Taking care of business
For most people, October is time to enjoy the fall colors and an end to the hot, sticky Dog Days of summer. For me, it’s a reminder of all the good the cooperative way of business has brought to our nation.
October is Cooperative Month, a time when the nation recognizes the benefits of its 40,000 cooperatives.
So what’s a cooperative? Cooperatives are businesses that:
• are owned and democratically controlled by their members — the people who use the co-op’s services or buy its goods — not by investors.
• return surplus revenues (income over expenses and investment) to members.
• are motivated by service to their members, not by profit.
U.S. co-ops serve more than 130 million members and generate revenue in excess of $230 billion a year.
Co-ops operate in every industry including agriculture, childcare, energy, financial services, food retailing and distribution, health care, insurance, housing, purchasing, telecommunications and others.
More than 900 rural electric cooperatives own and maintain nearly half of the electric distribution lines in the United States, cover 75 percent of the land mass and provide electricity to 40 million people.
What intrigues me most about cooperatives is the democratic way they conduct business. This summer, I attended many electric cooperative annual meetings. In many ways, these meetings reflect our nation’s democracy.
I witnessed people actively campaigning for a chance to represent their neighbors on the cooperative’s board. I saw bylaws being debated, fine-tuned, adjusted to better reflect today’s business climate and then voted up or down by the membership.
Sure, there’s entertainment and food and prizes at the annual meeting. But the primary reason members gather in school auditoriums or under the big tent is to take care of the cooperative’s business and to elect those who will represent them. At the annual meeting, cooperative members have ample opportunity to become educated on the many goods and services their cooperative offers.
And what a year it has been for serving the member! From the many energy-efficiency programs designed to save consumers money to the Our Energy, Our Future campaign, cooperative employees have never worked so hard to meet the needs of their members.
I listened to annual meeting reports to members about how cooperative lines were again tested by Mother Nature. When this happened we again saw the cooperative way in action. Cooperation among cooperatives — one of the guiding principles of the cooperative movement — helped get the power flowing again as systems out of harm’s way assisted their neighbors.
As with any system of government designed by the people and for the people, the cooperative movement needs the support of its members. As you reflect on the advantages of belonging to a cooperative, be sure you continue to educate yourself by reading this publication, pay attention to announcements from your cooperative, ask questions and most importantly, take care of business at your annual meeting.
Your involvement ensures your co-op is being run the way you want it to be, with its priority being serving you.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.