Member participation

This section looks at a the reasons (or triggers) for members engaging with your co-operatuve and how you can help make this participation meaningful and of value.

Recruiting the right members and articulating the value of membership is important at the start of a relationship

But for a membership to thrive, ongoing participation in required. There are many reasons for why a member will want to get involved.

  • Many people get involved because they are asked to participate by a family member, friend, colleague or someone in within the same community
  • The quality of social relationships is critical in sustaining and widening participation: members often stay involved because they like and respect the other members they participate with.
  •  Over time members will stay involved through a sense of loyalty and commitment to the co-operative, built brick by brick through positive interactions and experiences.

Participation may also be triggered by discontent or the emergence of a ‘need’

  • Feelings of injustice often 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 also be linked to an individual’s worldview, and a more global sense of injustice or unfairness, 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.

To encourage member participation, you need to spend time and effort to understand the personal and external factors behind people's patterns of participation.

You also need to accept that there are different levels of engagement. A person may start by observing only, then progress through various stages to eventually delivering work or leading key areas for the co-op.

Participation needs to have value and be meaningful to those who take part

  • 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.
  • People continue participating in an activity because they enjoy it.
  • Being recognised and appreciated by others for their time and effort is another important factor in their decision to continue their involvement.

Past experiences of participation matter. Good experiences can encourage people to get involved more intensively or in additional activities, while negative experiences can put people off.

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.

Barriers to member involvement

  • The organisation's meetings are long and boring.
  • Members do little other than to 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.
  • People usually join an organisation because they want to do something for their community. But they also want something out of being a member. You should find out what motivates members and make sure you manage them so that they stay motivated and involved.

Motivating members

  • Feeling that they are valued by the organisation and making a contribution.
  • Opportunities to learn new skills or get education 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.

Ways to keep members motivated and involved

  • Do an induction workshop 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 - either as part of regular. meetings or in special workshops.
  • Encourage 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.

HR training

Co-operatives UK offers a number of one-day training courses for co-operatives – find out more.

Updated: 26/03/2019