You make a donation to or join an association and this makes you eligible for credit union membership.
While some credit unions will simply list the various associations among all membership groups and state if you are a member you can join, other credit unions are overtly steering individuals who would otherwise not qualify for membership to an association.
For example, NuVision FCU writes on its website:
"If you do not qualify based on the above criteria, no problem! You can become a member of the American Consumer Council (Council) as a path to NuVision membership.
Thanks to a cooperative agreement between NuVision and the Council, members can join NuVision as well as having access to materials that will aid in improving their financial planning efforts.
We can sign you up for membership in the Council, at no initial cost to you, at the same time you become a NuVision member."
NuVision further writes that you don't have to renew your membership in the Council to retain your membership in the credit union because of its "once a member, always a member" policy.
It seems to me that if a credit union tells individuals that you don't have to renew, then the credit union is making a mockery of this associational membership.
Below is a table (click to enlarge) of 37 credit unions with at least $1 billion in assets that are using membership in associations to allow people to qualify for credit union services.
For some of these credit unions, it appears that the ends justify the means. Their goal is to grow membership and they don't care how.
What is worse is that credit union regulators seem to be partners in this duplicitous behavior on the part of credit unions.
NCUA does not appear to be enforcing its own field of membership manual were it says that "[i]ndividuals ... who only make donations to the association are not eligible to join the credit union."
In closing, a U.S. Federal Court wrote in Texas Bankers Association v. NCUA and Communicators FCU that Congress never intended for the association language "to be the unguarded backdoor to credit union membership."