Despite the remarkable successes that co-operatives have achieved over the years, and despite the benefits that co-ops and credit unions bring to members and their communities, it is still a major challenge to communicate the uniqueness of the co-op “brand” — not only to the general public, but even to co-op employees and members themselves. How many co-op and credit union employees are aware that they are working for a co-operative? How many are aware of what this means, what makes their organization different from others? The answer is, far too few.
Confusion about the co-op identity is even more marked among the general public. Many people have vague notions that co-operatives provide affordable housing, or are somehow community-friendly organizations, but have no real idea of the incredible diversity of co-ops in the economy, or the unique strengths that co-ops bring to social and community life. What is more remarkable still, over a third of British Columbians belong to a co-op, but don’t know it!
How do we make this accidental membership in co-ops and credit unions a conscious choice? If we can accomplish this, it will mark a sea change for the movement.
Last year, BCCA co-ordinated a new initiative that brought together a small number of co-ops and credit unions to address this central communications and public-image challenge within the co-op movement in BC. The group was composed of Vancity, CCEC Credit Union, the Co-operative Auto Network, and the Co-op Housing Federation of BC. Our task was to identify a campaign theme that would address two key questions: how to convey the broad diversity and vitality of the co-op model; and how to promote the notion that choosing to support a co-op is also a choice to support a wide range of positive and progressive things that co-ops stand for: member control, responsible and ethical business practices, support for local communities, fair trade.
I Choose Co-op is the result of this effort.
Leading up to Co-op Week 2009, the I Choose Co-op team came up with the central tag line, a concept for presenting the range and diversity of the co-op movement, and images and text that could apply to a range of circumstances and age groups. Our intention was to develop resources that could then be used to communicate a new, pro-active message about co-ops – regardless of the type of co-op or credit union using the materials. The campaign is intended as a sector-wide resource to complement the communications work that individual co-ops and credit unions are already engaged in. For larger co-ops, this campaign can complement existing strategies. But for small co-ops with limited resources, this initiative can make a significant difference in how they present themselves and educate their staff and members about the co-op difference.
As a first effort, the resources we developed over the last several months are intended primarily as an online communications tool — something that can be placed on a web page or sent out as part of an online message. The next iteration of the campaign will consider how to get co-ops and credit unions to add their own content in a way that relates to their own unique circumstances – for instance, I Choose Co-op because…(fill in the blanks!).
More importantly, however, let us know if your co-op or credit union would like to be part of the next stage of developing this important project. I Choose Co-op is one key way in which co-ops and credit unions from across the sector can collaborate on promoting the unique co-op difference not only as something inherent in the co-op model, but, even more importantly, as something that individuals can consciously choose to support as part of their effort to make the world a better place. I Choose Co-op is more than a choice for a product or service, it is also a choice that reflects those values we hold dear.
For further information, contact John Restakis at email@example.com or 604-662-3906.