Recruiting the right members and communicating the value of membership is vitally important. Co-ops need to encourage participation, so that members feel engaged and involved. In turn they can spread the word about your co-op and act as ambassadors and supporters.
Why do members get involved?
- Many people are asked by a family member, friend, colleague or someone within the same community.
- Feelings of injustice can provide the spark for someone to decide to engage or take action, for example, the threatened closure of a local school, pub, community centre or hospital. An example is Explore York where the community and staff took over a local library and expanded its services.
- Participation can be linked to personal beliefs and values, for example, around buying fair-trade products or supporting international environmental movements. An example might be FC United of Manchester, a fan-owned football club established in response to ‘big money’ taking over the game.
Understanding member participation
- Explore the personal and external reasons why people become members of your co-op. Have you asked them? Why not run a member survey?
- There are different levels of engagement. A person may start by observing only, then progress through various stages, getting more involved. Have a range of opportunities available.
- Participation is personal – people’s involvement is intimately linked to who they are and what matters to them.
- People want to see results. They need to be sure that their actions carry significance and have the potential to make a difference. Share the impact of your co-op and be proud of what you have achieved.
- People continue participating in an activity because they enjoy it.
- Members often stay involved because they like and respect the other members they participate with, so social interactions are important.
- Being recognised and appreciated by others for their time and effort is another important factor in their decision to continue their involvement. Always say thank you!
- Past experiences of participation matter. Good experiences can encourage people to get more involved while negative experiences can put people off.
- Over time members develop a sense of loyalty and commitment to the co-operative, built brick by brick through positive interactions and experiences.
Keeping members active
Many organisations lose members as fast as they recruit them. There are common problems we all have in keeping members involved and active. Read some of our tips below:
- Feeling that they are valued by the organisation and making a contribution.
- Opportunities to learn new skills or about issues that interest them.
- Working on issues that will improve their lives or the lives of their families and communities.
- Feeling part of a team.
- Activities that entertain them or add to their social life.
- Rewards in terms of status, personal development or access to employment opportunities.
- Meetings are long and boring.
- Members just listen to leaders talk.
- A small clique has all the power and does not encourage others to get involved.
- Members are not valued and are never thanked or praised for the work they do.
- Members feel useless or frustrated.
- The organisation has no projects that members can be involved in.
- Members feel that they are getting nothing out of the relationship.
- Hold induction workshops for all new members so that they understand the organisation and its work.
- Welcome and introduce all new members at the beginning of each meeting.
- Run regular education and development sessions for all members
- Encourage all members to get involved in projects and campaigns.
- Give people responsibilities and tasks and team them up with experienced members - they will feel useful and valued.
- Thank people and praise them in meetings for work done.
- Structure your meetings so that they are exciting and everyone gets a chance to participate.
- Organise social events for members such as picnics, parties and outings.
- Leaders should spend time talking with members and getting to know them.