This month's question: Why is it important for co-ops to encourage civic engagement among their members?

Answer: The very nature of the cooperative business model is one that inherently promotes civic engagement. For 175 years, co-ops have proudly undertaken the honor of not only changing the lives of the member-owners we serve, but also welcoming the opportunity to change the entire world around us. At our core, co-ops intertwine with the fabric of our communities, meeting their needs and ensuring that individuals have access to products and services that may not otherwise be available. In practice, there are several key programs here at Roanoke that are a true testament to our civic duty. Our Sustainable Forestry program empowers individuals to monetize the value of a performing asset like land to better position themselves to create generational wealth for their families and communities. Our Care Trust Foundation, funded by Operation RoundUp, provides essential funding and support to local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and civic groups. Programs like these reinvest monies into our community, resulting in growth and creating an economy where we can support each other and grow together. Co-ops play a vital role in creating a more informed workforce, stimulating more sustainable households with higher earning potential, and addressing broadband connectivity. Even as we discover new opportunities for improvement, co-ops continue to encourage civic engagement amongst our communities so that we can thrive, leading with the needs of those we serve.

Answer: When it comes to encouraging civic engagement among cooperative members, I think it comes down to two things: building relationships and leading by example. Electric cooperatives are well situated to bring important energy-related issues before lawmakers. Each year, FMEC extends an invitation to local legislators to meet with the cooperative's directors and management, representatives from our wholesale power supplier, Dairyland Power Cooperative, and our statewide, the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. This provides for fruitful discussion and an exchange of perspectives on a wide range of issues that are important to FMEC and our members. Through the years, the legislators have been very appreciative of this opportunity. They know we are strong leaders in and advocates for the communities we serve, and they recognize that our members, both rural and urban, are also their constituents. Additionally, we encourage our cooperative members to learn about the issues, to reach out to their legislators, and to register to vote and to show up to make their opinions heard on Election Day. We are exceptionally proud that our work has let to FMEC being recognized by NRECA's Co-ops Vote program as Minnesota's first, and as of this writing, only 5-Star Co-op. Our board of directors also supports extending our educational efforts to area youth, the highlight of which is sponsorship of students to the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Answer: Encouraging our members to become involved civically is crucial to TCEC's mission to safely power our communities with innovation, accountability and integrity—every member, every time. One of the simplest ways to be civic-minded is to vote. Informing members on how to register to vote and when elections are is vital, because members might not find that information easily elsewhere. Educating the public on issues important to electric cooperatives is also critical. They must know what is at stake before going to the polls. How they vote is not as important as that they vote. NRECA's Co-ops Vote and Voices for Cooperative Power are great programs to help facilitate the dialogue with TCEC's members. Volunteerism and grassroots advocacy address gaps in opportunities for education, health care, culture and community development. When communities fill the gaps, it creates an environment for more growth to expand programs to all ages. Members voicing their support and opinions can have a significant impact in making our top issues part of the national conversation. TCEC encourages members to vote every election, every time. Participation at the polls with the cooperative principle of “Concern for Community" in mind instantly improves our policy-making system. It's a system designed to produce a government “of the people, by the people and for the people." People like you and me. Let's continue to stand up for the priorities of the rural electric cooperative community—it's more important now than ever.

Answer: Our rural communities face constant pressure to be heard in each election cycle. For Arizona G&T Cooperatives, the Co-ops Vote and ACRE programs are force multipliers. Becoming a 5-Star Co-op is not a simple box to check but a catalyst to encourage more voter participation in the face of increasing competition from those who might not understand the unique challenges of rural life. At annual meetings and community events, offering members a chance to sign a card that explains why they are a “Co-op Voter" creates a tangible list of people leading into each election who are watching candidates on cooperative-specific issues. Our table on National Voter Registration Day provides a point of contact for anyone seeking a simple opportunity to become an active voter. ACRE participation at the state and national level ensures commitment from our members and extends support to candidates who understand the importance of our cooperatives in these communities we serve. That support influenced bipartisan approval for Arizona cooperatives to keep their unclaimed capital credits instead of losing them to the state general fund. And we received unanimous support this year in both the state house and senate to remove a double assessment of tax paid on the same electricity at both the G&T and the distribution level, which saves our membership money. Our efforts to encourage civic engagement start with a simple message or a thoughtful interaction, but they create a strong base to address greater challenges.