They determined a cooperative summit would be an appropriate venue in which to involve candidates for national office, giving them the opportunity to state how they would enhance the climate for cooperatives. We have now held two Vermont Cooperative Summits; the initial one in October, 2006 and then again in October, 2010.
These summits brought together the boards and top management of all types of Vermont cooperatives - mining for broader and more diverse cooperative participation than the alliance originally sustained.
While candidates were asked to address the value of cooperatives in Vermont and throughout the country, prominent local and national speakers also spoke on issues relevant to cooperatives in the areas of policy, legislature, administration and capitalization.
Workshops were devoted to understanding the value of the co-op business model as a branding tool and the inherent benefit to customers and members who sought to support socially responsible organizations in their communities.
Form an Event Coordination team to build an agenda that makes sense for your state and its cooperative alliance needs and issues. This must include team members who can make budget decisions quickly.
All co-ops, co-op alliances or organizations, government agencies (USDA) and/or media should be considered potential sponsors. Sponsor options can include funds for underwriting the cost of the conference; in-kind donations through staff support or premiums or sponsoring specific parts of the agenda, such as break-out sessions, luncheon or receptions.
Experts and high-profile speakers attract media attention and spike attendance numbers. Speakers should be experts on a few key subjects relevant to the broadest number of cooperatives. Solicit the highest caliber available - preferably from out-of-state and with regional or national reputations and/or representatives of national cooperative associations.
All sponsors should have first option at exhibit table space first. Then approach co-op partners and others, such as non-profit and education organizations, to provide information at exhibit tables. A nominal fee can help underwrite conference costs. NOTE: Remember to allow ample time in the agenda for participants to visit the exhibit area.
Your event invitation should be available at least two months in advance so that participating cooperatives can insert their own membership communication pieces. Produce as a print card or as a jpeg for electronic mailings. Provide templates to help build awareness and excitement for the event through paid ads and PSA's.
Pitch to media should be tied to the candidate forum, highlighting the conference topics in order to bring greater awareness to the cooperative business model and brand. Make sure all cooperative summit sponsors invite journalists in their membership newsletters and local area newspapers.
Premiums can include take-away items sponsors are willing to provide free of charge. Consider providing something conference-related to all participants.
Project the maximum number of participants likely to attend (put out a feeler to potential sponsors and co-ops through a statewide co-op organization) and find a central location. Make sure parking is adequate and housing is available for those traveling long distances.
Put all proceedings in PDF format on a website. Send thank you notes to all speakers. Poll sponsors to find out how successful the conference was, provide recommendations on how to improve it, and ask if they would participate again. Write elected candidates to determine what they will do to advocate for cooperatives in their new positions and send them the conference proceedings.
A summit can cost anywhere from $5 - $25,000 depending on your location, scope, speaker costs and projected participation. Labor is listed as in-kind, but should be considered an expense if applying for grants to underwrite the event or hiring a conference coordinator.