Credit unions are not-for-profit financial service cooperatives, owned and controlled by their members, and operating in a democratic way. What difference does that make?
Co-ops are businesses, in many ways like any other business. But a cooperative operates solely for the members’ benefit. All co-op businesses run in accordance with seven basic principles, many of which have been part of the co-op philosophy from their beginnings more than 150 years ago.
1. Open and voluntary membership.
It’s important that members voluntarily choose to become members. Ideally, according to the principles reaffirmed at the Manchester (England) Congress of the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995, cooperatives are “open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership….”
2. Democratic member control.
Members ultimately control their cooperatives. When you attend your credit union’s annual meeting or vote for the board of directors, you’re exercising your member-owner control.
3. Member economic participation.
According to the Manchester Congress, “Cooperatives operate so that capital is the servant, not the master, of the organization.”
4. Autonomy and independence.
While governments determine the legislative framework within which co-ops function, this principle asserts that co-ops also have an “essential need to be autonomous in the same way that enterprises controlled by capital are….”
5. Education, training, and information.
This principle says members can play their role in the cooperative only when they understand that role and the co-op. That’s one reason, for example, that your credit union provides you with this information and other educational tools.
6. Cooperation among cooperatives.
Cooperators believe that co-ops have a unique opportunity to protect and expand the interests of ordinary people. This kind of one-for-all and all-for-one idea is unique among businesses. Even in localities where they compete, it’s common for them to also cooperate on numerous activities.
Cooperatives exist primarily for the benefit of their members. Because of this strong association with members, they also are often closely and actively tied to their communities.