Member engagement is key to involving local communities across a co-op’s trading area, says Midcounties Co-operative’s community and sustainability manager Mike Pickering.
The society featured in this year’s Community Impact Index from Co-operative News, with a total reported community investment of £1.2m in 2015/2016. Mr Pickering thinks the impact index shows “the co-op difference is strong”.
Supported by Midcounties, the research revealed that co-ops give the equivalent of 10% of profits to local communities, compared to their competitors’ average of 4.5%.
“We are making a difference at local level,” added Mr Pickering, “and the Index is an indication of the various ways in which we contribute to communities, not just by giving money, but also through the financial value that we distribute.”
Midcounties focuses on two key community investment programmes, Regional Community and Keeping it Local, both based on the same pattern of colleagues and members working together to support local communities.
The Regional Community programme has seen the society set up 20 regional community areas where colleagues and members work on local projects. It aims to identify the most relevant opportunities to help the local community. The society is also awarding low level grants or bigger community grants of up to £2,000.
Money from the 5p carrier bag levy also goes into the Regional Community and Keeping it Local programmes, and Midcounties has so far supported over 40 local good causes.
Asked how Midcounties was trying to differentiate itself from competitors, Mr Pickering said member engagement was key to making sure customers knew what the co-op stood for – “to make sure they’re involved as well as aware”.
“We also work with members to identify what the local issues are, so straight away members are taking part in the process. Following that, we develop a programme and look at indicators to assess the results. This measures impact.
“We look at the PR awards we’ve won, the number of young people engaged and other indicators, so that we can track that and showcase what we’re doing.”
The programmes are measured through clear key performance indicators (KPIs).
“We look at the percentage rate of colleague volunteering, the community groups we’ve supported, the number of members attending local events, the number of food bank items donated, member trade, and the number of members engaged in co-op activities,” said Mr Pickering.
This year Midcounties has donated over 24,000 products to local food banks, providing meals for 450 families.
The results are then used to help shape the society’s future strategy and marketing. “On marketing we use localised member data to look at demographics and different interests to see where we can make a difference in communities,” commented Mr Pickering.
Higher levels of colleague engagement are also beneficial for the business, he says, being a good indicator of reduced colleague turnover. “We use our colleague engagement score every year and it has improved year-on-year so within community areas we also experience good colleague engagement, which is a good indicator of reduced colleague turnover KPI,” he added.
In terms of trends in community investment, Mr Pickering thinks more businesses are trying to operate locally, which means they are moving away from supporting one big cause to backing various smaller causes in their local communities that matter to those who live and work there.
Another growing trend is for businesses to measure the return in detail in terms of impact and business benefits.
“Our plans for the future are very much centred around member engagement and making sure members are at the heart of the work we do within the community,” he added. “We can support what they want and members can tell that information and help overcome those issues.”
Through its Regional Communities programme, Midcounties has engaged 10,000 members in local issues across its trading area and it plans to build on that and have 20,000 members involved by the end of the year.