The 5th Cooperative Principle

By Tim McAlpine 

6 minutes

Credit unions all over the world were founded on the Seven Cooperative Principles that are still very relevant today. These principles provide a framework for your credit union to put its values into practice.

The Seven Cooperative Principles are nicely outlined on the International Co-operative Alliance website. In this article, I’ll concentrate on Principle 5: Education, Training and Information and provide some practical tips for your credit union.

Here’s the official language for Principle 5: “Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public—particularly young people and opinion leaders—about the nature and benefits of cooperation.”

Let’s look at some ideas and resources you can employ at your credit union to advance the education of each of your stakeholder groups: members, board members and employees.

For Members

There are many opportunities to offer meaningful education and training for members at a reasonable cost to your credit union.

One opportunity is to provide information and education about the cooperative sector and your credit union’s role in it to members and the community at large. The cooperative business model is under the radar—it’s not taught in high school, it won’t show up in business textbooks and, yet, it’s an economic force to be reckoned with.

The cooperative business model can be a real differentiator for your credit union—you should not be shy about extolling its advantages. Once your members and potential members better understand the cooperative sector and how your institution operates within a positive worldwide movement for financial empowerment, it will illustrate just how different your credit union is from your mega bank competitors.

$600 million/41,500-member Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union, with 146 employees in Seattle, is a great example of a credit union that has put the Seven Cooperative Principles at the heart of everything it does, including product development, community involvement and member education. Cooperative and member-ownership messaging is featured prominently throughout its website.

In addition, the CU’s blog includes a great mix of financial education articles, invitations to educational seminars, and community involvement content that is very informative and appealing. Some of the recent topics include: where to watch football in Seattle, the CU’s day of service, local places to volunteer, affordable, homemade gift ideas, and more.

Credit unions can also take a page from co-ops outside the financial industry. With almost 4 million members and more than $300 million in annual sales, Mountain Equipment Co-op, better known as MEC, is Canada’s largest member-owned co-operative business.

A shared passion for the outdoors by Canadians hungry for a home-grown brand has propelled MEC’s massive growth. MEC nurtures that community feeling through free and affordable training and events for its members. MEC’s community and events page is filled with meet-ups, clinics, races and other opportunities to participate and learn in MEC’s key business lines—running and fitness, cycling, watersports, hiking and camping; and yoga. Members of this massive nationwide co-op are made to feel important through inclusive educational opportunities that feel local and personal.

Another education and training opportunity is to provide financial literacy resources and content to your members in person and online. For more about this, read my previous article, “Teaching Money Skills” at

For Elected Representatives

Next up is providing effective training and education for your board of directors. This is an area where the credit union industry excels.

In the U.S., the National Credit Union Administration requires that all credit union directors become financially literate within six months of joining the board. The CU’s board should create a plan for how that will happen. At some credit unions this involves listing specific conferences, seminars or online courses that directors should attend each year.

There are many resources at your disposal for both in-person and online training.

The state leagues, Credit Union National Association, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, and CUES all have director training resources and events that your credit union can easily tap into.

In Canada, the provincial centrals and Credit Union Central of Canada have numerous conferences and online resources for director training and education.

For Managers

Running a credit union is not for the faint of heart or the uneducated. Whether your credit union is small or large, your management team’s responsibilities are getting increasingly more difficult and more complex. Training and education for your leaders and future leaders has never been more important. The good news is that there is an abundance of quality resources available to your credit union. Again, the leagues and national associations have plenty of affordable options to consider for credit union-specific training and education.

For something outside the normal realm of formal education, the Filene Research Institute offers a phenomenal leadership development opportunity for U.S. and Canadian credit union leaders below the CEO level through its i3 (Ideas, Innovation, Implementation) program. Sixteen new credit union professionals are accepted to this two-year program every year. Consider nominating a worthy innovative credit union executive from your credit union for the next class. The i3 program has been running for more than a decade now, and a surprisingly high number of alumni have gone on to become credit union CEOs.

Or nominate one of your managers for CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec. This competition allows young credit union professionals, 35 and under, to flex their creative muscles and show the credit union world what they are capable of.


Ideally, credit unions shouldn’t just invest in their senior talent; they should look to provide education opportunities to all staff.

There are plenty of options to increase general business and creative skills online for employees of all levels without having to incur expensive membership fees or excessive travel expenses. If you don’t have the resources to set up an internal training department, don’t despair. One online resource to consider for general technical training is It offers incredible training solutions for businesses, including cost-effective group memberships that make top-quality video training available to everyone in your organization. With almost 4,000 video courses, has courses for all levels and covers technical skills, creative techniques, business strategies and more.

A free option to consider exposing your credit union employees to is iTunes U from Apple. Top universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale make select courses and lectures available online through the free iTunes Music Store app for PCs, Macs and iOS devices. Consider hosting lunch and learns with branch staff where you listen to or watch a lecture and then discuss the content together.

Lifelong Learning at Your CU

Credit unions are businesses owned and run by and for their members and it’s in the credit union’s best interest to invest in training and education for its members, elected representation, managers and employees. With so many affordable options available, your credit union is in a great position to live up to Principle 5 of the Seven Cooperative Principles.

Tim McAlpine is president and creative director of Currency Marketing. He is a credit union advocate best known for developing CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec and the Young & Free and It’s a Money Thing programs that credit unions from around North America are using to connect with new young adult members. Make sure to subscribe to his blog at and to follow him on Twitter @CurrencyTim!

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