About this time every year, “plan annual meeting” pops up on the to-do list. If you’re like most people, you pull out the file and basically rehash your farm cooperative’s annual meeting from last year … and probably the year before.We checked with an expert: Susan Meier, principal of Meier and Associates and senior governance consultant with BoardSource , the nation’s premier governance resource for nonprofit organizations. Susan has 28 years of experience working with boards of directors—helping them make their organizations and annual meetings more effective.
“There are usually specific requirements for annual meetings,” says Meier, “but that doesn’t mean the meetings have to be formal and ‘all business.’ The best way to keep members interested is to actively engage them in the meeting itself.”
The bylaws for most agricultural cooperatives require annual meetings to provide a business review, elect officers and report on plans for the upcoming year. But you do have leeway to enhance the overall experience for members. Following are some suggestions you might consider as you plan for your next annual meeting.
Better meeting publicity
Cooperative bylaws typically require meeting notification—which is legally just a statement of date, time and place. But for no additional cost, and very little effort, you can beef up the annual meeting notice to make it more interesting and enticing for members. Following are a few suggestions:
- Ask a local high school art class to have a poster design contest for the annual meeting. Give the winning design a gift certificate to your c-store. You get a great poster … and you create goodwill with the community when you publicize the winner of the contest.
- Publicize the meeting on your Facebook page.
- Instead of just putting a notice in your newsletter, write an article telling members something interesting and different they can expect at the meeting.
Get members interested and involved before the meeting
Every year, members show up and expect the same thing—likely because the annual meeting content is basically the same year after year. Why not engage them before the meeting, so they’re more interested in attending? Meier suggests this simple approach:
- Include a questionnaire with the RSVP. Ideally, members would fill out the questionnaire when they RSVP online. But you could also collect answers over the phone and on printed RSVPs.
- Questions should have 2-5 answer options—not open-ended questions. Examples might include:
- What was your biggest challenge on the farm in the last year? (commodity prices, input expenses, weed control, insect control, etc.)
- Which of the following has had the biggest positive impact on yields in your operation? (precision ag, better chemicals, better seed, etc.)
- What is your primary reason for attending this annual meeting? (socializing, patronage report, free meal, etc.)
- Start the meeting with a PowerPoint review of the answers. Then use these answers as a guideline for the overall message of the meeting—focusing on how your cooperative responds to members.
Simplify committee reports
According to Meier, you can improve these reports by asking officers not to simply report on activities or performance … but rather to frame those reports around several questions such as:
- What are the two biggest issues your committee is addressing this year?
- What is your committee’s single most important message to members?
Use an activity to engage the crowd
Meier suggests an “index card exercise.” Place blank index cards and pencils on each table. Toward the beginning of the meeting, pose a question to the audience that will engage members in the future of the organization. An example would be: “What can your cooperative do to help your operation be more efficient this year…in five words or less?” Give guests a minute to write their answers anonymously on the index cards, then collect cards. While the meeting continues, have a few staff members compile a list of answers. Later in the meeting, share an overview of member suggestions—perhaps relating those suggestions to things your cooperative is planning for the coming year.
Follow up with reports about the meeting
Be sure to take photos during the meeting. Think beyond the typical “crowd photos,” and try to capture shots of members interacting with each other. Then post the best photos on your cooperative’s Facebook page or Instagram account as a way to interact online with members. Also include a report about the meeting in the next issue of your farm cooperative newsletter. This would be a great place to include a recap of the survey results and “index card exercise. Want to know even more ways to improve communication with members and customers? Contact one of our agri-marketing specialists to get the conversation started, or take a look at our e-book: