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Member Engagement and Onboarding

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. After all, they are its owners. Member engagement 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.

For instance, 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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