Seven Principles of Highly Effective CUs

CUs should leverage their cooperative principles to grow and thrive.

June 21, 2011
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Credit unions can grow and thrive using their cooperative principles, attendees learned Monday during an America’s Credit Union Conference Discovery breakout session conducted by speakers from CUNA Mutual Group and BECU.

Many credit unions develop principle-centered initiatives and generate positive economic results for their members, the community, and the credit union itself, says Jennifer Kuhn, CUNA Mutual talent management and recruiting director (above right).

“Credit unions are unique in the financial services space with their cooperative model,” she says. “Leveraging the credit union difference can help generate growth and financial success.”

Deborah Wege, community affairs manager at BECU and executive director of the BECU Foundation, told the audience about BECU’s support of Express Credit Union in King County, Wash.

Express Credit Union provides low- and moderate-income families with affordable financial services as an alternative to payday loans and check cashers. BECU works with Express Credit Union to expand its capital and extend its influence to immigrant and low-income families in the Puget Sound region.

“Not only does BECU’s sponsorship help the members of Express Credit Union, it enhances the ability of BECU to do our cooperative part in strengthening our underserved communities,” says Wege.

This example demonstrates two of the seven principles of highly effective credit unions: concern for the community and cooperation among cooperatives.

Kuhn and Wege shared the seven principles of highly effective cooperatives developed by the International Co-Operative Alliance, and challenged attendees to develop a cooperative, purpose-driven credit union. The principles are:

1. Voluntary and open membership. Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic member control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership.

3. Members’ economic participation. Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of their cooperative. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative, and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

5. Education, training, and information. Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation among cooperatives. Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.

7. Concern for community. While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.

Cooperative principle learning is at the core of the National Credit Union Foundation’s Credit Union Development Educators (CUDE) Certification program. Kuhn and Wege are Credit Union Development Educators, representing the CUDE Advisory Council.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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