Development Education: A link Between the Past and Future of Credit Unions


After earning designation as a Credit Union Development Educator (DE), graduates return to their communities even more passionate about the CU Movement. Another group of DEs graduated in April.

The Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) program began 36 years ago to connect credit union professionals with the Movement’s “people helping people” philosophy. It has since grown into a network of over 1,800 certified CUDEs from over 35 countries. DE Training is well known for being transformational and my experience did not disappoint. Below are a few of my favorite elements and take-a-ways from participating in the program.

The Experience

DE is a unique training experience. Prior to arrival, you are provided with a general timeline of events, however specific details are left out. In an era where every conference has its own app with minute-by-minute updates, it’s a refreshing (and slightly jarring) experience to hand over a week of time without knowing exactly how it will be spent. The DE facilitators famously encourage participants to “trust the process” in response to questions about what comes next. The activities themselves range from traditional presentations and reading assignments to hands-on role-playing scenarios, games, and activities in the surrounding community. This kept the learning interesting and engaging. If I ever felt disconnected to any subjects or topics, there was quickly an opportunity to approach it from a different perspective and in a new way.

Strength of the System

The DE program is represented by a single symbol, playfully called “the onion,” which represents the credit union system. Members are at the center of it all, followed by credit unions, chapters, leagues/associations, CUNA, and the World Council. The importance of the system was emphasized in subtle and obvious ways throughout the training, which opened my eyes to the fact that all we do collectively as a movement has roots in the needs of our members. This may seem obvious; however, it is all too easy to forget about our purpose (serving Main Street consumers) when building out projects and plans. How often do we ask, “In what ways will this [product, service, initiative] improve the lives of our members?” If it’s not every day, at every level of the movement, it’s not often enough.

Purpose Matters

Credit unions were originally chartered to provide financial services to individuals of modest means. During the time when many credit unions were formed, average consumers didn’t have access to saving and loan products at fair rates. While there has been a lot of change since the early days of credit unions, people still need help managing their finances. In fact, many statistics suggest that average Americans are worse off financially than they’ve ever been. Learning about the origins of our movement is vital to recognizing how we can make a true difference today and well into the future. If we’re not doing the work to understand what our members and communities need today, someone else will.

In short, DE is all about developing a better understanding of credit unions, our members, and how we as individuals can contribute to the larger movement. It’s about understanding why that matters. If you’re interested in attending a future session, you can take a look at upcoming dates here: NCUF Website. If you’d like to learn more but are not able to commit to the full workshop now, be sure to consider attending the 2-day Leveraging the CU Difference Workshop, held this November on Bainbridge Island outside Seattle, WA. This workshop is organized by Northwest DE’s in partnership with your Association and is designed to be an introduction to some of the concepts explored in the full DE training.

As credit union pioneer Louise Herring once said, “We must remember what we started out to do, then find ways to do it with the modern techniques available.” DE has shown me that, by working together and staying true to our mission, we can take the credit union movement to new heights.

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