A Brief History of International CU Day
This year’s slogan: CUs Unite for Good
Certain events in the history of the credit union movement have emerged as being especially significant. In the 1840s, for instance, the workers and weavers of Rochdale, England, created a democratic consumer cooperative.
In 1852 and 1864, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Raiffeisen founded the first true credit unions in Germany. These milestones were followed by efforts in the early 1900s by Alphonse and Dorimene Desjardins, who started a credit union (caisse populaire) in Lévis, Quebec.
Shortly afterward, Alphonse, along with Americans Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren, helped establish credit unions in the U.S.
As time passed, a need gradually emerged to establish a specific annual occasion to call attention to the impact these financial organizations have on the lives of millions of people—to honor the gifts and achievements of the many pioneers who founded credit unions and their service groups over the past 150+ years.
It was also considered important to pay tribute to the many people today who continue to demonstrate the commitment that is building new credit unions or sustaining and developing existing savings and credit cooperatives.
The first CU Day
On January 17, 1927, the Credit Union League of Massachusetts celebrated the first official holiday for credit union members and workers. January 17 was chosen because it was the birthday of America’s “Apostle of Thrift,” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).
Two American credit union pioneers believed Franklin symbolized “the life and teaching embodied in the spirit and purpose of credit unions.”
At that time, however, there was so much activity in the development of credit unions in North America that people were either too busy to celebrate or too new to the movement to recognize the significance of their actions. Thus, after a brief trial period, the practice of Credit Union Day ceased.
In 1948, CUNA and the CUNA Mutual Insurance Society decided to try a new national Credit Union Day celebration, setting aside October as “Credit Union Month” and the third Thursday of October as the national day of observance, “Credit Union Day.”
By then, many more of America’s credit union leaders believed there was a need for an occasion that would bring people together to reflect upon their cooperative history and their credit union achievements, and to promote the credit union idea across the country.
Credit unions, state credit union leagues, and credit union chapters were all encouraged to celebrate the new holiday in some way. To help with publicity, CUNA produced Credit Union Day kits as part of the POP Program (Public Relations, Organization, Publicity) to “make credit unions known and wanted round the world!”
The kits provided suggestions for holding a Credit Union Day dinner, sponsoring parades, and electing a Miss Credit Union. It also provided posters, fillers, press releases, newspaper and radio advertisements, and proclamations for officials to sign.
Although there was a need to raise funds for movement causes, the leaders saw Credit Union Day and the associated POP Program as ways to publicize the credit union movement, not make money.
Thomas Doig stressed the point in a letter to managing directors in 1951: “Credit Union Day is not a money-raising scheme, as a number of people still think. It’s first and foremost a public relations effort to publicize the credit union movement as a whole, but primarily to help leagues, chapters and credit unions gain prestige and understanding in their own areas.”
More critically, Credit Union Day was a way to pay homage to the men and women who dedicate their lives to credit union development.
NEXT: A worldwide focus
A worldwide focus
During the 1950s, CUNA’s World Extension Department provided technical assistance and philosophical guidance for credit union development across the globe. So many countries had established credit union movements by 1964 that CUNA’s mission was formally expanded, and CUNA International was formed.
Each year, new national movements joined the credit union family, and more people wanted to celebrate their uniqueness and unity. Many people found appealing the idea of a special holiday that could be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of religion, political beliefs, cultural differences, or language.
An array of credit unions and leagues began to distribute publications, banners, slogans, and kits, and the day of honor and recognition grew to be acknowledged globally. Thus, the worldwide exposure to International Credit Union (ICU) Day became formalized.
By 1971, worldwide credit union progress was so substantial that it was again decided to restructure the movement and to form a fourth tier of service. This led to the creation of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), which assists in the establishment and maintenance of viable credit union movements wherever the need and desire are expressed.
In Canada, Australia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the South Pacific, national and regional credit union federations and confederations were established to support and endorse credit union development. To aid in the process, that same year WOCCU also created the first ICU Day materials that were used around the world.
In 2010, CUNA created a Facebook page for ICU Day.
How do CUs celebrate?
As more people became involved, they created a variety of ways to mark the occasion. Many credit unions sponsor open houses and hold picnics, fairs, festivals, and parades. Public gatherings with visiting dignitaries have been found effective in attracting media attention and public involvement.
There are special contests and parties for children, plus poster or essay competitions. Tribute is paid to past, present, and future credit union leaders at banquets and dinner dances, and government officials make proclamations.
There are more than 112 million people served by more than 36,901 credit unions in 93 nations around the globe who could, potentially, celebrate ICU Day.
NEXT: Sixty-five years of ICU Day slogans
Sixty-Five Years of ICU Day Slogans
International Credit Union Day has been celebrated officially since 1948 with these slogans:
1948 – Now is the time to build a better world through credit unions*
1954 – Serving people worldwide*
1955 – We help each other – Join Us!
1956 – To give thanks for your credit union blessing. To make plans for a great future.*
1957 – We help each other – Join Us!
1958 – We help each other – Join Us!
1960 – Credit union day—all over the world*
1960 – Sharing is the whole idea (?)
1961 – We Help Each Other – Join Us.
1962 – People helping people to economic progress.
1963 – Helping hands in many lands.
1964 – Credit Unions: Your friend in need, your partner in progress.
1965 – Opportunity, Security and Service for All.
1966 – Better living in any language.
1967 – People Helping People for the Dignity of Mankind
1968 – We Care. We Share.
1969 – We care, we share*
1969 – For those in need of any land or creed.
1970 – Invest in humanity.
1971 – Sharing is the whole idea.
1972 – Help make credit unions worldwide.*
1972 – Join your credit union. It’s where you belong.
1973 – Your credit union better for savings and loans. It’s where you belong.
1974 – Together for one new world.
1975 – Your country, your credit union – Democracy in action.
1978 – Sharing is the whole idea.*
1979 – All kinds of people should get together.
1979 – Better living in any language.*
1980 – The Hands of Friendship and Cooperation Joined Around the World (unofficial).
1980 – People helping people to lead better lives.*
1981 – America’s credit unions – a family 44 million strong
1982 – A strong and growing family. (alt. A Strong Growing Family – Credit Unions.)
1983 – Tell the World (about Credit Unions.)
1984 – Credit Unions: Cooperatives first.
1985 – Credit Union Youth – Our Next Generation.
1986 – The universal language of credit unions.
1987 – Credit Unions Light the Way.
1988 – Credit Unions: United—Unique.*
1989 – Credit Unions: One Voice.
1990 – Credit Unions: Getting (Creating) a Global Vision.
1991 – Credit Unions: Passports to Opportunity.
1992 – Credit Unions: A Universal Language.
1993 – Credit Unions: The Power of Partnership.
1994 – Credit Unions: Choices and Challenges.
1995 – Credit Unions: Bring People Together.
1996 – Credit Unions: Picture the Possibilities.
1997 – Not for profit, not for charity, but for service.
1998 – Although the times may change, our principles will not.
1999 – Celebrate! The Credit Union (alt. Difference Credit Unions Celebrate the Difference)
2000 – Join us! 100 million credit union members worldwide.
2001 – Catch Our Spirit.*
2002 – Building a Better Tomorrow.
2003 – Credit Unions: The Heart of Our Communities.
2004 – Credit Unions: Dream…Belong…Achieve.
2005 – Credit Unions: Members Make it Happen.*
2006 – Credit Unions: Making a World of Difference.
2007 – Credit Unions: Together We’re Better.
2008 – My Credit Union: It Belongs to Me.
2009 – Your Money. Your Choice. Your Credit Union.
2010 – Local. Trusted. Serving You.
2011 – Credit Unions Build a Better World
2012 – Members Matter Most
2013 – Credit Unions Unite for Good
*Slogans marked with an asterisk are from WOCCU’s “ICU Day Past Themes” web page
This article was written by former CUNA Archivist Gabriel Kirkpatrick in 2004, and revised by current CUNA Archivist Shawn San Roman.