Putting Cooperative Principles Into Practice

circle joining of paper figure on blue light background
By Mark Volz

4 minutes

Entertainment and technology can combine to address community needs.

Sponsored by CU Strategic Planning

Does anyone else have that dream in which they are picked out of the stands to kick the Super Bowl-winning field goal for the Green Bay Packers? Or is that just me?

While I admit that dream might never come true, another dream of mine has: Thanks to my work in the credit union industry, I get to live my dream of making the world a better place every day. I became a Credit Union Development Educator in 2018 and now serve as a CUDE mentor. Heck, I even have a framed enlargement of the famous 1934 Estes Park gathering as décor in my living room. The mantra of ‘people helping people’ resonates with me, clearly.

So, last fall when I was scrolling through LinkedIn and came across Jamie Strayer’s post about the launch of a PBS show called Opportunity Knock$ that demonstrated how credit unions positively transform their members' lives, I had to check it out. Besides, I needed a break from my 90-Day Fiancé and Vanderpump Rules marathons. It wasn’t broadcasting at that very second on my local PBS station, so I downloaded the PBS Passport streaming app, made some popcorn and settled in to binge it.

I found I could relate to the families in every episode—as I think anyone would. It wasn’t just because of my experience as a small business loan officer. I’ve personally struggled with credit card debt and lived with my parents until the age of 30. I’ve seen friends and family members go through divorce or struggle with infertility and IVF. We all know people who’ve had financial challenges, and most of us have faced them ourselves. I cheered the Opportunity Knock$ families and coaches as they worked to get to a better place.

I was especially intrigued watching them use a search tool called The Opportunity Finder, because I hadn’t seen anything like it before. This tool connected the families on the show with community resources, including financial institutions, that could help them achieve their goals.

This caused me to reflect on the 8 Cooperative Principles that guide all credit unions: voluntary membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education; cooperation among cooperatives; concern for community; and diversity, equity and inclusion. Some of these are easy to follow because they’re thoroughly embedded in a credit union. Others, such as cooperation and working on the sustainable development of communities, get less attention.

The Opportunity Finder, and Opportunity Knock$, highlight where community needs and possibilities exist together. A person who is seeking assistance with their career, for example, usually has multiple needs. Perhaps they want to contact a career counselor or find training for a higher-paying job. At the same time, they might need a way to pay for skills training, or an affordable loan for a reliable car to get them to a new job. Not knowing where to start or how to pull it all together is daunting. When credit unions build solid relationships with the nonprofits and community groups in their area, they’re improving the lives of their members and others in their communities. And tools like The Opportunity Finder can create the bridge for even more of those connections.

Popcorn eaten, we can fast forward a few months. After an introduction from a fellow DE groupmate, I was able to meet the team behind Opportunity Knock$ and The Opportunity Finder. I learned a great deal and shared my thoughts with them and excitement about this way to promote people helping people. And now I’m part of that team as well. I’m proud to be able to use my skills, experience and heart to help grow The Opportunity Finder and connect the people in communities across the country with the nonprofits and Community Development Financial Institutions they need to improve their lives.  

We know our work has just begun, and as credit union pioneer Edward Filene told us: "Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” We will keep that thought close to our hearts as we continue.

Mark Volz, CUDE, is director/business development for CU Opportunities, created by CUES Supplier member CU Strategic Planning. His background includes the 2021 CUES Emerge Cohort; he is a member of Filene i3 and also devotes his time to multiple nonprofits.

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