Increase Member Participation at Your Cooperative

Cooperatives often times seek methods of increasing participation in their cooperatives. Acquiring and motivating board members and building a sense of community can go a long way into making a house a home.

Paying Board Members

“How much does it pay?” a cooperative member once asked me regarding serving on the board. “It doesn’t,” was my reply. That member then turned and walked away; apparently that ended the conversation – fast. Another cooperative I worked with once offered one month off maintenance (common monthly charges) in exchange for board service. Though that resulted in lots of interest and many people running for the board, I do not think it resulted in its ultimate goal: dedicated volunteer members, working for the benefits of all.

The laws of your state and/or the bylaws of your cooperative may specifically prohibit compensating board members for their service in any way; therefore, this may be a moot point. But beyond the law or bylaws, this generally seems to be a discouraged practice as it can result in conflicts of interest, poor transparency and disenfranchisement. For a more in-depth discussion of this option, see the article “Board Compensation” by Kristina Valada-Viars (Cooperator, September 2017).

Appointing Board Members

In every community there will resignations, transitions or life changes; the resulting vacancy will affect the board. As with the previous section, the laws of your state and/or the bylaws of your cooperative may have a specific protocol about filling board vacancies, like a board appointment or a special election. For a more in-depth discussion of this option, see the article “Filling a Board Vacancy” by David L. Berkey, Esq. (Cooperator, February 2006).

If it is possible to appoint a cooperative member to the board for a temporary or conditional term to fill a vacancy, this can be a great opportunity. Once I was talking to a member who seemed like she would be an ideal board member. When I asked why she did not run for the board, she said that she “hated public speaking” and that the whole election process felt like a grown-up high school popularity contest. She was not averse to hard work on the board, far from it, but she was just turned off about seeking election from her community. A sudden vacancy allowed for her appointment, and then when it came time to seek election for the seat that she filled, she felt a little more comfortable running – this time as an incumbent.

Motivating Board Members

In thinking about this topic, I asked several cooperative members why they volunteered to be on the board in the first place. Aside from those who were appointed (see above), some of the responses included the following:

  • My downstairs neighbor was complaining about the noise from my apartment, so I ran for the board so that her complaints would not matter anymore.
  • I think the board/staff is corrupt and stealing money.
  • I don’t like the perks that board members seem to be affording for themselves.
  • I’m concerned about nepotism in staff hiring of relatives of board members.

The theme in the above reasons is general unhappiness with the current or previous board or staff. One cooperative actually considers themselves doing well by low turnout at meetings and disinterest in running for the board with cooperative members actually saying, “I would participate more if I thought things were going poorly.

However, not all volunteers are motivated by the negative. Many cooperative members do have a positive sense of civic engagement and altruism with a specific goal in mind to make a community a better place overall.

Community at its Core

The work of board members can be taxing and draining, especially for a volunteer position, so I will close with a reminder that at our core cooperatives are more about community and home than mere housing. While it is imperative to do the work for the cooperative (i.e. hold meetings, review budgets, plan projects), taking the time to be a real community does not take that much time and effort but reinforces bonds that separate cooperatives from other forms of housing. Celebrating a birthday, holding a holiday party and participating in a conference can be the fringe benefit that makes all the hours spent working for the good of the community worthwhile.

NAHC and Walker Consultants do not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes or services. Therefore, mention of commercial products, processes or services cannot be construed as an endorsement or recommendation. This article is for general informational purposes. NAHC and Walker urge cooperatives to consult with a qualified industry professional for analysis and for answers to specific questions and sites.

Leon Yudkin Geoxavier is a registered architect (NY/NJ) and restoration consultant with Walker Consultants in New City, NY. He is a former president of Southridge Cooperative Section #1, Inc., in Jackson Heights (Queens), N.Y.

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