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Keeping track of members in a co-op

Because a co-op distributes profits a little differently than other business types, keeping track of member owners is important.

Many co-ops need to sell memberships to increase the number of members in the co-op. So, tracking members and how they interact with the business can become complex pretty quickly. For larger co-ops (e.g. grocery stores), an accounting and data management software will likely be necessary to maintain member data.

But, for smaller co-ops, consider the following process.

Open a bank account

Using the bank of your choice (we recommend credit unions), open an account for the co-op. The first deposit could be the membership fee/investment of the founding members. Ensure enough board members have signing authority – usually the officers of the co-op (president, vice-president, and secretary-treasurer). Work with the bank staff to set up e-transfers and clarify how to best accept payment from new members. Consider opening two accounts: one for member equity and another for operations. It’s a good idea to keep these separate.

Create an e-mail account

Create a central contact point for the co-operative to communicate with members. Even if the co-op doesn’t have a website and its own URL, a Gmail, Yahoo, or other e-mail will work (e.g. samplecoop@gmail.com). Task 1-2 board members (likely the president and secretary-treasurer) to oversee the e-mail account to ensure emails are responded to in a timely manner.

Connect with prospective members

Using a combination of paper ads, social media, and word of mouth to raise awareness of your co-op and encourage interested people to contact the co-op’s e-mail address.

Forward membership documents

When a member submits a request for more information or asks to become a member of the co-op, ensure they’re provided with the right information. Forward the membership agreement (and any other documents) and provide instructions for filling out the forms and making payment to the co-op.

Record information

Once the member submits the completed form, a designated person (usually the secretary-treasurer) will log the information in the membership registry. Ensure the member makes payment and record this in the registry. Submitting payment by e-transfer, cheque, or cash are all options for the board to consider.

Follow-up

Once a member’s payment has been received, their information has been logged in the registry, and the board has approved them as a member, follow up with a confirmation e-mail. This could include a copy of the membership agreement, the bylaws, a share certificate, and any other information included in a new member package.

The Membership Registry

To better manage members’ data, co-operatives maintain membership registries (information databases). For co-ops with more complex interactions with members, an accounting software might be necessary to track member accounts, issue dividends, and generate reports. For smaller and/or newer co-ops, an Excel spreadsheet will work well.

A member registry simply needs to contain a list of members with their up-to-date contact information, the number of shares they hold, and if those have been paid. The registry should be maintained by the board (usually the secretary-treasurer) or a staff member/contracted worker.

What goes in a membership registry

The information collected from members should fit in the membership agreement and, at a minimum, include the following:

  • Member’s name
  • Phone number
  • E-mail
  • Address
  • Shares held
  • Money paid
  • Money owed to the co-op
  • Date paid

Depending on the type of co-op you’re managing, this registry might be a bit more complicated. Worker co-ops, for example, include tracking regular members’ hours for profit sharing purposes. Likewise, multi-stakeholder co-ops keep separate lists for each class of member and how they use the co-op.

Putting it all together

When putting a registry together, consider how the co-op intends to interact with members (or, from the opposite perspective, how members will use the co-op). Understanding this should determine what information the co-op needs to carry out its operations and commitments to the membership. For example, a worker co-op may track hours because it perhaps pays dividends by how much a individual member works for the co-op. While a consumer co-op should track purchases by members, and a producer co-op might track inventory supplied by members.

If you need direct support with keeping track of members, or any other topic, please contact us.

If you liked this tool on keeping track of members, then you’ll like our podcast on membership engagement.

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