Sometimes it's easy to forget that what you do makes you special.

It becomes run-of-the-mill to provide top-notch service for your credit union members. Routine to go out of your way to work with them when their credit score is low — yet they're in need of a loan for an automobile to help obtain a job. Ordinary to provide counseling on how to escape the payday lending debt trap, or help them learn how to responsibly pay off student loans.

Then it becomes commonplace lose sight of the fact that we're member-owned, democratically governed, not-for-profit cooperative financial institutions. Normal to forget to highlight that we exist to serve our members, that we're not to make a profit for a group of shareholders but instead earnings are returned to members through service like access to over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs, better rates and lower fees.

I think it's fair to say that the credit union movement is often guilty of this.

We need to stop hiding these facts. We need to honor the credit union difference as something unique, something special and something that matters. We need to remember that what we do as an industry is exceptional. We need to embrace our commitment to our members, to rally around what makes us distinct, to unite under the values cooperatives.

The seven cooperative principles are the foundation of credit unions and the movement:

  • Voluntary Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Members' Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

Not only do these principles reflect the credit union commitment to serving members and the community, they guide our strategic decisions on how we advance the credit union movement. As we work to advance our vision that American choose credit unions as their best financial partner, we're removing barriers, creating awareness and fostering service excellence to get that job done.
To accomplish these goals, we need cooperation. Cooperation involves trust and it's unique that we're able to develop real partnerships in a space where most others would see competition. Through the CUNA/League partnerships, councils, conferences and numerous other forms, credit unions are able to accelerate, connect and benefit our membership.

This year's America's Credit Union Conference and the World Credit Union Conference is the premier event for credit unions from around the globe to come together and focus on learning from each other as we all fight for the best interests of our members. It's a collaborative effort; a time to come together to explore the innovative ideas that drive positive change and advance our movement. Over 3,000 people have come to Denver for the joint conference to participate in the melding of minds, the opportunity to think big and look at how credit unions can continue to evolve both globally and nationally.

With 220 million memberships worldwide and 100 million U.S. memberships to accelerate, connect and impact through grassroots advocacy, our reach is unmatched. The power of the movement is building, and credit unions can protect and support their interests by activating members through a first-rate grassroots advocacy campaign right here in at home.

Credit union participation in the Member Activation Program (MAP) program will be critical to a collaborative approach for advocacy success. By working together, not only does Congress hear from one voice from credit union members, but members feel increased loyalty to their credit union.

The membership values when we talk about our credit union model: That we're not-for-profit financial cooperatives owned by our members; that we offer returns to members in lower fees and better interest rates and dividends; that we're not like the other guys — the for-profit Wall Street banks owned by stockholders.

The opportunities ahead for our movement are significant. We need to keep talking about what sets us apart from other financial institutions at ACUC and beyond. Let's keep working together — and keep reminding each other that what our credit unions do is something unique, something special and something that matters.

Jim Nussle is president and CEO of CUNA.