Co-ops are often central pieces in their communities, especially in rural areas. But a healthy co-op community can only form when members fully understand the basic structures of the co-op, the purpose, and how they themselves can benefit. Let’s explore some key information to provide your members to strengthen your co-op.

1. Inclusivity

Co-ops often evolve to benefit an underrepresented group of people providing a good or service. While your co-op can be exclusive to a particular good or service, your co-op should never exclude membership on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. Co-ops should be a space for all members to contribute to and benefit from. Co-ops should demonstrate commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (often known as DEI). These efforts do not need to be extensive, rather set a standard and commitment to acceptance of and inclusion for all. Some activities to foster commitment to DEI in your co-op could include create a space for feedback from all members about any DEI concerns, responding promptly to any situation concerning DEI, hosting speakers on how to support a diverse set of co-op members in your industry, and supplying educational resources to all members about the importance and definition of DEI in your co-op. Making sure all members know they are welcome and accepted is the first step into forming strong and active members.

2. Structure and Governance

For members to become involved and effective advocates for their co-op, they should understand the basic structure and governance of the co-op. Prior to becoming a member, be sure to educate all potential members how your co-op is structured (i.e., the role of the board of directors, president, members, and employees). This will give members an understanding of how they fit into the structure and functioning of the co-op and avenues for becoming involved. Sharing educational resources such as NFU’s co-op webinars can be a useful tool for members to learn more. Educating members on the roles of individuals in the co-op can also open doors for potential leadership opportunities in the co-op.

3. Finances

Co-ops often have a cost of membership on a yearly basis that is disclosed in membership agreements. Members also often get a return on their investment based on the amount of involvement or use of the co-op. Educating members how your co-op functions financially as a business is crucial to maintaining and building membership. Securing individuals with basic knowledge of how money flows through the co-op structure and where their investments go can build trust and stability among members utilizing the co-op. Refer back to the co-op webinar series to be able to share how co-ops differ from standard businesses. 

4. Benefits

After sharing the basics of your co-op including the purpose, structure, governance, and finances, always share the benefits. Co-ops often offer a financial return based on level of involvement and finances often go back to the co-op. Sharing this financial benefit with your member-owners will foster sustained engagement and commitment to the strength of the co-op. Co-ops also often offer a new community for members who are seeking an alternative way to market in their industry. This community can create a unified voice for smaller producers to be heard among larger companies and in the political arena. Another benefit of the co-op model is that there are often educational opportunities offered for members. These opportunities can include hosting events to learn about new market opportunities, business startup and strategies, or advocacy training. Educating members on the growth opportunities through education in the co-op can be another way to strengthen the co-op. Informing your members about the co-op is an educational opportunity in itself. Be sure to share all potential benefits of being involved as a member of the co-op to ultimately gain members who become engaged in making the co-op successful.

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