5 Reasons Your Domain Should Be .coop from the beginning

Thomas Bowen loves startup co-ops. True, he loves all co-ops, but the energy and enthusiasm of startup groups brings a big smile to his face.

Thomas is the director of member relations for National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA, and wants to see every new retail food co-op succeed as part of the greater cooperative community. Contact him at tbowen@ncba.coop to share your story, and see how a .coop domain makes sense for your future co-op.

In his words, here are 5 reasons your co-op should be using a .coop domain:

In the beginning . . . your co-op should be a .coop because:

5 reasons1—There are coops. There are also co-ops. Coops are for chickens. Co-ops are for members. Imagine the conversation and educational opportunities you have when giving people your website or email address. Principle 5 of the 7 cooperative principles is about education and information. Inform people who you are and what your store will be with your .coop domain. Tell them how different you are from the other places that may sell similar products.

2.coop domains are unique. They are ONLY available to verified cooperative businesses. Cooperatives are unique businesses–why be lumped into all the coms, nets and orgs of the world. Show your pride and uniqueness! You work hard to show your difference–flaunt it. Plus, the process of verification shows trust and value. You can become a trusted resource for members. You know that group that sells similar products? They can’t have a .coop domain and how many consumers trust them?

3—With your .coop, you get a free gift. They ran out of toasters, so instead you get use of the Cooperative Marque–a unique identifier that is a trust mark for you members and customers. This marque is used exclusively by cooperative business around the world. Yes, your “little co-op” now has international appeal and is in good company. That other place . . . no Marque for you! But wait, there’s more. Act now and you can get your first year of a .coop domain FREE.free

4—Sure, it is a little bit more expensive than the other domain alternatives–but this is about your brand and what makes you different from XYZ Grocer. It is a marketing expense. Ask yourself how much marketing you will get for the cost of a .coop domain? (I’ll tell you, not much.) Then what kind of marketing do you want for the cost of another domain type? (I’ll tell you, not much.)

5—If you are thinking you will add the .coop when you open the cooperative, we will say sure, you can do that–but why? Why go about changing your marketing material ($)? Why go about retraining the staff and members? Why worry about forwarding and redirecting emails and web pages and hope that it works when you change? Have no fear, already have your “other domain” (no judgment from me–none)? We can help make redirecting your .com, .org. or .net. This could be one of the easiest decisions you have to make in starting a cooperative, well, except having FCI help you with the startup process.

Why FCI likes this: It is easy for startup groups to think of themselves as volunteer or non-profit type organizations that are struggling to start a cooperative grocery store. But, just as with any startup business in any field, you are starting a real business! You are starting a retail grocery store that, in a few years, could easily be handing a sales volume of over a million dollars. You do not want your members and community come to think of you as that little .org group that wants a co-op. You want them to believe in the goal—a new retail food co-op in your community that welcomes everyone to shop. Every effort you make to show that you are serious about your goal can help move you ahead. Thomas makes a great point with number five—it is expensive to change all your marketing and such later. (Also, when you are ready to hire a general manager, NCBA is the best place to post your job listing and reach a great set of talent.)

Growing Pains: What’s in a Name?

“No, no . . . it’s going to be a store!

By Siobain Mitchell of (the newly re-named) Assabet Village Co-op Market

AVCM Logo_CMYK_2

The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The potholes and unexpected turns can really shake up even the best startup team. We love to share stories of these Growing Pains, and how startups have overcome them, or what they would do differently.
Assabet Village Co-op Market in Maynard, MA has learned that starting a new food co-op takes time, energy, patience, and a lot of work. And that sometimes, after sharing the idea beyond the original group, a shift in name and image in needed.  Our thanks to Siobain Mitchell, who has been with Assabet Village from the beginning,  for sharing one of their Growing Pains with us. For more information about Assabet Village, email info@assabetvillage.coop.  Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

Have you stood behind a table at a farmers’ market or community event talking to passers-by about your startup food co-op? I have. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve had all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people. Happy people. Grumpy people. Opinionated people. Really busy people. Really, really talkative people. Every conversation has taught me something—something about my community, something about what it takes to build a cooperative, something about myself.

Sometimes people see our banner, and they see the word “co-op”, and they come straight over. They have stories to share: co-ops they shopped at before moving to the Boston area, or while in college; co-ops in basements or churches that they were part of in their youth, or that their parents were part of; co-ops that they love to visit while on vacation.

Sometimes people see our banner, and they think we must be communists. Or some hippie thing where the hours you can shop depend on what astrological sign the moon has just moved into.

Sound familiar?

Assabet table

The former name in use at a tabling event.

Here at Assabet Village though, we had an additional hurdle to get over. We found ourselves having to explain, first and foremost, that the co-op was going to be a store. Some people thought we might be a buying club, or discount warehouse. Many, many people thought we were some kind of food pantry, or food assistance charity.

Our name was then “The Assabet Village Food Cooperative”.

Our logo came from our earliest days. For our very first community meeting, one of our organizers created some posters to put around the room. And one of those posters showed a circle with connected dots. It was meant to represent the organizing team—board in the middle, committees along the outside. The image was very well liked, and we decided to use it.

There was, however, nothing in our logo to suggest a store. There’s no beet or carrot or shaft of wheat. For anyone new to the idea of a food co-op, mistaking us for a food pantry was understandable.

After some discussion, we decided to become “Assabet Village Co-op Market”.

It was not a particularly quick process. Some people were initially reluctant to change. Options were sorted through. All new graphics had to be created. Our website was re-done.

Nor was it free—we’ve bought all new brochures, business cards, letterhead, banners, bumper magnets, etc.

But it was definitely worth it. We love the new name, and we believe that the re-branding will make it easier for our volunteers to table—they’ll have one less thing to explain.

It’s going to be a store. And we’ll open when you join!

FCI: Why we love this: Taking another look at your co-op’s “brand” —its name, its logo, how it communicates—is often needed in stage two. You now have a year or more under your belt of watching how owners and the community react to your brand and how well it communicates. Assabet made the decision to address the community confusion over what exactly the co-op was going to be. They shifted their name to have a modern, ‘grocery store’ ring to it without shedding the “co-op” part, which was deeply important to them. Does your co-op’s name resonate with your audience? Could it better express exactly what your co-op has to offer the community? We encourage you to check out Assabet Village’s experience and consider your own name!

Startup Interviews: Natural State Food Co-op

An interview with Devon Foster.

NSF logo

The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. But learning that other startups face the same challenges, and how they cope with them, is a great tool for any organizing group. Startup Interviews will highlight various groups all across teh country,. Thanks to Devon Foster of Natural State Food Co-op in Arkansas for being the first. 

FCI: Tell us about where Natural State Food Co-op is located – what kind of community/area is it, what is your current definition of where you will locate your store (within a certain town? a county? etc)

Devin Foster (DF): Little Rock, Arkansas is an urban food desert with large numbers of Low Income (LI) and Low Access (LA) households, meaning that a significant number of downtown Little Rock residents are located more than one urban mile from their nearest supermarket, and are less likely to have access to a vehicle. Much of this economic marginalization by neighborhood can be traced to redlining, blockbusting, and the rise of suburban developments, as well as the construction of highways in the 1950’s which sliced through urban residential areas. With a renewed interest in downtown living and urban vitality, many new residents are discovering what previous tenants have had to put up with for decades – a very noticeable lack of grocery stores.

The Natural State Food Co-op’s startup HQ, through a membership with the recently-opened Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, is located in Downtown North Little Rock, a quaint neighborhood also called Argenta.

Downtown Little Rock and Downtown North Little Rock are separated by a short bridge across the Arkansas River. Both suffer from a lack of decent grocery options, and our Board and volunteers comprise of residents of both cities. Our official stance is that the co-op will go where (1) the first 500 members want it; (2) there is a social need; and (3) it makes financial and retail sense. However, we are focusing our outreach and visibility efforts in the Downtown NLR, Downtown Little Rock, and SoMa (South Downtown) neighborhoods, which we feel meet both (2) and (3).

FCI:  How long has Natural State Food Co-op been organizing and how did it begin?

Natural State boothDF: We began organizing in spring 2014 after the closure of a boutique grocery store in Argenta, when community members held a meeting with the manager of the only grocery food co-op in Arkansas, Ozark Natural Foods (located over 3 hours away from Little Rock), to discuss what they could do to put a grocery store back in central North/Little Rock. Ozark Natural Foods offered support and mentorship should the community decide to start a food co-op. The resulting core group of volunteers has formed a Board of Directors, incorporated, adopted bylaws with the assistance of our mentor co-op, and begun the work of community engagement.

FCI: What is the core vision of Natural State Food Co-op that drives your organizing work?

DF: There are far too many businesses in Arkansas which leave their communities worse off, particularly when it comes to food. We want neighborhood access to tasty, nutritious food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and we want a local business which enriches its community, not the other way round. And lastly, we want to serve and support our local farmers and sustainable producer co-ops by being their best customer!

FCI: What is next up for NSFC?

DF: While we have the legal and financial logistics of a Stage 1 Startup Co-op checked off, we are now focusing on building a strong volunteer and member-ownership base preparatory to launching a BIG membership drive. We’re also planning a regular Co-op Speaker Series featuring a talk or workshop on topics of interest to build community and offer something of value while we move forward with the business of starting a business.

FCI: What is your greatest challenge right now as as a startup?

We can only pick one?

The greatest challenge we’ve discovered is how to communicate what a grocery co-op is, and what the startup process will entail.

There is only one grocery co-op in NW Arkansas, while producer co-ops are everywhere. This is fantastic for our farmers (shout-out to Grass Roots Livestock Cooperative, Little Rock Tomato, and Foodshed Farms), but it can be a source of initial misunderstanding when we unfurl our “Co-op” banner at an event or promote the Facebook page, and makes for a slow undertaking in getting the word out, enrolling volunteers, and gaining new member-owners. Clarifying the difference between a farmer’s co-op feed & seed and a consumer-owned grocery co-op sometimes requires more than one conversation.

An equally great challenge is organizing ourselves as a collective of very busy volunteers: attending meetings, coming up with and agreeing on next steps, and holding ourselves accountable for follow through. Focusing on more than one Cornerstone at a time can be difficult without a strong foundation of take-charge volunteers, a bit like rubbing your belly while patting your head. Happily we’ve been making good progress on that learning curve, one new volunteer at a time!

Want to share your startup story? FCI welcomes ideas for Great Events, Startup Interviews, and any other topic! Email info@fci.coop to work with us and share your story.

Helpful Partners: Donated Marketing Rocks!

By Dennis Rosenblum of Bay City Cooperative
 bay city
The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The sheer volume of things to do can sometimes overwhelm even the best startup team. We want to share this story of using community business partners to build success, and how startups might benefit from Helpful Partners.
Bay City Cooperative Market in Bay CIty, Michigan needed to build a great website to market their startup. They reached out to the local community and got professional work donations to help. This donation of service also has supported their promotional efforts.  Our thanks to Dennis Rosenblum from Bay CIty for sharing a bit about their own Helpful Partners with us. For more information about Bay CIty Cooperative Market, email info@baycityfood.org  Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

It’s an inevitable conundrum: You need to get the word out about your budding co-op and convince people to put up money as members. And to do that, you should look like you know what you’re doing. But you don’t have the money to pay for professional media services. What to do?

One solution, as we’ve found out, is to just ask.

Sure, we could have come up with a website ourselves. There are even free web services that look good.

Instead, we asked a local design firm for free help. The response? They actually seemed honored that we’d asked. As they put it on Facebook: “Every once in a while, we have the privilege of taking on a project to help improve the community where we live. The Bay City Food Cooperative is one of those projects.”

And what we got (check out baycityfood.org) was much more than we’d have come up with ourselves.

Later, when we saw that some other co-ops had great promotional videos, we decided to rip off—rather, to borrow—their idea. So we asked a local videographer for free help. His response? Sure, he’d do it—and so would various co-op supporters who didn’t hesitate to talk enthusiastically on camera.

 

Bay City Video

See the video on the website!

A month later, we had a great video that quickly scored thousands of views and created lots of buzz about the co-op.

Along the way, a printer provided us with promotional rack cards for free. And when we needed to book a hotel for a market consultant coming to town, we didn’t get a free room—but we did get a nice discount.

In every case, all we had to do was ask.

There’s more.

When we went looking for prizes to award in membership drives, we looked to friends and co-op supporters who have businesses. Again, no problem. People were eager to help.

Are we just lucky? Do we have some secret sauce? Do we have a town full of particularly cooperative people? Probably not.

Two points that may be obvious but are worth remembering:

1. Make sure you’re clear on what the gift covers. For instance, if it’s from a mechanic, is it a free tune-up or a gift certificate good for anything? You don’t want winners to end up feeling like they got scammed.

2. Give the donor some publicity in return. When you promote a prize drawing, mention the business and its address or website. When the prize is awarded, take a picture of the donor and the winner together for your Facebook and/or blog posting.

Looking back, we’ve made some mistakes as we work toward getting a co-op up and running. We’ll probably make more. But recognizing when we can use help and asking for it isn’t a mistake at all. Really, the worst that can happen is that someone says no.

The support we’ve received affirms our belief that a food co-op would be a great addition to our city. It’s reassuring to discover that others see it that way, too—and that they’re willing to help. It brings more people into the fold. It saves us money that we can better use down the road.

If we were corporate-type people, we’d have some roll-your-eyes term to describe the power of asking for help—thinking outside the box, a win-win, leveraging or some goofy thing.

We’re not, so we don’t do that. We just think it makes sense. In a cooperative way.

FCI: Why We Like This:  A co-op is more than a grocery store, it is a members of a community. Reaching out to other community businesses who support a better, healthier, and more democratic vibe in the community is a great idea!  You may not always find free help, but discounts, great advice, and you will build relationships within your town that will prove valuable for years to come. You save dollars, but the gains from making these connections can go far beyond that!
FCI: And A Note on Donations and Taxation:  Talk to your tax accountant and/or legal advisor before agreeing to these projects. In most cases, retail food co-ops are not charitable or tax-exempt. Donations made to a co-op are usually considered taxable “in-kind” income and will need supporting paperwork for the IRS. The donating company may not be able to claim a tax deduction for doing this work.  Be sure both you and your potential partners have an understanding of this. Many partners  want to support you anyway, and are not concerned, but take the time to get the facts for your own records.

Growing Pains: The GM Transition

By Heather Avella of Manchester Food Co-op

manchester logo
The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The potholes and unexpected turns can really shake up even the best startup team. We love to share stories of these Growing Pains, and how startups have overcome them, or what they would do differently.
Manchester Food Co-op in Manchester, NH has faces some twist and turns on their path. Now in the process of converting a store to a co-op, to open soon, they found the letting go process involved once a general manager was on board was a bit of an unnerving thing.  Our thanks to Heather Avelia, project manager at Manchester for sharing a bit about their own Growing Pains with us. For more information about Manchester, email info@manchesterfood.coop.  Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

Hiring your first General Manager. You see this topic on every start-up conference agenda, notice many references in CDS Consulting Co-op’s library, participate in a session or two about recruiting your GM, and gather tips how to make your co-op marketable to national talent.  We did all these things at the Manchester Food Co-op.  In hindsight we were not prepared for how difficult the process—and the transition it signifies—would be.

All of us who have experienced the simultaneous pleasure and pain of growing our food co-op from embryonic visionary state to the exciting and practical stage when a GM is hired know the sweat, tears, and triumphs involved in the adventure. The board, motivated by passion and a common cause, has its hands in everything from soup to nuts: when the GM is hired the shift can be surprising.  The board’s role and feeling of empowerment will change. They will be giving up control over pieces they have been intrinsically involved with, pieces that are also very near and dear to the mission.   At Manchester we found that, although you can be prepared from a textbook kind of sense, you may be surprised the wave of emotions that arise during this transition.   At least we were. We are happy to share our challenges and some tips with you.

Biggest Challenges

Separation Anxiety

We now have a fantastic General Manager who has over a decade of co-op experience. We feel very fortunate to have been able to hire such talent as a start-up!  However, no matter what type of rock star GM you hire, the challenge can be likened to parental separation anxiety.  Suddenly you have the loss of input into anything involving operations.  Our board consisted of members with grocery, HR, and architectural experience. They now had to now withhold their expertise to allow our GM to build his own plans and establish relationships. This is a tough letting go process. Board members who felt their value was in these skill sets now felt uncertain of their contribution. What do you mean I don’t have a say in store design? How do I not pursue conversations with local producers and potential vendors? Why can’t I lend a hand in the staffing plan? Why does the DC want to deal with only GM’s or PM’s, and not any board members?  Board members may feel like the bricks that they have been stacking for years while building toward a store have now formed a wall and they are on the outside, looking in.

 Policy Readiness

manchester bldgThen there was the Policy Governance piece.  We intended to operate by Policy Governance, because that is what food co-ops do, but we really didn’t even know what that meant. Ends? Means? We were suddenly chasing these concepts after already hiring our GM, which was less than ideal. When we interviewed GM candidates, we stated that we would govern by Policy Governance but we weren’t well versed in these principles, and we should have been!

Our tips for other startups

Be Prepared for Change and Letting Go!

When your new GM comes on board, there will be a clear division between operations and capital. Your board will be responsible for raising capital. Your GM will be responsible for all things related to store operations, including store design, staffing, products, and pricing. Conceptually, we have found it easiest to understand in the context of our pro forma: the board is responsible for the sources, while the GM is responsible for the uses. For some board members this will be more difficult than for others. Recognize that this stage, when you are implementing your capital campaign and your GM is hired, is not for everyone. You may find some turnover in board membership during this period, and that’s okay. Keep the lines of communication open between all board members to avoid any tension or dips in morale. Recognize when a board member may need to move on because he/she is not suited for this developmental stage.

Don’t drag your feet on Policy Governance!

Engage your Policy Governance before you hire your GM.  Without digging into this prior to hiring our GM, we were not prepared to both communicate our ends and understand how the GM/board relationship would work within this framework. Use the CDSCC’s CBLD materials and programs—don’t re-invent the wheel as there are great governance templates out there. Get your draft done and understand this process so you are best positioned for a smoother ride once your GM comes aboard. Understand how the board’s role will be to govern by ends, and make sure you feel comfortable that your ends represent your vision. This will give you the confidence that the vision will be executed, while completely empowering your GM to make decisions.

If you don’t have a policy governance lover on your board, get one fast – one of our drawbacks was not finding someone who loves bylaws and policies, so it became one of the important things we would consistently avoid.

I’m sure there is no food coop out there that would say this stage is completely carefree, smooth and easy. As with many coop developmental transitions, it is sloppy and less than perfect. By keeping in mind the passion behind your project, and taking some of these preventative steps to prepare, you can set yourselves up to surmount the challenges.  The end result is establishing a great working partnership with your GM and successfully opening your doors.  Nothing is better than that.

At least, that is what we imagine. We all joke that we will be laying on the co-op’s floor, bawling impressive puddles of tears when our doors finally do open!  I am looking forward to seeing that scene manifest.

 

FCI: Why We Like This:  No matter how many terrific industry experts and consultants you work with, no one but a peer startup cooperator can tell you what it’s going to feel like to transition from a working board to the governing board of a co-op that’s about to open the store. To be a board leader at a startup food co-op is to get used to being on a roller coaster, but it’s always easier to enjoy the ride when you know that next twist is coming. Thank you to Heather for sharing with us a little bit about the track ahead from one who’s been there!

 

Great Events: Promoting Membership

by Jeremy Nash of Prairie Food Co-op
Prairie Food Co-op logo sm
The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.
Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard, IL has been successful in building membership by using one-month promotions, and keeping the interest high on social media. Our thanks to Jeremy Nash, co-founder and outreach coordinator of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on these promotions, email Jeremy at jerry@prairiefood.coop. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

At Prairie Food Co-op, we have been very successful at running promotions. They are an effective way of increasing membership numbers, but require thoughtful planning and interaction. The following is a list of the basics we have found to be most helpful.

Identify a realistic goal
The Facts PRairie Food PromosOur standard is the month-long promotion with the aim of getting around new 30 member/owners, but you can successfully use other time frames and goals. The more urgent the timeframe, the more chance of success is promised. If you want potential owners to be engaged, they’ve got to “see” the goal. A two week or month-long goal is easy to see, while a multi-month goal may be too long to maintain focus.

Choose an appropriate enticement
Knowing your community and potential member base is important. Consider how much you are willing to spend. Anything you can get for free or a deal is a plus. Often, a farmer or business will be happy to provide the prize for free or reduced cost, knowing the value the promotion will bring them. Or ask your owners for freebies. People welcome a chance to help the co-op if they’re too busy to help by volunteering. One or our owners donated four Cubs tickets, which we changed to two pairs to use as an incentive and we signed up 23 new member/owners in less than a week.

A few ideas for enticements:
CSA share (fruit, veggie, meat, fish), Arboretum/Museum Membership, gift card at local restaurant, theater, sports and local event tickets, locally made art, spa pass, etc. The sky’s the limit!

Messaging
Before announcing your promo, thoughtful planning of messaging is key to keeping your community engaged while the promo is going on. Name your promo something catchy, but simple, like “30 in 30” or “25 to Thrive”. You’ll be writing this a lot so make sure it’s not too complicated and can be incorporated into more specific messaging and easily hashtagged (#30in30!).

An effective medium to communicate your promo is your newsletter. Make sure the newsletter is to the point and doesn’t contain too much information. The promo doesn’t have to be the only topic in the newsletter, but it should be just one of a few topics. Make sure you have a link inside the newsletter that takes the receiver to your owner signup page.

Facebook
Prairie Food Coop screen shot FBSocial media can be a very valuable tool. We use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but Facebook has proven to be most effective. Understanding it’s pacing and algorithms will help produce results. Check out the Prairie Food Facebook page for a real life example.

Post at least three times a day if you can. Around 10 am, 2 pm, and early evening are the best times. Posting too early, too late, around commute times, or around mealtimes will limit your views. When running a promo, two of these posts should be related to the promo. They can be new member/owner announcements, the promo itself, or the website of the prize you are raffling* off.

A graphic that lists all of the details of the promo so you don’t have to write the details of the promo every time you post is very helpful. When the pic is clicked, it should send them to your member/owner signup page on your website. Countdown (15 to Go!, 10 to Go!, 5 to Go!) graphics are effective too.

Welcome your new owners as they come in. Some co-ops welcome four or five new members at a time in a post, which is necessary sometimes, but I believe it’s more effective to post owner welcomes one at a time to maintain an appearance of steady growth.

Make sure that as many people as possible see your posts, or at least the important ones. Here are a few tips on getting more eyes on your promo posts.

• Tell your audience to “like”, comment, and share the post within the post itself.
• Share the post in as many appropriate community Facebook groups and pages as possible.
• “Like” your own posts! Each “like” you receive increases your views. I “like” each post we make as myself, our co-op page, and two other pages that I am admin for.
• Boosting your post can be very effective, especially if you use Facebook’s targeting tool where you can target your preferred audience for your post by criteria such as city, gender, age, and what pages they like. Be aware that after you boost a post, the organic numbers you achieved before you boosted will dramatically sink for a period of time.

If your ongoing membership drive seems to be stuck and you are not getting any traction, consider a mini-promo that will get you rebooted. This has worked for us on multiple occasions. Our recent Cubs tickets promo was a mini-promo. We found that we got a large majority of our goal in the last 24 hours of our promo.

Prairie Food CUBS tix winnersAnd the Winner Is!
If you don’t meet your goal you don’t have to post about it. Most people won’t notice. However, if your promo was a success, shout it to the world.

If you’ve got the time, have fun with it. You can write all the names down on a piece of paper and make a video of a cute kid drawing the name from a hat, but wait to announce the winner until you have contacted them and they are interested in the prize. Some people, especially in cases where you mix promotions or the prize is time sensitive, may not want the prize or be able to use it. Alternately you can use whatever online random generator you want. No one has to know that you didn’t go to all the trouble of pulling a name out of a hat. In this case you can just announce the winning member in a post with a link to the prize they’ll be winning.

This example is by no means exhaustive, but I am confident that if you follow most of the advice listed, you will have a successful member/owner promotion. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at jerry@prairieood.coop.

Good luck!

FCI: Why We Like This:  A series of promotions like these shared by Prairie Food Co-op can successfully build and maintain excitement around membership, as well as keep the co-op active in the public eye. Getting enticing prizes is a key that may require a great negotiator from the co-op group, but also can build community relationships. Your group can decide on prizes based on available donations and your own budget. This is a great example of effective use of social media to reach new and existing member/owners. The fact that it can be repeated with minimum effort is a big plus.

*A note on Raffles: Some states and municipalities have laws regarding the use of raffles. Be sure to check in your area.

Great Events: FED Talks

by Carol Rauschenberger of Shared Harvest

Shard Harvest logo
The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.

Shared Harvest in Elgin, IL faces a common startup struggle-building community interest in local food, and in the idea of a community-owned food co-op. Our thanks to Carol Rauschenberger, the founder of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on their event, email Carol at info@sharedharvest.coop. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

To connect with the public and reach potential coop members, Shared Harvest is always looking for ways to educate the community about food-food systems, safety, accessibility, and similar issues. Finding great ways to bring people out to talk about food issues, and learn about the co-op, can be an ongoing challenge.

Two years ago we did a film series on food-The Shared Harvest Film “Feastival”. We learned that a short film is better than a long one, especially when not sitting in a comfy theater seat. Our participants looked for a brief facilitated discussion after each film. We did the series primarily at the local library. In true food co-op style, we featured some healthy munchies, and we averaged about 30 people per event.

FEDTalks Full House SHared HarvestThis spring we sought another avenue to educate people about food and our co-op mission. We had thrown around the idea of TED talks two years ago. After some research, we realized that was not an easy road to take. There is a lot of preparation and paperwork to even be qualified to be part of the TED Talk series.

Still liking the idea of the TED talks, we came up with our own version: FED Talks, short for Food EDucation Talks. Using a similar TED format of 15 minute presentations, we provided three brief and passionate talks by local experts. Including introductions and a brief discussion time, we offered our target audience a succinct and thought-provoking hour long event. Two factors could support our success: many passionate people in the area have great knowledge about various food topics, and our award-winning Gail Borden Public Library would include us in their quarterly flyer. The library flyer goes to every household in the community. We also publicized the talks through Facebook and email.

Eagerly, we reached out to several potential speakers, settling on three. By offering an informal atmosphere, we felt even inexperienced speakers could feel comfortable. A local organic farmer, spoke about the “Importance of Local Food”. “Following Your Passion” was offered by a mushroom farm worker, and a master gardener shared “What the Local University Extension Can Do for YOU”. Two of the speakers used slide presentations, and we had a volunteer signal the three-minute warning to each speaker.

Blog Facts FedTalksThe weather was cold but clear on the evening of our FED Talks in early February. We planned for an audience of 30 people, but wound up with 50. We had a brief facilitated discussion after the talks and many people lingered over snacks for a good half hour longer.

Though we were not able to measure direct membership sales from the event, it was well attended. The speakers were passionate and interesting to listen to and well-received by the audience. Our only regret is that we didn’t film the talks.

Both our film and FED Talks series demonstrate our commitment to the community and food education. Our second FED Talk is coming up in May. We already have our speakers lined up, and are looking into video taping them .

FCI: Why We Like This:  An  event like Shared Harvest’s FED Talks can be a low demand on an organizing team yet still help define the co-op as a convener of thought and innovation around a community’s food system. It builds the co-op’s legitimacy, relationships with other food-focused thinkers, and is a form of food education for the community. It is important to demonstrate how the co-op brings value to owners and the entire community before the doors are open. Some efforts to do this take so much energy they may sidetrack the ultimate goal of opening a store. Putting on a FED Talks event once or twice a year can build community value without diverting energy. Including a solid membership push would enhance the event.