The stakeholders of a co-operative go far beyond its members, and co-operatives generally have a closer relationship with their customers, suppliers, employees and community than companies do.
The Board and management of a co-operative need to not only have strong business skills, they also need to be able to communicate well with all stakeholders.
The 7th principle of co-operatives is concern for the community.
Communities and co-operatives have a lot to give each other. A community can offer strength and support to a co-operative, and a co-operative can help a community build skills, economic and social relationships and a sense of wellbeing.
Those who work for a co-operative are its key resource, and are often the “face” that customers deal with. Their commitment to the co-operative model and positive involvement in its business are vital. Employees should be able to contribute their ideas and feel valued.
To survive, a co-operative must satisfy its customers’ needs and interests. Consider credit unions – they have a strong customer base because their level of customer satisfaction is usually higher than major banks. It is important for a co-operative to have sound business principles balanced with a strong social purpose.
Good relationships with suppliers and contractors who provide products and services at a competitive price are essential to a co-operative’s operations. Dealing with local suppliers builds the local community’s economic capacity, trust and commitment to the co-operative.
Investors and financiers
Financial co-operatives might be the best source of finance and insurance for co-operatives, as they share the same values and are likely to be interested in helping a co-operative succeed.
No matter who supplies the finance, it is crucial to maintain good relations with them, as there may come a time when a financier is asked to be flexible if the co-operative struggles with repayments.
Co-operatives not only need to comply with the CNL and CNR, they must also comply with laws and regulations in relation to their staff, environment and activities. Co-operatives need to be mindful of their legal responsibilities, and keep up to date with changes in legislation. Don’t be afraid to contact regulators if in doubt about how legislation affects your co-operative.
There are a number of resources available to co-operatives to help them to grow (see Help!, below, and Appendix A).
When using the services of mainstream advisors and consultants, ensure they have the skills and experience to understand the unique objectives of a co-operative.
At times, a co-operative may need to develop a partnership with another organisation to provide its services or products. Be certain the partner organisation is socially responsible and its operations and marketing strategies are compatible with the co-operative’s principles.
The 6th principle of co-operatives deals with co-operation among co-operatives:
“Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.”
Get to know the other co-operatives in your region, and others with similar products or services. Their help and advice will be invaluable, and there might be opportunities to work together to achieve your aims. Join your co-operative peak bodies. Not only will your co-operative benefit, other co-operatives will benefit too.