Who will be the members?

A co-operative (other than a group co-operative) must have at least 5 members (people or corporations). The Registrar may give approval to vary the number of active members required. Unless prohibited by the rules, two or more people may share a single membership.

A person aged under 18 years may become a member of a co-operative unless the rules state otherwise. Minors may not hold office in a co-operative, and may only vote if they are in a joint membership where at least one other joint member is not a minor.

A corporation that is a co-operative member appoints a person admissible under the rules who is not already a member of the co-operative or a representative of another corporation member to represent its membership. An unlisted corporation can only appoint an officer, member or employee of the company.

Consider who can benefit from the services of the co-operative, and what relationship they will have with the co-operative – whether they are customers, suppliers, employees, users or a mixture of these. The members need to have the capability to satisfy the requirements for membership in the proposed rules, including the level of activity the member is required to have with the co-operative to be an active member. The rules may require members to use or support a particular primary activity of the co-operative and contribute any required share of capital. If a member becomes inactive, or can’t be found for three years (or less if stated in the co-operative’s rules), the board must review their membership and and take steps to cancel the membership where necessary.

Choose members wisely. A member will have equal ownership and control in the co-operative. Seek people who are positive, dedicated, can communicate well with other members, and will contribute to the co-operative’s success.

A co-operative group can be formed by co-operatives and/or other incorporated or registered bodies becoming the members, if the rules allow and the board of the co-operative group is of the opinion the body is designed to abide by co-operative principles.

Before deciding to include a member, ensure they are willing to learn what a co-operative is, how it works, and their rights and responsibilities as a member. The success of a new co-operative depends on all of the members (not just a few) understanding the values and principles that make cooperatives unique.

Have a vision of how the members will be involved with, and participate in, the co-operative. The members will need to develop a strong membership culture, enabling the co-operative to survive through later changes in membership and leadership.

If it is a small co-operative, it is essential that members are willing to take the responsibilities of membership seriously, and will take on a fair share of the duties. Make sure that individuals do not undertake too much work or responsibility. Sharing the duties makes tasks more likely to be achieved and gives ownership of the results to the group. Ensure each member has clear tasks and roles during the development of the co-operative, and is willing and capable of carrying out those duties.

If it is to be a larger co-operative, perhaps not all potential members will need to be involved in planning at this early stage, as it could be difficult to consider every aspect and detail of the start-up in large meetings. It may be a good idea to create smaller working groups which focus on one particular aspect, such as registration or finance.

A steering group, comprised of representatives of working groups, might oversee the whole start-up process, organising meetings of the whole prospective membership to report on progress and to continue the planning process. The steering group might also co-ordinate and monitor the progress of the working groups. Often the members of the steering group become the first directors of the co-operative.

No matter how this initial stage is coordinated, it is important that people know where they, and the others, fit into the process. Consider seeking help if in doubt.