who has skin in the game when it comes to issues that are going to affect the co-op that you represent."

With some 7,300 electric co-op directors in 47 states, that's a lot of potential political might—especially given the directors' credibility. In fact, Matheson said, directors are in a sweet spot.

"I'll tell you, your community trusts you a lot more than it trusts politicians."