The landscape of buying clubs is ever changing. The nature of running and being a part of a buying club is that this change will be constant. Members will come and go, you will move into or out of a building, state and federal laws may go into effect, and suppliers will go out of business.
Some of these changes are great. When you have an awesome new volunteer float into your life it can make running your group so much smoother. New farmers in your area can supply you with delicious foods you didn’t have access to before. Having to move to a new space can mean your group is growing!
On the other hand some changes are challenging. New laws that change the way farmers can sell to consumers can make getting your favorite foods to your members challenging. Moving your group out of a residential area to a commercial one is both exciting and incredibly challenging.
One change we have noticed of late here at Manage My Co-op is the move towards membership based groups. If your group has been open, everyone is welcome to participate, no membership required we want to encourage you to move towards a membership based group. Here is why:
- Private groups keep you safe: If you are running a group requiring membership helps protect you. You have an agreement from the people joining your group. The rules of the group have been clearly stated and expectations have been set. The chances of someone ordering then not paying for their order greatly decreases. Also, with agreements, you are more likely to know your members better than if someone you have never met just decides to participate.
- Membership helps work around some tricky things: First and foremost we are not claiming to be experts in the laws of your state but what we have found here at MMC is that groups who are private, who require a membership fee and have a signed agreement, are exempt from many of the regulations around buying and sellings foods that a public group might face. If you are not offering goods to the public you generally fall into a different category than say a retail store.
- It creates buy in from your members: Many membership agreements we have seen require members to agree to volunteering or helping out. When members read this and agree to it they are more likely to participate. Also when you require a membership fee (however small) your member is financially investing in your group and has made the decision to join you.
Ok, I can imagine you are saying “sure this is all well and good Kimmy but this is hard!” I wholeheartedly agree. But in this instance I think the hard work is well worth it to keep your group around and keep you sustainable.
So how do you go about doing this and what should you do? Well, we recommend:
- First make your group private: If you are on Facebook, Yahoo Groups, or Google Docs make the information about what buys you are running, how to place an order, when and where pick up is, etc private. Manage My Co-op keeps all of your buy information private already.
- Draft a membership agreement: This step can take some time. Go easy on yourself. Put together a group of key volunteers to help you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Czarena at email@example.com if you need help with this step. We have samples we can give you.
- Set a membership fee: The fee, and its use, varies by group. We have seen everything from $5- $250 a year/lifetime. Most of the time the funds go towards support the group and for infrastructure. Do consider setting up a scholarship fund or payment plan for members who might not be able to afford it.
- Make the transition: Be very clear about when the agreements will go into place and how the transition will happen. We encourage you to give people about a month to transition. Once the due date to turn in your form has passed do remove people from your group that haven’t completed it. Rolling enrollment will allow members who missed the deadline to re-enroll at a later point.
- Don’t get discouraged: You will likely get some pushback from some members. It’s hard to hear negative feedback. Hang in there and know the reason you are doing this is to keep your group sustainable and around for many more years.
I hope this is helpful. If you have any suggestions to add please comment below so other groups can learn from your expertise.