Published February 14, 2018 by Food Co-op Initiative

By Katie Novak

Katie Novak served as Outreach Manager and Owner Loan Campaign Manager for Green Top Grocery in Bloomington, IL during their startup years. She was integral in bringing the Green Top Grocery Case Study on owner loan campaigns to the FCI website.  Before there was a loan campaign, there was the ownership drive, and her organizational skills helped their team work the numbers and grow their ownership well. Today you ca find her on Facebook at Katie Novak Cooperative Coaching.

Wild ROots ownership drive push image

Wild Root Market, Racine, WI

Gaining owners and growing your co-op is critical to success at any stage of the game. Paying close attention to the numbers associated with your co-ops growth can help you grow even faster.

In a perfect world (and by a perfect world, I mean having someone who is dedicated to and responsible for owner growth and working 20 hours a week) and in my experience, a startup co-op can grow about an owner per day over the long-haul. That is about 350 owners per year, give or take a few. Some days and months you’ll have more than that, somedays and months less than that. I like to say realistic growth looks like 300-400 owners per year. At Green Top we averaged 329 owners a year over four years of growth.

I recommend keeping track of your owner growth. You may have a tool that will do this for your (NationBuilder or Highrise, for example). I found a simple spreadsheet worked best for me (exporting the data from Highrise (the tool Green Top used to store owner data). Keeping track of growth helps you plan and strategize. Here is the quick & easy spreadsheet that I used to track owner growth. You can also use the ‘add a note’ feature to specify what was happening that month. For example, April of 2014 we did a CSA give away. So, in the actual spreadsheet that cell has a note reminding me what attributed to the substantial growth that month.



Community members who are following your Facebook page, or stop by your booth at the farmers market regularly are watching your progress. They may or may not even notice your owner growth if you don’t point it out. And keeping track of your progress allows you to communicate how far you have come. These numbers can be helpful at annual meeting time or while setting long term strategic growth goals or simply posting to social media to bring attention to your growth and create excitement about your co-op.

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Prairie Roots Food Co-op, West Fargo, ND

Another way to use numbers to your advantage is through short term goals and promotions. To be successful, short term goals should be a stretch, but substantive and achievable and tied to a date. People respond to goals, dates and deadlines. They do. Trust me on this one. People get satisfaction out of knowing they might have been ‘the one’ to push you over the top! So, set a goal and pick a date and promote the heck out of it.

Short term goals and promotions may seem quick and easy to throw together, but thoughtful planning can take your promotion from ok to off the charts. Here are some quick tips to planning a successful short term promotion:

  • Consider partnering with another organization. A farm that will donate a CSA share, a local business that will donate a good or service or another community organization that compliments your mission.
  • Establish your owner growth goal. Look at the last few months of growth as well as last year’s owner growth at this time to help establish a goal.
  • Create a reason to take action. Is there a prize? An event ticket?
  • Use a catchy name for this promo.
  • Establish your timeline and deadline. Does this promo last a week? A month? I find short and sweet does the trick. Much longer than a month and folks tend to lose interest.

The numbers critical to a short term goal or promotion are your growth goal and your date. People in general respond to dates and they respond to goals. 25 new owners by the 25th  for a $25 gift certificate! Or 60 news owners by March 31 and we give away a CSA share!

Chicago Mkt ownership push image

Chicago Market, Chicago Il

Talk about numbers and dates as much as you can in relation to your short term goal. A social media post about a short term promo might say “Help us welcome three new owners Minnie, Mickey and Donald today. Only 17 more owners to reach our goal of 20 owners by the 20th of this month!” This post uses FOUR different numbers and dates. Catchy professional graphics that accompany posts like these are also critical. These graphics should also be used in your newsletter and on your website to create a consistent message, regardless of platform.

It’s also important to create urgency around your deadline. If you communicate regularly about your co-ops timeline and the next achievable milestones in relationship to that timeline you will inspire potential owners to take action. Use your timeline and your ownership goals to tell the story of your co-op and how purchasing an ownership share now ties into the overall plan.

As you’ve likely heard, it takes 7-9 touches (times someone hears about your co-op) before they will become an owner. Use your ownership numbers and stats to help move folks along this continuum. Your numbers tell a story, and stories move people to action.