REA Business: The Power of Knowing
How well does your REA Board and your membership know one another? The data suggests you don’t know one another well. What data are we citing? Well, let’s start with attendance at your Annual General Meeting (AGM). Informal polls taken at the Federation’s AGM in February, and at workshops throughout the year, indicate that less than 5% of REA members attend the AGM for their electric utility co-op. That means, 95% of REA members have little or no contact with their REA Board. Those members may not even know they are members.
The rebuttal is that they signed a membership contract; therefore, they should know they are members. Why should they? Signing a contract for electricity distribution does not magically lead to knowing the REA story, the power of a cooperative, and the benefits of being a member. That was driven home for me last week when I visited with a friend who had moved to an acreage within an REA service area. The REA is one that has diligently tried to promote the cooperative model and engage its members.
The REA succeeded in getting across the message that it was a cooperative. That much sunk in with my friend—a busy career woman with a family to tend to. The REA employee who came on site also impressed her. He was a long time employee of the REA and shared that fact. As a businesswoman, she placed value on an organization that kept its employees. But, she had no idea that she was an owner-member or that she could have a vote and impact her REA’s future.
Primary responsibility for ensuring the future of the REA lies with the Board. A critical piece of that is getting to know your members and having them get to know you and the REA. Equip your Board members to tell the REA story, to spread the cooperative message, and to champion for REA benefits. Remember that new members can’t take the whole business in at once; you will need to repeat your message over and over. The REA message is just one in a busy world and it can get lost easily. Your REA story isn’t your members’ priority—their lives are their priority and they want the lights to turn on when they flip the switch.
There is power in knowing who your members are and what makes them light up. You will only uncover that if you put forward the effort to engage with them throughout the year. Challenge your Directors to talk to ten members each this year. Raise your REA’s visibility in the community by participating in events. Put an ad on the radio. Give your members a chance to know your REA is out there and that it represents them. Your REA will benefit by having increased AGM attendance, greater member engagement, and a stronger member commitment to the cooperative model.
Build a stronger REA through the power of knowing.