Making membership work

Members are the lifeblood of a co-operative and are critical to its success.  It is important to keep members engaged as your co-operative grows and develops.

The ultimate aim of a well-functioning co-operative is to involve its members in the decision-making processes. This enables them to have a real say in how the business is run and encourages a sense of true ownership.  Whether it is a worker co-op with only a handful of members, or a consumer co-op with a membership of millions, it is essential to encourage members to be active.

In the early days, with the excitement a new co-operative brings, members are often more interested in participating.  However, as the co-operative develops, members may become disengaged and as such less likely to participate in the running of the business.

While member engagement can be difficult and there is no quick-fix, there are tried and tested approaches that can help.

Four key points to developing effective member engagement

Prioritise membership

Committing time and resources to membership engagement is important. Try to understand why members join your co-operative and what their needs or motivations are. Adopt a strategy for engagement. As a first step, why not encourage your members to attend the membership strand of our Practitioners Forum to develop the essential skills of membership?

Understand your members

Understand the needs of your members to encourage them to participate in the co-operative. Take the time to listen to and understand your members and then communicate with them using their language and motivations. If you have a broad membership, think about segmenting or targeting elements of your membership in different ways. Not everyone wants the same thing. Ask yourself: Do you understand why different members are members, and what they want to get out of membership? Again, attending the membership strand of our Practitioners Forum will help develop the essential skills needed to understand your membership?

Identify small steps

Take small steps. Do not expect new members, with no prior experience of or contact with the co-operative, to invest huge amounts of time. Ask them to do something small, and when they have a good experience, ask them to do something else. Equally, make it as easy as possible for all your members to participate. Voting, completing a survey, standing for the board, attending a meeting – do what you can to make all of these simple.

Find the tipping point

Make it as easy as possible for members to participate in the co-operative. Reflect: How many clicks on the website does a member have to make before they get to the right place? How much do they have to read? Wherever possible, try to minimise the required effort. Equally, if you have identified what motivates your members then play to this and communicate with them in a way that grabs their attention and works on their level.