Who’s more cooperative, credit unions or churches?

The Save to Win campaign put on in Michigan is a great example of what credit unions can accomplish together, but it is a rarity. For whatever reason, you very seldom see credit unions collaborate on a product or service offering to enrich the lives of their members.

Frequently, churches will partner to accomplish an event that neither of them would have been able to do on their own. Many are familiar with Dave Ramsey, who has a special curriculum just for churches to use. Commonly, Financial Peace University is sponsored by a number of churches and held at one location. Only the largest churches can afford the cost on their own. Sounds similar to credit unions, doesn’t it?

Peacemakers is yet another example of a “program” that churches frequently come together and offer to their congregation. Some churches offer it directly to their members as a class, some churches band together to offer it to a larger group, and some simply encourage their members to attend a national conference.

Aside from fundamentally different structures and goals, both credit unions and churches have a membership base. As much as churches don’t want to look at it this way, they are a business with building, payroll, and janitorial service expenses, albeit their “income” is generated by tithing. However, a church could lose a member to another competitor exactly like a credit union member can take their business elsewhere. Members attend their church because of the product, services, and employees of the church, exactly as members stay with, or leave, their credit unions.

Ondine Irving has had tremendous success bringing national attention to the credit union industry with the Credit Card Connection. So much so, that it has even attracted the famed personal finance guru, Suze Orman, to talk about it and credit unions on a national level. Similar to the programs I have seen local churches put on, why can’t a handful of credit unions pay Suze Orman to do a financial town hall of sorts in their town and have all of the credit unions advertise it to their members. And non-members for that matter. The participating credit unions would be enriching the lives of their members, getting exposed to members of the community that have a vested interest in the financial well being, and getting word of mouth marketing from the participants and local news outlets or papers.

It all seems so simple, but for some reason, credit unions are reluctant to do an event like this. Are credit unions really afraid of their competition that much that they don’t want to expose their members to their competitors in case they might leave? Does it not “fit their brand”, whatever they think that is? And the better question, how can the industry be encouraged to actually come together and collaborate on an event such as this?

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  1. As someone who’s been in the credit union movement since 1978 (started while in diapers), it’s been sad to see some barriers go up as credit unions see each other as more competitive with each other. I believe that communication and collaboration will be the key to innovation and success in the future for credit unions. We need to be more focused on reaching out to members and growing market share than worrying about whether or not we are competitors with each other. We need to be positioned to compete with non-traditional financial service providers to stay viable.

    On another note, ever since DE training, I’ve questioned why credit unions and churches don’t partner together to reach out and serve the underserved. Bottom line, both are about helping people improve their lives.

  2. It’s interesting for me to see this article. My company designs facilities for both Credit Unions and churches and, in the past, they seemed like 2 totally unrelated markets. I can see now that there are similarities.

  3. It’s ironic that you compared churches and credit union’s because I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately. In January I read a book that talks about borrowing ideas from other industries. One industry (if you could call it that) that I’m close to is church. So I started to think about ideas, systems, and successes that we can learn from successful churches and apply it to a credit union. Two things stood out to me:

    #1 Fellowship:
    Fellowship within the membership encourages participation, creates a sense of belonging & ongoing connection, discourages attrition, etc.

    What if we didn’t just serve the community, but created community? What could this look like in a credit union? Perhaps it would be fellowship groups for budget accountability, debt recovery, strategic grocery shopping, investing, etc. Perhaps it would be in-branch book clubs or networking events. And, of course, there’s social media.

    The idea is bigger than a one-time event, like a financial workshop. But instead something that creates relationships between community members and a next-step to apply learning. Instead of offering a workshop on strategic grocery shopping, you organize a group that meets once a month to share shopping strategies, clip coupons together, encourage one another, read through a related book together and build friendships, etc.

    #2 Volunteer Leaders:
    Volunteer leaders are built up to help facilitate small groups, organize events, and advocate for the faith. These people bring up replacement volunteers.

    This is key, because it takes a lot of resources to do #1 Fellowship successfully. If the organization provides tools and training to volunteer leaders who actually carry out the fellowship groups and help make the events run smoothly, the organization can have a larger impact on and build more ties with the community. And brand awareness grows.

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