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Member motivation flagging? It’s been a long year and many of our farmer groups are finding it challenging to keep members, particularly volunteers, engaged.

This month, we hear from Deb Bogenhuber, ecologist, slow food proponent and co-founder and Executive Officer of Food Next Door Co-op.

Mildura-based Food Next Door matches under-utilised farmland with landless farmers to support growing diverse crops using regenerative practices and to build community. It also operates Out of the Box, a weekly local produce box scheme of 100% local produce grown to organic and regenerative practices.

As a multi-stakeholder enterprise, the group engages of new migrant farmers, consumers and volunteers.

Committed to nourishing its people as much as the land, Deb says the group keeps up engagement by focusing on communication, listening, and giving decision-making agency to members.

Question: 

How do you maintain member engagement?

Answer:

Constantly review engagement strategy

We are new and this model is new, so we are constantly reviewing and talking about how to do things better when it comes to engaging our members. Engaging the farmers and the consumers is different and we have a different approach for each group.

Quality over quantity: Focus on one-on-one mentorship with community leaders and small groups

I think initially we were perhaps trying to do too much. Our expectations were quite high about the number of people we wanted to engage. But we’ve come back a bit to focusing on working closely with small groups of people. We are mentoring several new migrant farmers and they are leaders in their own communities in different ways so the hope is with their learning and with their engagement and their contribution to how the co-op grows and develops, then they become points of contact in their own communities.

Empower volunteers to make decisions

We have several key volunteers to keep engaged. What we have been able to do, and why we have been able to get to where we have, is because our volunteers helped make decisions; which is what you want your co-op members to do ultimately.

Communicate regularly and make it personal

We put a lot of energy in communication mainly by texts and WhatsApp groups. It’s a bit more direct and personal than emails and e-newsletters – which are a great tool – but people feel really connected because of that. Because we have Out of The Box that is this weekly thing that just keeps rolling along so our key volunteers are involved on a weekly basis.

Listen, then implement

I think it is a matter of constant and meaningful communication and listening. When you incorporate what people are saying, let them know you have done that. We have conducted regular online survey for OOTB customers and potential customers. When we have had a strong response about something, we implement it we then put it back out on social media: ‘Hey, we listened to you. You said you wanted avocados in the box every week, we are now doing our best to make the happen’.

www.foodnextdoor.org.au