Telling the story of the co-op is all about letting the community know who we are. That is an important and necessary component of the co-op’s outreach, and often has a marketing component. Typically this is the work of the co-op’s day-to-day operations to share the message of the co-op difference with its members and customers. Boards are finding that they also have a role in telling the story to members, and by doing so, engage in member linkage to gain a deeper understanding of how to govern the co-op on behalf of the members’ best interests.
At River Market in Stillwater, Minnesota, board president Matt Ludt has been inspired by the visioning process started in May last year that has been the result of their work in telling the co-op’s story. “We’ve been through about three phases,” Ludt said, “We’ve done a lot of talking about why our story is important.” First, the board sought to find out if the co-op’s story resonates with the members. “We used the story to both engage and motivate members, but also to refine our approach to understanding the members so we can carefully articulate and amend our Ends if need be.”
During what he said was the info gathering phase, the board worked on determining their methods and what channels of communication they wanted to use to link with members. They looked to a variety of resources, including watching organizational visionary Simon Sinek in a TED video, and reading excerpts from a creative writing book. Sinek is known for leadership that encourages people to create change by understanding that what inspires you will likely motivate others. Sinek stresses answering the basic question why. So River Market board members drafted their own statements about why they joined the co-op and shared them with each other. The board also did in-store surveys, created questions at the annual meeting for members to answer, and took time to sit at tables in the co-op to get member feedback.
“We talked a lot about understanding why people join the co-op,” Ludt said. “We realized our whys were different, and people joined the co-op to support local agriculture, or the community, or joined because they liked the health aspects of natural food. It wasn’t a single story, but an anthology,” Ludt said. “That’s the beauty of co-ops, they can serve a wide variety of needs with a single operation.”
The “why join” question moved the board to what Ludt said was a “why of the future” discussion. Out of this process Ludt said they realized that telling the story is not just a way for the board to link with members, but an opportunity for co-op members to also participate in a way that goes beyond shopping and voting, by telling their own, too. Ludt is excited about their work using “the story” to link with members. Based on their experience testing the story against their members perception of it, their next step, is “to lead the co-op in the direction it needs to go.” “It’s inspired me personally,” Ludt said about the process.
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