It's not polite to brag, but when it comes to telling members about your electric co-op's strengths, new research from Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives finds modesty isn't the best policy.

In the 2017-2018 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference, co-ops get good scores for being a name you can always trust and for improving the quality of life in the community. But scores were lackluster for understanding the goal to provide electricity at the lowest cost and what co-ops are doing to control rising prices. That concerns Tom Laing, vice president of research and member insights at TSE Services, which conducts the survey. He noted those attributes are "unique to electric cooperatives."

"Those are areas of significant opportunity where members aren't quite aware of what we're doing on their behalf. Sometimes we have to be less modest and let them know," said Laing.

In conducting 19,500 interviews with members of 85 co-ops in 21 states, researchers found co-ops are doing an extremely good job in core competencies such as providing reliable service, promptly handing complaints and having professional employees. While that's something you'd expect from any utility, Laing said it opens a door for cooperatives.

"In delivering those core services, it gives us the opportunity to speak to something more about our relationship than just being competent distribution utilities," he said, urging co-ops to seize that opportunity.

"Giving money back is the lowest-rated score that we get. Yet that would be the most unique part of our business model," said Laing. He said capital credits offer a great opportunity to increase member awareness—if you go about it a certain way. While many co-ops like to save members' money by giving a bill credit, Laing argues the case for putting a check in the mail.

"There is no higher return for the marketing dollar spent than the cost of writing a check for members getting a capital credit, because it's going to cause them to take action," he said. Members will read the materials accompanying the check, "and if we're very effective in our communications we can go directly to the cooperative value proposition."

Learn more about the 2017-2018 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference and register for four upcoming webinars focusing on key findings in the report.

Michael W. Kahn is a staff writer at NRECA.