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Member Onboarding and Engagement

Members are the foundation for any co-operative. It’s important for new members to understand their co-op, the benefits they will receive, and their role in the business. They are, after all, its owners.

Engaging with members is critical to the success of a co-op for two important reasons:

  • Financial support: Members that feel engaged in their co-op will be much more likely to use the co-operative’s services. This is particularly true if the co-op makes sure members are aware of the benefits of using the business.
  • Involvement in governance: Members that understand and appreciate their role in the co-op are much more likely to participate. Make sure members know they can attend the AGM, can vote (or run) for the board, and they have a voice in the business. Without engaged members, the leadership of a co-operative can fall apart.

Membership engagement can happen organically. Co-operatives built to support peoples’ livelihoods (worker and producer co-ops) tend to receive consistent support. As the organization grows, it’s important that members retain control and do not lose their voice. Similarly, community service co-ops or consumer-owned co-ops will likely receive strong support from founding members and those that firmly believe in the co-op’s purpose.

Organic member engagement may not be enough for continued member and financial growth. Co-ops should be proactive when it comes to member recruitment, retention, and appreciation. A big part of this will come from how the co-op markets itself and communicates with its members. Other strategies might include more personal interactions with members that highlight their role in the co-op and directly engage them from the outset.

These five strategies can be used to help orient new members of a co-op:

  1. Compile an information package

Once a new member is approved, the board/management should give them a package of important information about the co-op. This could be delivered in print, online, or made available in a ‘members only’ section of the website.

This package could include:

  1. Host events for new members

Get to know your members. You can do face-to-face member meet-ups to help folks get acquainted with the business. This might focus on new members, or it could be ongoing, regular events for all members. Some co-ops offer learning opportunities to members that focus on the co-op and other relevant topics. The United States Federation of Worker Co-operatives, for instance, holds regular member meet-ups and conference calls that encourage connections and exchange of ideas.

Events that emphasize the value members get from their co-op can pay off. They can introduce new members to the board and management and facilitate community building, open discussion, and engagement. A simple wine and cheese or more formal training could provide a forum for learning and appreciation.

  1. Member resources

Provide members with access to information about the co-op and a forum that can respond to their questions and concerns.

  • The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada provides resources designed to inform and equip new members of housing co-ops.
  • Vancity provides a member services centre to respond to the needs of its members.
  • Create a ‘members only’ section of your website that allows members to learn about the co-op, access services, or submit inquiries.
  1. Maintain ongoing communication

Develop a regular forum for communication with members. This could include social media posts, an e-mail newsletter, or regular bulletins. Telling members what is going on with the co-op gives them the opportunity to participate.

Monthly communication might include important upcoming dates (e.g. nominations open), service information (e.g. weekly specials), and other news (e.g. new developments).

  1. Conduct a new member survey

Invite new members to provide their initial impression of the co-op and ask what kinds of information they would like to receive. You can do this as a survey — offering an incentive (like a gift card) might increase responses. Use this information to develop new resources and respond to member concerns. Having an ongoing dialogue with members from day one shows the co-op is open to feedback and participation.

Develop a robust strategy

Creating resources to onboard new members is only one part of a member retention and growth strategy. Marketing campaigns, messaging, community support, and being competitive are important to determine whether members will support the co-op over other organizations. The relationship co-operatives have with their members is unique and important. Communicating this difference to members and incorporating it into the business will go a long way in setting your co-op apart from other businesses. In turn, this will help the co-op prepare for challenges, from fluctuating markets to maintaining a full board of directors.

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