Mission Statements

Just about every co-op I know has a mission statement. Most of these declarations of purpose were started in the early days of co-ops to give our members something to connect with and our employees an abiding sense of direction.

Unfortunately these days, many co-ops have allowed their mission statements to fade into obscurity, and in my travels, I’m frequently hard pressed to find a co-op employee, director, or member who could recite it.

This is a problem.

As the electric industry grows more complex, having a clear mission and purpose that is easily understood and remembered is a key tool for maintaining a connection with our members.

Over the years, we’ve seen electric cooperatives’ mission statements change to reflect five distinct eras of development.

From the late 1930s through the early 1950s, our mission was clear: Get the co-op started and the lights on.

The late 1950s through the early 1970s was a period of great innovation, when G&Ts and our first service cooperatives formed. The mission was equally clear: Innovate and transform.

The 1970s through the mid-1990s saw growth and turmoil, with attempts to kill the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), co-op bankruptcies, and other broad changes to the program. Our mission then was political and regulatory activism.

During the mid-1990s through 2011, we saw the rise of deregulated energy markets. As deregulation floundered and faded, many co-ops reverted to their original mission of “safe, reliable, and affordable power.”

We’re now in the fifth era, an era of transformation. And while “safe, reliable, affordable” remain at the core of what we do, it is simply not enough. As the 2013 Cooperative Purpose report states, that has become merely “the price of admission.” If your electric co-op is going to be here for another 75 years, your mission will need to be more profound.

I believe we’re living through a renaissance of the cooperative business model. Our society is rediscovering the value of independent, local entities that serve a higher purpose than simple profit. This is OUR time, and our mission statements should reflect that.

The Cooperative Purpose report declares our program’s mission is “to power communities and empower members to improve the quality of their lives.”

Blue Grass Energy in Kentucky has adopted a simple statement that is powerful and stays true to the co-op’s roots: “Making life better the cooperative way.”

(Two more examples?? There aren’t many great ones here are a few possible options)

Delta Montrose Electric Association: We energize and serve our communities

Roanoke Electric Cooperative: provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity, while enhancing the quality of life in the diverse communities we serve

Midland Power Cooperative: safely provide reliable, affordable, and responsible electric service while enhancing the communities we serve.

From a G&T – Dairyland Power Cooperative: We will power our communities and empower cooperative members to improve the quality of their lives.

As you can see, these statements don’t have to be long or comprehensive. Their purpose is to express how your co-op’s abiding mission to improve lives applies to today’s circumstances. I encourage you to look at your current mission statement and adjust it to reflect the challenges of today. Then make sure everyone—staff, board, consumer-members, politicians, everyone—hears it loud and clear.

Have a good mission statement? Please share it with me: aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

Posted on November 2, 2017 in Articles

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About the Author

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative.
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