Communicating Co-op Impact to Staff, Members and Community

HungerMountain

Hunger Mountain Co-op
Montpelier, VT

Year founded:  1972
Number of members:  8,300
Member investment:  $180
Number of staff:  165
Retail square feet:  12,000

Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, VT has created a system of planning and reporting that has led to their ability to communicate the co-op’s impact on the local community with a wide variety of constituents.  It was developed over a number of years as the manager and board looked for ways to demonstrate to owners and employees how the co-op doing in terms of meeting its mission.

Initially, it started as way to show how the co-op was impacting the local economy, specifically through sales of local foods.  People receiving the information really resonated with the data, and staff in particular got excited about collecting the information because it created excitement and value in doing the work.

Kari Bradley, the co-op’s general manager, said, “People really bought into the importance of measurement, once they could see how they were related to the board’s Ends policies.”  Bradley described it as a watershed moment for the co-op.  “Staff could see that over time the results showed growth in impact, and it made them proud of the co-op.”  He said they could see the value in measuring data, setting target goals, and reporting out the information to owners and the community.  “Impact data is important to everyone:  staff, board, community and members,” Bradley said.

kari-bradley-pullout-solutions-2017-04Bradley said the impact data helps serve a lot of purposes for the co-op.  He thought that focusing on collecting Ends data made it easier to organize and track a lot of information in one place.  In addition, Ends reporting becomes an interactive process of sharing data and getting feedback.  “There are always ways to improve,” he said.  Originally, he and the board had struggled with defining what was an activity versus what was impact, especially because impact touches on social and environmental returns, not just financial.  They continue to refine the data they capture based on these three Ends:

  • Dynamic Community of Healthy Individuals
  • Sustainable Local Food System
  • Thriving Commerce

Of all of the things they measure, Bradley said that people like knowing how much local product the co-op sells, and that employees are paid a living wage.  Generally, they use different communication platforms to communicate with people, whether they are staff, owners or the general public.  Once a year, they put all the data together in the co-op’s annual report, and this information is continually parsed out through the year.

For customers and members, they’ll share one data point, to maximize its impact on the intended audience, like using signboards to display info at the front door, or on social media.  They continually remind people of the co-op’s impact in their e-newsletter.

For the employees, “I take parts of the Ends report and dole it out in pieces in the staff newsletter,” Bradley said.  “I’ll use it to talk about different topics, like energy usage, what we’re doing and trying to achieve.”

The co-op also has a bi-weekly slot on a local radio station, and they use the impact data “as an opportunity to brag” as Bradley said to the greater community, but also to “launch conversation.”

The Ends impact data is particularly useful because the co-op is located in the state’s capital.  “We often testify to legislative committees, and we have data to talk to them.  The key data points have proven to be very powerful,” Bradley said.

The board also uses this information to have a deeper conversation on different topics, or use it to educate people about the co-op and what’s behind the numbers.  “It’s helpful for the board talking with members and people from other organizations.  Board members are acting as ambassadors for the co-op and they are ready to share this info.  The things we are proud of can be persuasive.”  As the board continues its planning work, the Ends and the impact data are at the forefront of that.

This year, the board will be focused on possible changes to the member discount benefit.  They’ve observed that it’s not sustainable, and they want to adjust it.  Using the co-op’s impact data has been an important part of the board’s communication process.  “People can see that the co-op is about more than discounts.  With impact data, people can see that the co-op balances a lot of needs and values.  With this impact data it makes it easier to recognize,” Bradley said.  “It’s a way for us to differentiate ourselves.”

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