A banner year for our Co-op

Alanby Alan Weisberg, Board President

Almost any way you look at it, 2015 was a banner year for BriarPatch.

The biggest news, by far, is that on New Year’s Eve we closed on the purchase of our building. This was a huge accomplishment that will have enormous benefits in helping us meet our goals to improve the environment and the well-being of the community. I was present at the signing of the volume of papers required in the transaction between BriarPatch and Calloway Development, and for me it was a highly emotional, inspirational moment.

I needn’t say any more about the purchase here, since there’s plenty to read in other parts of this issue of the Vine. But I would like to review some of our other accomplishments in 2015, especially those that directly involved Board participation and action.

In 2015, BriarPatch:

• Substantially increased our contributions to non-profits in the community. In addition to the thousands of dollars we donate in response to requests, our staff implemented the new program of “rounding up” at the cash register; it’s called Co-op CAUSE. This program enables you to make a small, trouble-free donation to a carefully selected organization each time you make a purchase – knowing that our combined small gifts add up to very substantial sums. Board members, especially Richard Drace, led the effort to adopt such a program, which several of us learned about at co-op conferences.

• Initiated electronic voting in Co-op elections. With online voting planned to start in May of 2016, we expect to increase the number of Co-op owners who vote in the annual Board election. Thanks here go especially to Board members Louise Jones and Lew Sitzer for doing lots of research into other co-ops’ experience with online voting.

• Took new strides towards refining our governance system to further clarify the Board’s policy role and management’s operational role. I can’t tell you how important it is for the Board to focus its efforts on policy, which is also quite challenging. Our large up-front investment in converting to a new governance system has already had a big payoff. One clear indicator is that we are able to get through our lengthy agenda each month within our two-and-a-half hour time frame. If you’ve ever sat on a Board, you know what this means!

Board approves compensation after extensive research

* Finally, I want to let you know that in December, we voted to implement a monthly stipend for Board service. I take some individual responsibility for this action, since I initiated it based on what I saw at other large, successful co-ops. Along with Kwong Chew and Alana Lucia, I served on the ad hoc committee that studied the pros and cons of paying a modest stipend for service.

During the past year, our small committee contacted more than 20 co-ops around the country which had more or less the same level of sales as the Patch. We learned about their policies and practices in this regard, and asked them why they did or did not offer stipends for Board service. We also sought advice from the national consulting group we use to stay informed about best practices for Boards nationwide.

Our Bylaws allow for Board stipends and clearly empower the Board of Directors to act on its own to establish compensation for service. More than half of the co-ops we contacted do offer stipends. In particular, we were greatly influenced by comments from a small number of them that have experienced strong growth in recent years and have recently implemented stipends.

Based on the stipends offered by other co-ops, we decided upon the following monthly amounts for Board service:

$200 per month for non-officer Board members

$250 per month for all officers except the President

$350 per month for the President

Virtually all co-ops that give stipends offer such a scale of amounts, which are based upon the amount of work and responsibility required for different Board roles. The amounts we determined seem fair to us, and for all nine Board members, this totals about $25,000 per year. We agreed to commit to two years of stipends, after which we would assess their effectiveness. If at any time the Co-op were to face a financial crisis, we can vote to eliminate the stipends.

So why did we move in this direction?

Our continuing rapid growth has placed increasing demands on the Directors, who must devote lots of time and energy to tackling the complex issues involved in growth.

While we work hard to minimize the length of our meetings, we also need a good deal more time to prepare for them. Beyond meetings, the Board makes the ongoing effort to educate itself about an array of issues: not just developments in the natural foods business, but issues regarding our community, as well. Both these efforts must consider issues not just on a local scale, but on a national scale as well.

We want to ensure that the most qualified Co-op owners will consider being on the Board. For some, especially younger people and people with moderate incomes, the stipend may help tip the balance toward their deciding to run.

BriarPatch has grown so dramatically in no small part because of its growing professionalism — a professionalism with a co-op heart. Being paid a modest stipend impresses upon us our responsibility to take a professional approach to our duties.

Our Co-op is in a strong position financially and can afford the extra expense.

It took us a long time to study the proposal for a stipend, and a lot of discussion about what serving on the Board really means and requires. I believe we made a wise decision that will enable us to continue to attract caring, competent, cooperative people to represent you, the Co-op owners, as BriarPatch continues to grow in the years ahead.

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