Fostering Time, Talent & Treasure Through Member Engagement

by Megen Donovan Jan/Feb 2015
Bob Rinaldi discusses the top priorities for his term as ELFA Board of Directors chairman, emphasizing the vital role of member engagement through time, talent and treasure to ensure the continued sustainability and success of the industry.

When the Equipment Leasing and Financing Association (ELFA) elected Bob Rinaldi, CEO of Commercial Industrial Finance, as its Board of Directors chairman for 2015, Rinaldi knew he had to act fast. “My priorities may be a little on the aggressive side given I only have a year,” he says. “It’s a quick year. No sooner do you lift your head up and it’s already the end of October when the convention is over. And before you know it, the convention is here again.”

Increasing Member Engagement

The top priority for his term is to promote and sustain member engagement. Among the many ways he encourages members to become more involved, some of his top goals include continually educating legislators at the local, state and federal levels, as well as continuing outreach efforts geared toward the younger men and women interested in the financial services industries.

“We are fortunate to have a very engaged membership,” Rinaldi says. “My goal is to expand that engagement and to educate all members about the variety of ways they can contribute to our mission. We all work together, because together we’re stronger for the industry’s sake than we are individually.”

ELFA represents more than 575 member companies, which include various financial services companies and manufacturers, regional and community banks, service providers to the industry, and independent medium and small finance companies. To keep the association functioning as a well-oiled machine, it relies on its many members to put in what Rinaldi refers to as “time, talent and treasure.”


Member engagement takes time, but not necessarily as much as one might think. Rinaldi encourages members to get involved by volunteering for the many committees within ELFA. If time commitment is a concern, Rinaldi advises them to simply ask another engaged member what the expectations are. “Find a particular area that would be of interest,” he suggests. “There are over 600 volunteers a year, all doing various things, all requiring various amounts of time. I can guarantee that every member can carve out two hours a month in some fashion, and that will be a lot. For example if you’re a liaison for LeasePAC, our political action committee, you may make phone calls to other members. Personally, I don’t view that as donating time. I view that as developing more relationships with members, and you never know where that might go.”

Rinaldi attributes much of his early involvement in and enthusiasm for ELFA’s various projects to Dave Schaefer from Orion First Financial and Valerie Jester from Brandywine Capital, both of whom he met about 20 years ago. After encouraging Rinaldi to join ELFA, he received a nomination from Schaefer for a steering committee. Each of these committees requires liaisons for various tasks and issues, for which committee members can volunteer. Rinaldi said being the “newbie” he had up to then kept quiet, while the others signed up for their liaison responsibility.

“I noticed everybody had already volunteered and I was the only one who hadn’t, and there was only one thing left, and they just looked at me,” he says, chuckling. “I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m the LeasePAC liaison.’ And they said, ‘Great! Congratulations.’ Afterward, I grabbed Dave and said, ‘Dave, what’s LeasePAC?’”

Schaefer introduced Rinaldi to Jester, who then took him under her wing. “She was my mentor on LeasePAC,” Rinaldi said. “These are people who I hadn’t known, but because of my involvement I have gained so much more than I have given, not only in knowledge and value, but also in the treasure of friendships.”

LeasePAC has become one of Rinaldi’s passions, and he notes that participating in the political action committee and industry advocacy in general is a great way for members to engage. Advocacy efforts involve reaching out to various legislators to educate them on the equipment leasing and finance industry. “We do that to protect the industry because sometimes decisions are made that have unintended consequences on our industry,” he explains. “Due to turnover in the House and Senate, it’s a continual process of educating our legislators about the industry, its existence, and, more importantly, our value to the economy and job creation.”

Rinaldi encourages members to develop relationships with local, state and federal representatives, which has major benefits. “Our members are all across the country,” Rinaldi says. “When topics do come up, we’ll already have a relationship versus going to the office holder saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we need help with this,’ [and they’ll say,] ‘Well, who are you? What’s the equipment leasing and finance industry?’ Advocacy is a top-of-mind activity at ELFA and one of the most significant ways a member can engage.”


Reaching out to the younger generations who will be filling the seats and shoes of the soon-to-be retiring generation is also one of Rinaldi’s objectives. Current members can continue the legacy and success of the industry by attracting under-engaged members and younger individuals seeking a career in financial services.

One way Rinaldi hopes to encourage engagement is inviting back past directors to get them involved again. “These are people who have already committed three years to the association and probably prior to that were very active in some of the various volunteer committees,” he explains. “They have been highly engaged in all three modalities of time, talent and treasure. [They] would be acting as ambassadors, pairing up with some of the new members in the association and helping them really understand the benefits, helping them to get engaged and realize the value of the association.”

Another goal in expanding the talent of the industry is building off of Key Equipment Finance President and former ELFA Board of Directors Chairman Adam Warner’s “brain child,” the Emerging Talent Advisory Council (ETAC). “The ETAC consists of roughly 20 high-potential individuals that are our industry’s future leaders,” explains Rinaldi. “They are valuable to the association in both tangible and intangible ways. For example, I can see the ETAC members being the main delivery mechanism of the ELFA Guest Lecture Program (GLP).”

The GLP, in which all members may participate and volunteer, is a presentation designed by the Financial Institutions Business Council Steering Committee to introduce the industry to undergraduate and graduate students interested in financial services. Rinaldi says the GLP, which is continually updated by ELFA, has three major goals: 1) To show students an alternative career path within the financial services segment and the many occupations within it; 2) To educate future decision makers to consider the equipment leasing and or finance alternative when they make or influence decisions about an equipment acquisition; and 3) To encourage educators to include, discuss and incorporate equipment leasing and financing more deeply in the teaching repertoire of finance departments and MBA programs. “This is a long-term project that I am convinced will pay significant dividends by attracting talent and increasing the lease/finance to cash sale ratio,” he says. “After all, our industry’s biggest competition is cash.” He hopes to reach about 20 colleges and universities this year, up from the half dozen schools ELFA members visited in 2014. “Here is the really cool thing. Once our members deliver the GLP the first time at a university, they will be invited back to do it again the next semester or year.”

Rinaldi notes that the benchmarking and research offerings of both ELFA and Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation help individuals become strong, knowledgeable leaders by broadening their perspectives. “To be a leader, you’ve got to have a bigger perspective than just what you and your company do,” he explains. “It helps to have that bigger, macro view. It keeps you from taking yourself and what you do too damn seriously.”

Members can hone their talent and strengthen the industry by attending the many conferences and workshops ELFA offers throughout the year. “Attend these conferences to learn and network with other members,” Rinaldi stresses. “That’s where you get the real value. It’s tough being on an island out there on your own. It really is. It helps to have some people on the island — the more the better.”

The network that the members develop through ELFA is one of the most valuable aspects of the association. “They are a network of colleagues and they turn into lifelong friends,” Rinaldi says. “You might be competitors, but at the end of the day you become colleagues. That’s the value. That’s how you grow. I’m better for it. My company is better for it. Can I put an exact dollar value on it? Absolutely not. It’s priceless!”


Part of engagement manifests in donating to LeasePAC and the Foundation, the research arm of ELFA for which Rinaldi has served on the Board of Trustees. “LeasePAC is not as big as it could be when one considers the size of the industry,” Rinaldi says. “The bigger the PAC is, the more value we get in terms of access to those legislators who understand or who are willing to listen to our points of view about policy.”

Members don’t need to donate to the Foundation in order to download its products, but if you “donate at certain levels, all of the products and studies are free,” Rinaldi explains. “It’s an incredible value. There’s not one member of our association that can afford to do what we do — both in terms of time and energy — on specific topics. We pull everyone’s resources because it is fully funded by member contributions.”

Putting Your Money where Your Mouth Is

Promoting engagement has been Rinaldi’s game plan from day one, and he practices what he preaches. “Members who I don’t even know, and who don’t know me, shouldn’t be surprised if they get a call from me sometime this year,” he hints. “When I’m traveling in general, I will try to meet up with a member company that I’ve never met just to meet them and see what they do. We all do something a little bit different, and we can all learn something from each other.”

Megen Donovan is an associate editor of Monitor.

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