Because a co-op distributes profits a little differently than other business types, tracking 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.
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 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. firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The information collected from members should fit in the membership agreement and, at a minimum, include the following:
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.
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.
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