By Dana Cook Grossman, Board Member
The next time you glance at a store clerk’s nametag, or click on the Co-op website, or take a gander at General Manager Ed Fox’s stylish baseball cap, you may notice evidence of a new Co-op initiative.
The evidence is three little words, rendered in green: “Nourish. Cultivate. Cooperate.”
Coming up with those three seemingly simple words—a joint board-staff project—has been in the works since February and is still ongoing. Isn’t that overkill, you may be thinking, to spend four months coming up with three little words? Not really, for a vision/branding/engagement venture.
Any organization—from a Fortune 500 conglomerate to a regional nonprofit to a local co-op grocery—needs to know what its purpose and goals are, or it’s all too easy to put lots of effort into activities that may be worthwhile in and of themselves but that don’t help the group meet its ultimate aim. Our Co-op has always had a pretty clear sense of itself. But clarifying an organization’s foundational purpose is a useful exercise—yet easier said than done. “We sell food” doesn’t cut it. It’s not enough to state what you do; instead, you need to winnow out the why of your existence.
We embarked on that process in February at a day-long retreat. A consultant started us off by leading the whole board and several management-level staff members in a discussion of the underlying principles and priorities and concepts that make the Co-op what it is.
After the retreat, a team composed of two board members and four management staff took those high-level thoughts and over the course of several meetings refined them into a vision statement—what the Co-op aims to achieve:
A well-nourished community cultivated through cooperation.
En route to settling on that formulation, we tossed out lots of other words—“healthy,” “food,” “sustainable,” and “trusted” among them—but ultimately decided this phrase packed the most punch. The statement was affirmed by the board at its March meeting. Then a few more staff members—people who will be central to executing the vision—joined the team, which next came up with these four goals, or preconditions for realizing our vision:
- Reliable access to healthy food.
- A resilient food system.
- Constituencies informed and aware of the triple bottom line (meaning we measure our success in financial, social, and environmental terms).
- Cooperative commerce (meaning mutually beneficial partnerships between vendors and consumers).
Now the team is in the process of defining the audiences we need to engage with and the activities we need to emphasize if we’re to achieve our vision and goals. This will also help us determine if some current activities merit less effort in the future.
The point behind all this is to provide the board with a clear road map for decision-making and to provide the staff with clear guideposts for developing and managing programs.
And, not incidentally, to provide three little words to emblazon on employee nametags, website pages, and baseball caps. Three little words that, we hope, capture the essence of our Co-op.