The following online owner survey was administered in July of 2008. A total of 342 owners, or about 7% of the Co-op's ownership, took the survey.
- Survey participants are among the most active of Co-op owners: more than half of the owners who completed a survey vote in Co-op elections, while about 20% of all Co-op owners usually vote in our elections. Almost 12% of the survey takers are owner-workers, although less than 1% of owners overall participate in the owner-worker program each month.
- Owners overwhelmingly selected the most generous, long-term, community-based and far-reaching of the Co-op’s seven goals as important to them - to honor the earth and cultivate the Co-op's relationships with the communities we serve and with the broader network of farmers, suppliers, manufacturers and cooperatives.
- Almost 63% of owners who completed the survey thought the Board is leading the Co-op between very well and somewhat well.
- More than 100 Co-op owners took the time to provide detailed answers to open-ended questions about what they like or would like to see from their Co-op Board of directors.
Purpose of owner survey
This Owner Survey was developed in response to owners who spoke at board meetings following the 2007 election. Some owners thought that, since 2 of 3 incumbents were not reelected, owners might be dissatisfied with the Board’s leadership. An owner suggested that the Board ask owners why they voted the way they did. The Board appointed a committee of interested owners to create a survey to find out owners’ thoughts about the Board’s leadership of the Co-op. The committee developed survey questions and worked to encourage owners to complete the survey. The survey was printed in the Summer Co-op Reporter that is mailed to owners and was available in the store and online. Survey responses were collected during July. In addition, a question on the 2008 ballot asked Co-op voters to report what factors or concerns led them to vote as they did. Those results (377 comments) will be compiled and reported as soon as possible.
The 2008 Owner Survey information will help improve the Board’s communication with owners, allow owners' voice to be heard more effectively and improve Board leadership. We thank all of you who took the time to participate in this survey. You can look forward to more surveys in the near future.
Owners select most important Co-op goals
In noting the personal importance of the seven Co-op goals, almost 83% of owners selected “Honor the earth and cultivate the Co-op’s relationships with the communities we serve and with the broader network of farmers, suppliers, manufacturers and cooperatives” as important to them. “Provide a broad selection of products at fair prices”, “Model sustainable environmental practices in our business”, “Provide excellent customer service and consumer education” and “Succeed as a sustainable business that reaches as many people as possible” were next in line of importance to Co-op owners with 73.4% to 67.5% citing these goals as important.
What owners want to know from the Board
Owners especially want the Board to provide information about changing policies and financial information. Less than half wanted information about Board news or getting involved in Co-op governance.
Owner communication with the Board
When asked whether the owner felt that the Board heard his/her voice, more than two thirds responded “neutral”, while 21% agreed that the Board heard their voice and 10% did not feel that the Board heard their voice.
More than half of owners told us that the best ways for the Board to provide information to them are by e-mail notice and the Co-op Reporter newsletter.
Owners want to use the website to find out about Co-op and other activities and to check the Co-op calendar for Board Meetings, Board Committee meetings and other events. Some read the newsletter on the Co-op’s website. Owners like to see the Board Meeting agenda online, as well as updates about Board Meeting topics and would like to be able to discuss topics, post comments and suggest agenda items.
Other suggestions for improving communication from the Board to owners included using e-mail updates from the Board for invitations to events, as well as web-based notices to save resources and expense and to reduce paper mailings. Additional ideas are to create video announcements and a board blog, hold online meetings, conduct surveys and have interactive email lists. Folks want direct communication from the Co-op that is easy to find – they don't want to hunt for information to know what is happening.
In addition to responding to the items listed on the Survey form (detailed below), owners said other ways they like to get their ideas to the Board included writing letters to the Board or the Co-op Reporter and talking to staff at the Customer Service desk. New ideas include a suggestion box on the website that everyone can read and regular monthly in-person discussions. A variety of ways to increase in-person communication between owners and board members were recommended.
Owners appreciate the Co-op’s print Reporter and the Board information it provides. Some would like to see it return to more frequent print publication, while others suggest email distribution of Board information or that the print Reporter only be available for pickup in the store.
There were quite a few comments on the general flow of information and communication between the Co-op’s owners and the Board. Owners want to be better informed about when, how and why decisions are made, what information the Board is considering during decision making and how and when owners can participate in discussing topics. Owners recommend that the Board use a variety of communication avenues – the Reporter, the website, email, US mail, discussion, posters, flyers and more – to get the word out about the Co-op’s governance and Board decision-making.
The best ways for owners to let the Board know what they are thinking are through the store suggestion box, surveys and e-mail messages sent to the Board. The Board members also appreciate receiving emails from owners!
There were several suggestions for improving the suggestion box and customer comment process. Some were not aware that the suggestion box could also be used to communicate with the Board and others thought that the responses to suggestions submitted through the box needed to be improved with better rate of initial reply and additional follow up.
Co-op owner participation
Owners listed a number of ways they participate in the Co-op in addition to the ways listed on the survey (detailed below). Other ways that owners participate include:
- Telling others about the Co-op, encouraging them to join or shop and/or referring people for specific products
- Teaching classes, doing consulting work for the Board and staff, playing music at Co-op events or working at the Co-op
- Attending classes or wine-tastings
- Offering suggestions for store improvements
- Reading the newsletter, filling out the survey or subscribing to the email list serve
- Bringing their own bags
- Making an investor loan
- Subscribing to Soil Born Farm’s CSA
When asked about interest in participating more if they had the time, 53% said they would like to be more involved with the Co-op and 47% would not participate more even if they had time.
The owners who voted in the last election reported that they voted because:
- It’s the most important member responsibility and way to be involved and have their voice heard.
- The Co-op is important to them – they want to keep it going, see it thrive and make it the best it can be, sustain the store, bring new energy to the Board and create positive change.
- From a different perspective some report that they voted because they are unhappy with the way things were going (e.g., increased share assessment, Elk Grove failure, Co-op management).
The owners who did not vote in the last election reported that they didn’t feel connected or well enough informed about candidates or issues to make a responsible choice, they weren’t a member, were unaware, unavailable or too busy or they felt comfortable with the direction of the Co-op was going.
Owners assess Board leadership
When asked how well the Board is leading the Co-op, 48.3% said well or very well and almost 14% think the Board is doing somewhat well for a total of almost 62% expressing some level of approval. About 3% think the Board is not providing good leadership and more than one third had no opinion.
Survey responses to open-ended questions about how the Board is doing
When asked “What is the Board doing well, not well, could do better, and if you could change something – what would it be?” a number of responses were received in various areas. Here are some highlights:
Advising owners and communication with owners:
- Survey respondents said the Board was doing well. Communicating information about Board actions, decisions, plans, and fiscal matters through the newsletter was well received. Asking for owner’s opinions through this survey and doing surveys on a regular basis was good.
- Some survey respondents stated the Board did not do well at communicating with owners. Owners suggested better listening and getting input from owners, conducting surveys like this and communicating with other owners as ways to improve.
- Owners felt the Board could do better by communicating more regularly, doing more surveys and advertising what the Board is doing to resolve issues.
- Many stated that the Board did well by keeping the Sacramento store operating efficiently and ending the Elk Grove operation.
- Owners commented that the Board did not do well in deciding to expand to Elk Grove and taking on a large debt.
- The Board could do better by making better financial/economic decisions related to expansion and continuing to focus on improving the Sacramento store.
Leadership, decision-making and setting policy:
- Some wrote that the Board was doing well with making decisions and taking responsibility, Elk Grove notwithstanding. Another positive comment was overseeing and working with management of the store, as well as advising and setting policy for management.
- It was suggested that a “can do” attitude would be better, along with listening to “outside the box” voices and ideas.
- The Board was doing well in developing long-term strategic plans. Planning and setting policy for running a successful cooperative venture were also mentioned.
- The Board was not doing well in consulting long-time owners, long-time residents and long-time employees. Better market research before expanding was needed.
- The Board could do better with long-range planning and development, also by being wiser when trying to expand in the future.
Representing the Co-op in the community:
- The Board is doing well in representing the Co-op with good press and word of mouth in the community.
- One owner made a statement that the Board needs to move from self-interest to community interest.
- The Board could do better in improving the Co-op’s financial health by creating an image of the Co-op in the community that humbly showcases sustainable ways.