So before you go out and order “Ask Me About Co-op Membership” buttons for your staff, put some time and energy into membership recruitment methods that will be effective in the long term for your co-op’s next membership drive.
Some of the following tips for successful membership drives involve a definite time commitment for planning and a significant investment in staff education. Raising equity for your co-op is serious business; it’s the capital base from which your co-op derives its ability to grow into the future. Your challenge is to educate your staff and customers about this vital issue. This can be accomplished a number of ways with excellent results.
Answer this question: Why does the co-op want more new member equity?
Wanting more memberships for the sake of numbers is not enough. You must have a compelling reason for your membership drive in order to generate excitement for it, whether it is for a future move or expansion, educational projects or the continued financial vitality of your cooperative. The plan your co-op has for member equity should be enthusiastically communicated via the co-op’s newsletter, handouts in-store, and the staff.
Involve your staff in the planning of the membership drive.
This is crucial to the success of your drive because people power, and not your efforts alone, will make it happen. You can do this by training your staff and soliciting their input. If you don’t do anything else, training is probably the most important, and do it for all employees — even the “old timers.” You would be surprised at what your staff may not know and what misinformation collects over the years. Everyone should be giving a consistent message to prospective new members.
Orient them to the co-op principles as well as the correct way to handle membership inquiries and how to proactively recruit new members. Include in this orientation why the co-op is doing the membership drive and the importance of the staff’s role in its success. You have to sell these ideas to your staff before they can sell it to prospective members.
Getting your staff’s input about what they need from the co-op in order to perform well during the drive is also important. Staff may want more training or certain support materials they think would help them perform their jobs (some may even tell you they would rather wear a “Kick Me” sign than some button). Find out what works for them and hold them to it, and you’re likely to get the results you want. Ask what kind of incentives are appealing to staff who do a good job with membership recruitment. This is how you raise people’s comfort level with the membership drive. People like to be asked their opinions, and it helps build excitement and ownership in the drive.
Set concrete goals and communicate them to staff and customers.
Your drive should be for a specific, advertised time period. The co-op’s goals should also be communicated to staff and customers. If you know you need $5,000 in new member equity to accomplish what you’ve set out to do, let everyone know with bells and whistles. The tried-and-true thermometer graphic is a great tool for this.
You need to keep your goals high but reachable. Break the goals down into components. It may sound easier to get 5 new members a day then 150 new members a month. In addition, even if your co-op has an equity payment plan, push for fully paid memberships to meet your goals. Sometimes we project our own financial reality on those who could afford to pay in full (i.e., I’m always broke but maybe you’re not!).
Give perks to staff and new members.
The staff may be motivated by a cookie, recognition from you (liberally apply praise no matter what), or cold cash. Whatever you do, make sure staff perks are fair and that the campaign is something the whole staff can participate in.
Sometimes you have to entice prospective members to get them to the commitment stage. Offer them something for joining the co-op: a free shopping bag, a bouquet of flowers, or a coffee mug with your co-op’s name on it.
Don’t neglect support materials.
Make sure you have adequate signage, banners and brochures for your drive. The customer needs to notice the difference in look and atmosphere at the co-op. Prospective members will feel the excitement of your project and want to be part of the co-op. You may want to have a special table set up, staffed with people who exude enthusiasm for the store. However, keep in mind that this is just one thing of many you are doing to attract new members. The real key to membership drive success in an adequately trained around-the-clock staff who can consistently articulate the co-op’s vision.
It has to be very easy to join.
This is obvious, but true. You’ll lose ’em if it’s a hassle. Planning a membership drive is an excellent time to evaluate your co-op’s procedures for signing up new members. If it takes longer than two minutes, it’s too long. Membership must be easy to explain as well, so provide your staff with a “script” if you must. Watch for procedural barriers to becoming a member, such as long lines at the cash register, staff who give long-winded explanations, having only certain people trained to do it, or requiring too much paperwork or too many steps. Joining the co-op should be as easy as writing down your name and address.
Can you believe it? After all you’ve done, you still need to gently remind, inspire and cajole your staff into doing their best. Don’t forget to dangle the goodies, and publicly thank and praise everyone’s efforts.
Once you’ve administered a successful membership drive, you’ll discover that the investment in training and effort was worth it. Your staff may or may not retain the “membership drive” glow once it is over, but they will have the tools for bringing in more new member equity on a continuing basis.
Patricia Cumbie earned her “Co-op Membership Driving License” working as a member services director in several Twin Cities area co-ops.