Finding Innovative Approaches to Co-op Annual Meetings During a Pandemic

Co-op principle seven: “Concern for community.” With this in mind, many co-ops are considering the health and safety of their members when deciding whether to postpone or attempt to hold annual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding annual meetings while respecting social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19 can seem challenging for co-ops. The democratic process is important to cooperatives and members have the right to vote for your board of directors at the annual meeting. Directors make decisions on the members’ behalf, so it is important for members to stay engaged and cast their votes. Below are some ideas that your co-op might consider if your annual meeting needs to occur before large gatherings are once again permitted in your area.

As a co-op board is exploring options for virtual meetings, online voting, and other innovative approaches, they should understand whether the co-op’s bylaws allow for a virtual meeting, electronic voting, or other types of non-traditional meetings. It is always advised that the board seek the advice of the co-op’s attorney to be sure they are within the parameters of what their co-op bylaws allow.

Virtual Meetings – A co-op board can explore their options to authorize a virtual member meeting. With a commitment to maintaining the health and safety of members and employees, and following Ohio Governor Mike Dewine’s directives regarding coronavirus, the Consolidated Cooperative board of trustees decided to hold their 2020 annual meeting virtually, and provided a link to the meeting via SmartHub, the app that provides utility and telecommunications customers account management at their fingertips. The annual meeting notice with log-in details was sent to members using the application, which also allows customers to view their usage and billing, manage payments, and notify customer service of account and service issues. Cooperatives might also consider options for providing online streaming of a business meeting, with one of the more popular options being Zoom.

Electronic Voting – A co-op board may be able to authorize electronic voting in conjunction with an annual member meeting. There are free and reasonably priced options for online voting, such as Election Runner which is great for small cooperatives and uses a unique identifier for each person voting.  Election Runner allows up to 20 voters for free and it is only $15 for up to 100 voters

Drive-in meeting –Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some cooperatives have found unique ways to host annual member meetings that adhere to physical distancing guidelines. One electric co-op in Wisconsin held a drive-in annual meeting with members listening to the proceedings on the local radio station and honking to signal votes of approval.  Planning the annual meeting without meeting face-to-face themselves, the board and staff of the Wisconsin co-op did not know what kind of response to expect, and even offered bill credits to the first 50 members in attendance to ensure a quorum. Many co-op leaders may be concerned about their members’ ability to participate in online meetings when their community has limited access to reliable high-speed internet. Holding a drive-in meeting might offer an internet-free solution that could even be fun.

These are all options that cooperatives can consider for ensuring they are upholding cooperative principles through their annual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have seen other innovative approaches, feel free to share!

If you would like to cooperate with the Center for Cooperatives at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at Ohio State, please email us at osucooperatives@osu.edu or visit our website at go.osu.edu/cooperatives.

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