The formation and running of a co-operative can be daunting and complicated, even if you have an enthusiastic group of members eager to help. But remember there are plenty of resources out there to help – you are not alone!
Find out where you can get professional advice and what it would cost. It may be expensive, inexpensive or even cost nothing, as advice to co-operatives is sometimes subsidised or provided free.
Here are a few important links to get you started:
Co-operative peak bodies and associations
State-based co-operative peak bodies currently operate only in New South Wales (Coops NSW) and Western Australia (Co-operatives WA). There are some less formal networks in other states (see Appendix A.)
Co-operative peak bodies generally facilitate and provide assistance and services, represent and help co-operatives in their dealings with government, promote the exchange of information between co-operatives, increase understanding and public awareness of co-operative structures, and work with other co-operative organisations across Australia and the world.
Many co-operative peak bodies assist in the establishment of co-operatives and provide educational programs, conferences and workshops; subjects include board training, financial management, legislation and government relations. Some programs are offered free to members.
Many co-operatives are members of co-operative peak bodies. Joining a co-operative peak body strengthens the co-operative sector.
The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) is the national peak body and Co-ops NSW and Co-operatives WA are associate members of BCCM. The BCCM publishes annually its National Mutual Economy Report, incorporating the list of Australia’s Top 100 co-operatives and mutuals. The Top 100 annually demonstrates the economic and social impact of these co-operatives. BCCM’s website www.bccm.coop is a great source of information, including news, events, links and resources.
The Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) is the official industry body for the Australian mutual financial services sector. COBA provides a strong voice on behalf of its members to governments, regulators, the media, the public and other stakeholders, as well as providing advice and support services to members. COBA’s website is www.customerownedbanking.asn.au.
State and territory governments register and regulate all co-operatives, co-operative housing and Starr-Bowkett societies, except for financial co-operatives. They usually assist with establishment and registration, and provide information on rights, responsibilities and legal frameworks. Website addresses are provided in Appendix A.
Consultants can assist with anything related to launching a co-operative, including feasibility studies, business planning, co-operative development and accounting, financial and legal issues.
Identify what type of help you need, and be prepared to pay for good professional advice instead of relying totally on volunteers. Seek the services of organisations that have a strong knowledge of co-operatives.
Prepare a brief for the advisor, describing the structure, aims and activities of the co-operative. Describe the issue to be addressed, any time constraints, budget limitations and payment terms.
Interview and seek resumés from a number of consultants, and determine who has the relevant business experience, understanding of the co-operative’s requirements, is affordable, has strong communication skills and can deliver on time.
When you have decided to engage an advisor, prepare a written contract, clearly specifying the terms and conditions of engagement, including commencement and finishing dates, payment schedule, the duties to be undertaken and a procedure for dispute resolution.