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What is a steering committee, and what does it do?

When starting a co-op, one of the first things you should do is form a steering committee. A steering committee is the group of people that do the work of forming a co-op. For example, a steering committee outlines how decisions are made.  Often it completes and submits government forms. And some key steering committee activities include figuring out how to finance the business, finding members, and much more. Sometimes a steering committee does the legwork on behalf of a larger group of people, but more often this group represents the core of the co-op.

What a Steering Committee does

Here is a list of activities often completed by a steering committee:

  • Get organized
  • Determine the co-op’s purpose
  • Assign tasks
  • Gather broader support (if needed)
  • Follow an action plan towards incorporating and launching the business.

Of course, there are many ways of accomplishing the same objectives. So, treat the above as a guide, not a comprehensive list.

Because this group organizes itself and the co-op, a steering committee often outlines the governance of the new organization. So, a steering committee is also like a board of directors. In fact, this committee often becomes the first board of directors once the co-op is incorporated — at least until the first AGM when the members elect a new board.

How to form a steering committee

In most cases, a steering committee includes only the people involved in forming the co-op (ie. its first members). But there are times when others want to take part. In that case, individuals, organizations, and businesses not connected to the ownership structure, but who want the project to succeed, are sometimes invited to join.

When a group is exploring the idea of forming a co-op, they’ll often hold a meeting with potential members to gauge interest and start to make a plan. Volunteers are often solicited at these types of meetings. Forming a steering committee is a natural step in this process.

But these committees can form in other ways. For example, local governments looking to bring in a new service — but who don’t want to own and manage the service themselves and haven’t been able to secure outside investors — may issue a call for steering committee members. That way they can gauge commitment to the project and have a group ready to move the project forward without having to manage it themselves.

Who should be on a steering committee

Ideally, a steering committee will have people with diverse skills. Lawyers, for example, are coveted steering committee members because they can offer highly specialized advice. However, there are other valuable skills worth seeking out when assembling a committee:

Financial literacy

Steering committees determine how much money a co-op will have to raise. Building a budget and identifying sources of funds is part of the job. So, a committee member with a working knowledge of accounting, financial statements, and debt management is valuable.

Board governance

Because you’re working as a group, it’s useful if some committee members are familiar with good governance practices. Organized, efficient, and transparent decision-making is challenging. So, having someone familiar with best practices, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, can be beneficial.

Legal experience

Navigating regulations and writing incorporation documents requires patience and a general understanding of legal jargon. Hiring an expert can be expensive, so having someone familiar with legal language and processes on your team is beneficial.

Technical knowledge

Having someone on the committee who understands the industry the co-op will operate in is important for designing operations and can save time and costs — especially during the business planning stage.

Communication skills

From consulting potential members to meeting with lenders, steering committee members need to have good interpersonal communication skills. If there is a Negative Nellie or Patronizing Paul on the committee, consider appointing 1-2 other members to be the committee’s spokespeople.

Of course, this needs to be a group process. There’s no such thing as a co-op of only one person: by definition, a co-op is created and owned by a group of people. A key part of starting a co-op is that the people who will use the business should be the ones who start, shape, govern, and benefit from it. Building a co-op for someone else or serving on a steering committee because you feel obligated won’t yield good results.

Responsibilities of a steering committee

While not an exhaustive list, here are a few important responsibilities members of a steering committee usually have:

Defining purpose

The steering committee should determine the co-op’s purpose. Input from the people the co-op is meant to serve will help clarify the business’s purpose.

Defining ownership

Ideally, the steering committee consists of some of the co-op’s future owners. Who the co-op’s members will be and the criteria people need to meet to become a member should be determined by those with similar interests and a stake in the business.

Determining how decisions are made

The steering committee outlines how members work together. They decide how the organization functions and they determine how the business will get up and running. Building a transparent process and seeking input from stakeholders will help guide decision-making in these early stages and over the longer term.

Business planning

While not always necessary, a business plan is helpful in a variety of ways: communicating intentions, soliciting funds, and securing loans, for example. A business plan outlines how the co-op will be staffed, sell goods, and manage cash flows, and also how it interacts with its owners. Together, this provides a document for communicating the business idea to stakeholders and shareholders alike.


Often the steering committee can lead the drafting of the articles of incorporation and bylaws, and reserve the co-op’s name. Sometimes this process requires expertise from lawyers or other business development professionals. Find out how you can streamline your incorporation with us.

Financing and fundraising

A committee should always be thinking about how they will pay the co-op’s costs and where those funds will come from. Creating a budget, a list of funding sources, and financial projections will help make up the co-op’s business plan and identify how it will fund its operations.

Soliciting new members and membership engagement

Underpinning all the activities of the steering committee is the need to report back to the co-op’s membership. The owners are responsible for all the important decisions. Owner involvement at this level helps ensure they continue to support the co-op’s mission and buy into the purpose and value of the business.

What does a steering committee after the co-op has incorporated

People on a steering committee are often the co-op’s founding members (the incorporators). They also generally form the first board of directors. Financial and business planning, creating bylaws, and putting a process in place for accepting new members are this group’s responsibility.

These committees also usually hold their position until the co-op’s first annual meeting when the first board election is held.

The role of these committees shifts following incorporation. They then have an obligation to fulfill the responsibilities of being a director of an incorporated business. You can learn more about what that means here.

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