Principle #1: Voluntary Membership

The first of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of voluntary membership.
Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that offer services to all people willing to accept the responsibilities and benefits of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.  That sounds pretty simple, and not too different from the disclaimers you see from most businesses.

What’s different about how credit unions apply this idea?

Credit unions serve members from all walks of life, including people of modest means.  In fact, the first credit unions were established specifically to serve the financial interests of people in rural communities whose small, seasonal cash flow didn’t earn them the attention of big banks. Credit unions have established a reputation of willingness to help those with no credit history, poor credit history, or unique personal situations that have impacted their finances.  However, that doesn’t mean credit unions only serve people with limited incomes or financial problems.  Credit unions offer a full array of products and services for any income level, often at better rates and with fewer fees than banks.

Another thing that’s unique about credit unions is that even though credit unions serve people from all walks of life, they don’t just serve the public in general. Every credit union has a special field of membership, which can be as narrow as a specific select employer group (SEG) or as broad as a community charter. Designated fields of membership help credit unions maintain their not-for-profit status.

One way to ensure your credit union’s culture reflects the principle of voluntary membership is to focus on customer service and the member experience – making each member (regardless of income) feel as though he or she is the most important person in your world. Do your employees understand the history of the credit union movement and its legacy of truly caring about every member? Look for opportunities to celebrate this legacy through communication and events that are consistent with your credit union’s unique brand identity and culture.

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