Over the past 6 months there has been a common theme to questions, and it boils down to one word, participation. How can we get people involved, how can we get people to engage, how do we get others to join? This isn’t only in the cooperative world but in all organizations; personal and professional.
Participation is defined as “to take part in” or “to have a part or share in something”. For cooperatives, participation is a large part of being a member. Either an expectation of using the services of the cooperative, utilizing the resources that accompany the cooperative or reaching a certain quota or goods sold to the cooperatives. All these are dependent on the cooperative by the structure of their bylaws and policies.
Cooperatives are as unique as people, one cooperative is not the same as another, or the saying of “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op.” This holds true for cooperative board of directors. Participating in a cooperative as an individual is difference as representing your cooperative as a director. Directors are elected by the members of the cooperative to represent them, to uphold the cooperative mission and values set forth and to keep the cooperative members informed.
Cooperative board directors have several duties and responsibilities that members have entrusted them with such as the welfare of the co-op, hiring and evaluation the management of the cooperative, setting goals for the cooperative and overseeing the financial health of the cooperative. They aren’t the individual that is in the daily operation role of the cooperative. That responsibility goes to the general manager of the cooperative, the person the board of directors entrusted to run the daily operations. While cooperative board of directors can look similar to those from 20 or 30 years ago, today’s boards need to have a more active role in the cooperative to ensure the longevity of the cooperative is successful and effective.
As stated on the University of Wisconsin, Center for Cooperatives website, the Center released their findings from the Cooperative Governance Research Initiative (CGRI) that was conducted in 2021. As stated in the CGRI report, “Democratic member control is cooperatives’ superpower and Achilles heel. Decades of research has found that strong governance is essential for cooperatives to thrive. Yet cooperatives have lacked the robust data that is needed to benchmark, reflect upon, and improve their governance practices.” The reason for the research was to help understand and improve cooperative governance so cooperative members, directors, developers and interested parties had knowledge to compare to. Those that participate in the survey were from all across the cooperative sector. The Centers website states that the “results of the survey show that one-third of board members tenure of serving on the board is 10 years or more, whereas 36% have 3-9 years’ experience and 34% have less than 3 years. While two-thirds of board members are serving less than 9 years, efficient and effective boards need to always have a plan for succession and ways to recruit new board members.”
Part of being a board director is to recognize the need for board trainings, and educational development for not only members but the directors themselves. USDA released in 2002, the ‘Circle of Responsibilities for Co-op Boards‘ and are as follows; 1. Represent members 2. Establish cooperative policies 3. Hire and supervise management 4. Oversee acquisition and preservation of cooperative assets 5. Preserve the cooperative character of the organization 6. Assess the cooperative’s performance 7. Inform members.
As a cooperative director, how do you stack up against the circles of responsibility? As a cooperative member, how can you get involved or engaged? Educational trainings are offered by various organizations and in multiple formats that make is more accessible to attend while maintaining a busy professional or personal workload.