New Conference Kindles Cooperative Spirit

'CUs can make a huge difference in the lives of people struggling to keep up.'

November 26, 2013

Jeff Hardin, director of communications at the North Carolina Credit Union League, might be a credit union rock star, but he’s emphatic that all stakeholders get credit for the good things happening in the state.

In 2010, Hardin and other graduates of the Credit Union Development Education (DE) program met to talk about what cooperative principles and practices might mean coming out of the Great Recession. That conversation evolved into the Principles & Philosophy Conference, a two-day event designed to enhance the value of the credit union franchise statewide.

“Plenty of people were pulling that wagon,” says Hardin, referring to the 30 volunteer DEs in North Carolina who designed the first conference.

Entering its fourth year, the conference has trained more than 100 credit union staff on credit unions’ history, philosophy, and mission.

In August, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) presented the Cooperative Spirit Award to the North Carolina DEs, collectively, for this model project.

“As a result of the North Carolina event, several other states are considering similar philosophy sessions,” says Lois Kitsch, NCUF’s national program director.

The impact of the conference extends beyond the information it provides.

“So many credit union employees have joined the movement from other industries in recent years, it’s important for credit unions to share the values and principles that set us apart,” notes Ashley Ruffin, vice president of marketing, Local Government Federal Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C., who chairs the volunteer committee that’s planning this year’s event.

Opportunities lie in serving the unbanked and underserved, says Hardin. “Many people have been left behind in the so-called ‘new economy.’ Credit unions can make a huge difference in the lives of people struggling to keep up. It won’t be easy, but this is exactly why credit unions were created in the first place.

“I think the next step in the process is for credit unions to look for cooperative relationships on the local level,” adds Hardin. “The more we engage with other co-ops and community organizations, the better off we’ll all be in terms of market share.”

Philosophy becomes part of credit union operations, human resource practices, and new-member outreach as conference graduates:

Assign a DE to greet each new employee and begin the orientation process.

Refine their leadership focus toward the operating principles, review policies to determine if they’re in sync with these values, and deepen their work within communities.

Add history and principles training to their employee onboarding and educational modules.

“Five years ago there were four or five DEs in North Carolina, now there are 50 to 60 due in part to these philosophy conferences,” notes Kitsch.