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Effective governance and growth
Co-operatives are a different way of doing business. They are owned and controlled by their members. Sometimes when making the decision to grow, co-operatives can forget this and try to move forward without getting the buy in and consent of their members to do so. Members also bring with them a wealth of experience which is invaluable when making decisions affecting the business and its future development.
Ask your members
The members are the most valuable resource in a co-operative. When decisions need to be taken on the future of the business, whether to and what direction to grow in, don’t forget to ask the members what they think! Call a general meeting and get the input of the members. They may have ideas that you haven’t thought of. If this is something new then it might be useful to employ a facilitator or co-operative development worker to tease out ideas and agree the beginnings of a way forward. Often one person tends to take the lead and ends up doing everything – change happens more successfully when more people are involved.
Getting to know your members
In a co-operative with a diverse membership it can be difficult for the governing body to engage with all of the different classes of membership. This can mean that often members do not feel part of the co-operative and feel disconnected from decisions taken by the governing body or feel unable to contribute to the decision making process.
In order to ensure an active membership the governing body may decide to increase the ways in which members can become involved. This could be through more interactive governance processes, for example, electronic communications, online voting etc., or by making meetings more of a social experience, for example, offering food tasting or an interesting speaker. This may have the result of encouraging members to stand for election to the governing body or become part of a working group set up to look at strategies for growth - find out more in our Simply Governance publication.
Listen to your members
When you have taken the step to ask the views of your members it is really important to keep them involved and to demonstrate that their ideas are being considered and acted upon, if appropriate. If a co-operative is being ‘forced’ into growth for financial reasons or to ensure the future of the co-operative it is really important to listen to members’ views and keep them informed of any changes.
Review governance structures
In order to grow a co-operative may need to review its governance structures to enable change. What was suitable at start-up may not be suitable a few years down the line. The membership may need to diversify or the governing body may need additional skills that cannot be found within the membership. The Co-operatives UK Governance Audit can help you to review how you operate and how you might need to change to grow and become sustainable. The Co-operatives UK Legal Team can help if changes are required to the governing document.
Using your members as a financial resource
If a co-operative needs investment to grow then its members can be a vital source of finance. Engaging members in multiple ways strengthens the competitive advantage of the business. Members who invest are more likely to be involved in the co-operative, either as a customer, user or volunteer. Often members are willing to accept no or limited financial returns on their investment which will further enable growth and sustainability. Find out more about Financing Growth here.