By Kyle White | © Co-operatives First | Part 4The Classic AGM > A familiar, time-tested indicator of engagement in the co-op sector is the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Second tier co-ops (co-operative of co-operatives), like Federated Co-op Limited and Arctic Co-op Limited, typically have very high attendance ratios and can fill large meeting halls. By ratio, the member associations of these federations generally have a lower turnout at their AGMs. The Saskatoon Co-op Association, for example, had a very large group with over 400 attending this year’s AGM, but this is a small fraction of their over 100,000 members.

Smaller co-ops are much more likely to have more members engaged in the business and governance of the organization. For example, members of worker co-ops are highly motivated to stay active in the co-op as their livelihood is attached to the success of the organization. Similarly, individuals living in housing co-ops are much more likely stay involved and aware of the co-op’s operations as it directly affects their day-to-day lives. Co-ops operating in the retail space may not draw the same level of interest as people likely have other options and may not be as directly concerned if things are running smoothly. To further complicate things, membership engagement usually increases when there is a contentious issue being discussed or if there is perceived conflict affecting the organization. Resolutions of amalgamation and dissolution brought to the AGM are sure to attract large crowds. When things are going well, member apathy is much more likely as people tend to be content.

So, is AGM attendance a good measure of membership engagement? Yes, but the importance you give this measure should depend on its value for the organization. For a small worker-owned co-operative that brews beer, hopefully there’s a near 100% turnout to the AGM. For a consumer co-operative with tens of thousands of members, perhaps there’s a better measure of engagement, like sales, foot traffic, memberships sold, visits to a member-only forum on your website, or downloads of the Annual Report. –

© Co-operatives First |

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COOPERATIVES | Channels for Engagement …

By Kyle White |© Co-operatives First | Part 3Create Platforms and Channels for Engagement > The online stock photo retailer, Stocksy United has an online platform for their members. It fits because their members are around the globe (65+ countries, in fact) and the business operates online. Not everyone has this level of tech savviness or need for global reach. Finding the right platforms and channels for your organization is no less important, however.

Make sure there are a variety of platforms and channels for membership feedback. Create a rubric for prioritizing how this feedback is responded to. Maintain a clear display of interest and concern for the voices of individual members. Together, this will help keep a large and disparate membership engaged in the well-being of the business. For a consumer co-operative in the north delivering on this promise may include selling snowmobiles beside oranges. In the south, it may mean providing more local product at the expense of price competitiveness.

If you can Define it, you can Measure it > As we’ve seen, membership engagement can be difficult to define. This means it’s also hard to measure. Measuring membership engagement is key to understanding if your engagement strategy is working or not. So, getting both right matters. The number of volunteers, attendees at an annual meeting, investors in the business, and posts shared on Facebook can all be indicators of member engagement. The challenge for leadership is to understand if they’re performing well. Choosing the right indicators of member engagement can help with that.

Get to the Heart of the Matter > Whatever way you choose to measure engagement, make sure it gets to the heart of the business and what your membership values. If you have 10 members, perhaps it’s a monthly coffee row outing or beergarita Fridays. For those with large memberships, creating promotions or VIP email lists or social media groups to create discussion and push messaging could be a better solution.

Understanding how, when, and why to listen to members is a key challenge for boards and management of co-operatives. Be creative. But remember the tried and tested too. Sometimes the suggestion box is simply the right solution – just make sure you actually read and respond to the feedback. –

© Co-operatives First |

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COOPERATIVES | Organizational Engagement …

By Kyle White | May 09, 2018 © Co-operatives First

Part 2Organizational Engagement > In young or smaller co-operatives, organizational engagement is often taken for granted. In this case, there tends to be a core group of individuals dedicated to the co-op willing to put in the effort to ensure its success. Similarly, the reputation or brand is often handled in a fairly willy-nilly way and the personality of the organization’s brand reflects the core individuals involved.

Over time, this situation can create a free-rider problem and burnout within the core group, not to mention brand confusion in the marketplace once key members move on. Planning for the next generation of board members, customers, volunteers or workers is just as integral to the co-op’s survival as a good sales strategy or a case for support. For larger or older co-operatives, it’s is important to ensure the purpose of the business remains to deliver on a promise made to members. Membership engagement is a way of measuring and aligning operations, strategy, marketing and vision with membership feedback and requests without losing out to mission creep. Because, while you can’t please everyone, the point of a co-operative business is still to serve the membership and their interests.

Understand your Value Proposition > Co-ops need to plan for member engagement and ensure they are providing opportunities to engage in ways that make sense. The opportunity to engage in the decision making and ownership of the business, whatever that looks like, is a central component of the value co-ops offer their members. In fact, ownership and influence is often what sets co-operatives apart from its competitors. It’s probably why some folks shop at Co-op stores instead of Sobeys and it’s certainly part of the reason why workers at the London Brewing Co-op don’t apply for jobs at Molson. The key value proposition (the opportunity to own and shape a business, for example) needs to be articulated for members to maintain their organizational engagement. If this support is not maintained, members may lose sight of the co-op’s value and shift their financial and organizational engagement elsewhere. Understand and repeat the promise and value of the business to your membership – over time it will pay dividends. –

© Co-operatives First |

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COOPERATIVES | What the Heck is Membership Engagement?

By Kyle White | May 09, 2018 © Co-operatives First

Part 1What the heck is Membership Engagement? Defining member engagement for a specific organization is often tricky. It can also be hard to measure. But defining member engagement for your organization and understanding how to measure it are two (not mutually exclusive) prerequisites to a solid membership engagement strategy. So, it pays to take the time to understand what membership engagement means for your co-operative.

Two types of membership engagement > Before getting too far into it, let’s first have a look at the types of member engagement available to co-operatives. Generally speaking, there are two types: financial and organizational. Here are their basic outlines: · Financial engagement is supporting the business of the co-op (i.e. shopping at the co-op, working at the co-op, or selling to the co-op). | · Organizational engagement is playing a role in the organization (e.g. volunteering, voting, and serving on boards) but also includes reputation management (i.e.: branding and how members talk about the organization).

Very successful co-operatives, like Mountain Equipment Cooperative (MEC) get both right. MEC delivers impressive organizational engagement, which is achieved through a variety of mechanisms, such as astounding images on Instagram, contests, promotions, values-based storytelling and sharing unique member experiences. Add this rich reputation management to their member-only policy and the 5 million+ member co-operative proves to be impressively agile and financially successful. This financial success in turn allows them to achieve even greater organizational engagement. Here we have one type of engagement feeding the other in an oscillating loop with new feeds being added all the time as existing members encourage new members to join. Let’s look at these two types of engagement a bit closer.

Financial Engagement > As we saw with MEC, successful co-operatives generally have solid financial engagement. If members use the co-op’s services or purchase its products, they support the business of the organization and it does well. When members do not financially support the co-op it has an immediate impact and can certainly weaken long-term sustainability. This is especially true for smaller co-ops or worker-owned businesses that rely on a smaller membership base. As a co-op leader, recognizing where your core revenue sources and supports are coming from and how to remain relevant and valuable to them is vital to the well-being of the co-operative. For example, if you’re part of a producer co-op, making sure to show members how you are benefiting their independent businesses and moving their product, as well as working to create new markets, is vitally important. If you’re a consumer co-op, reminding members of their ownership and ability to influence strategic direction might be important. And if you’re a worker co-op, perhaps clearly engaging membership in decision-making is most important. Whatever the case, make sure you know your core supports and revenues, and the financial objectives in engaging with your membership (increased donations, delivery rights, sales, production or labour, etc.). –

© Co-operatives First |

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WAYFINDERS | Why Co-operatives? …

WHY CO-OPERATIVES? | I have been involved for some time with an amazing emerging project called Wayfinders Business Cooperative © | a cooperative platform social enterprise  based in Edmonton. You already know co-operatives have a powerful and positive influence on our world. They can transform our economy for good & help to create more constructive and compassionate communities; even, a healthier planet.

Before going further, and if you are not familiar with cooperatives, in this 25 min. Podcast, Kyle, Dan, and Aasa from Co-operatives First discuss the different definitions of co-operatives, the seven co-operative principles, and the ways co-ops are different from other business models. –

What do people get out cooperatives? In the case of Wayfinders Business Cooperative © as well as receiving member-owner benefits, such as commerce/trading, professional services, say bookkeeping/accounting, and so forth, people will be providing vital backing for new applications & services for the self-employed and/or small business person/entrepreneurs – and because we are a co-operative, any profits made will be reinvested in our entity and of course, its members-owners.

The main Benefits of being in a Co-operative come to (a) ownership – members (owners) have a stake in the enterprise (b) benefits and risks are shared among members (owners) (c) pride, productivity and innovation from the strength in numbers, diversity and talents within.

Co-operatives offer a solution to the economic challenges of our times > no matter whether we are talking goods & services, or both | they give people control of the businesses they are closest to – whether they shop at them, work at them, or supply them. And they give people control over things that matter to them, in the process boosting productivity, harnessing innovation and giving them a stake. That is the co-operative advantage. Want to know more? Get in touch! | LCA

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COOPERATIVES: The 7th Principles.

COOPERATIVES | The 7th Principles – I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve two emerging cooperative efforts, both also serving the social enterprise envelop as well. One is co-led by my friend, colleague and fellow-traveller Randal Adcock who some time ago developed the Wayfinders Business Cooperative © concept as a mean to foster cooperation/collaboration and solve in practical ways the lack or limited access to affordable management tools organizations and individuals face. You can read a bit more of his story on their website:

FOOD COOPERATIVES | Then, along the way come another friend/fellow traveller Paul Belanger an amazing environmentalist, entrepreneur and designer since 1987. He launched in 1997 an ecological design entity called Living Design Systems and was recognized with 2 provincial design awards in 2012. He has been the active Chair of the Green Foundation and is leading on a food cooperative project called the Calahoo Gardens Food Growers Co-op. They are just updating their website with fresh new content and I will post their URL as soon as the work is completed. What I can tell you however is that the Calahoo Gardens Food Growers Co-op is a collection of small enterprises, including market gardening, food production/processing and good & services. Wish to connect with Paul? Let me know – I would be glad to facilitate such.

COMMUNITY ECONOMICS | What they have in common is the remarkable enthusiasm, resilience and in some cases visionary calling among those leading and/or participating in such endeavours. No venture of such nature is without risk of failure – yet, those actively engaged in this path towards economic self-reliance show an incredible level of tolerance to risk, and extraordinary stamina – it is indeed a powerful calling! This two entities, Wayfinders Cooperative © and the Calahoo Gardens Food Growers Co-op © have many common goals, and follow the 7th Cooperative Principles such as 1. Voluntary and Open Membership 2. Democratic Member Control 3. Members’ Economic Participation 4. Autonomy and Independence 5. Education, Training and Information 6. Cooperation among Cooperatives 7. Concern for Community | Intrigued about co-operatives? Splendid! When you have a moment, please visit: 

SERVICE & COMMUNITY I remain at your service. YOU and the individuals & communities I serve remain at the center of what I do. I thank you for your support and your kind feedback; if I can be helpful, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Gratitude | LCA

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Wayfinders Cooperative: Local Economics

WAYFINDERS COOPERATIVE ® | Supporting Small Businesses | Often small businesses are owned and operated by family members; a cost efficient way to run and sustain the cash flow during the start-up phase. Small business pay close attention to the essentials, meaning operating costs; rent, employee wages, overall  management, inventory, marketing, bookkeeping, accounting and valued-added services. Depending the nature of the endeavour, factors impacting the viability of a small business range from its own financial capacity, location, business – community profile, special events and weather.

Let’s say a small restaurant for instance; any increase in the price of commodities, food, utilities, fuel, maintenance, labour minimum wage would have an immediate impact in the livelihood of its owners. Then; there is the always changing consumer attitude, behaviour, and overall spending habits. Whether goods or services, small business owners rely on consumers and their choice-patronage. Then, there is the relational story, the opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with a given place, getting to know their story, family members, unique talents and gifts.

For example; next time you go to a small restaurant or café to meet friends/colleagues introduce them to the venue; get the right person to tell a bit of their story, or something about the food & drinks featured – that’s the beginning of a business relationship that could be surprisingly endearing. Generally speaking try to spend $10-20 dollars with generous tips if you’re happy with their food & service, and overall hospitality. The idea is to support & encourage small business, and help them to succeed – you can also get one of their gift cards for that special friend/clients; even write a comment-review on social media or their website would be appreciated and you would feel part of their journey as well. – © Ben Sabet

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