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Outpost's Board of Directors will use this blog to discuss issues the board is exploring as it envisions Outpost's future. Can't make it to a meeting? Check here frequently to read what the Board is up to. Your current Outpost Board of...
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Participation: A Key Cooperative Advantage

Board Beet
By Your Board on June 16, 2014

Cooperatives are different from other forms of business, and participation by owners is a significant benefit of the cooperative model. Two of the seven cooperative principles — democratic member control and member economic participation — allude to the importance of participation in the cooperative form of enterprise. According to Dame Pauline Green of the International Cooperative Alliance (www.ica.coop), participation is a part of “cooperative DNA,” and is the thing that most clearly differentiates co-ops from other forms of business. 

Just what, exactly, does owner participation mean in the cooperative world? Until recent years, volunteering was the most commonly recognized form of participation by owners. However, advancements in cooperative policies and processes, such as the realization that cooperatives function far more efficiently with paid staff and can be important sources of employment in the communities that they serve, have all but eliminated volunteer opportunities for stocking shelves and ringing up customers. In cooperatives today, participation takes other forms.

Marilyn Scholl of CDS Consulting Cooperative has articulated several forms of cooperative participation by owners, a “cooperative hierarchy of needs.” These include: use; own; serve: and belong.


This is perhaps the most universal form of participation, and is in fact not limited to owners. Anyone can use the co-op, and use is a very important form of participation. Use includes:  


  • Shopping
  • Dining
  • Attending workshops
  • Having a drink on the patio


Ownership is also a critical form of participation – cooperatives simply cannot exist without owners. For $25 annually or $200 for a full fair share, Outpost owners:


  • Provide working capital for the cooperative
  • Receive dividends (patronage rebates) in proportion to their purchases when the cooperative is profitable
  • Receive special pricing on local items and weekly sale items
  • Create community capital
  • Elect the Board of Directors
  • Are eligible for owner loan and class 2 stock programs


At a recent retreat, board and management discussed the various forms that service can take at Outpost. Here's what we came up with:


  • Running for a seat/serving on the Board of Directors
  • Voting in the board election
  • Attending the annual meeting
  • Working at Outpost
  • Spreading the love for Outpost among friends, family, and neighbors
  • Sharing ideas and opinions with management and board
  • Buying someone in the community an Outpost ownership
  • Lending the cooperative money or purchasing non-voting class 2 shares


Belonging is perhaps the most difficult to define of the forms of cooperative participation. Belonging is often highly individual - you know it when you see (or feel) it.  Belonging might include:


  • Identifying with cooperative values and principles
  • Feeling welcomed and accepted
  • Engaging with the Outpost community
  • Feeling separation anxiety when you haven't visited your local Outpost in several days
  • Longing for a bowl of Outpost chili or slice of banana bread

Here's an invitation to participate: add a comment on how you use, own, serve or belong. Can you add to this list? 

Will Kort – Board President







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