5 steps to finding candidates in cooperative elections

What you need to know:

  • Members are seeking more ways to engage with their cooperatives.
  • Uncontested elections can negatively affect voter turnout.
  • Here are 5 ways to get more qualified candidates on your co-op ballot.


Agriculture, electric, food, telecommunications, water, financial services, education, health care – there are tens of thousands of cooperatives in the United States that span across industries. While the co-op model in this country dates back to the 18th Century, modern cooperatives are now undergoing a transformation in governance.

Members are seeking newer, more convenient and often innovative ways to engage with their cooperative. But, at its core, cooperative governance begins with boards and committees. And finding qualified people to take on leadership positions is one of the biggest challenges facing any co-op. So how can your co-op evolve its process to find candidates for your upcoming election?

No more status quo

As veteran cooperative election partners, we hear this a lot: “Our elections are often unopposed and the same names appear on the ballot year after year.”

This negatively affects voter turnout. After all, why bother voting when there is only one person on the ballot or the same group of people that will win regardless? But increasingly, younger members are finding this status quo unacceptable.

Uncontested elections also set a bad governance example — inadequate representation and disconnected boards/committees without the benefit of fresh ideas, energy and strategic board turnover.

You probably already know and agree with this. So, how do you find qualified candidates to run for open positions?

Step one:

  • Identify all member communications channels and come up with a plan to utilize each of them to introduce the idea of becoming a candidate to your members. Website, email, social media, newsletters and mailers are all common forms of communication co-ops have with their members.
  • Start early and focus on a series of communications. Make the idea of running a candidacy and serving on the board less intimidating and overwhelming.

Step two:

  • Approach already engaged members and ask directly. If a member declines, be sure to ask why they are not interested.

Step three:

  • If the feedback you are receiving is that serving in a leadership position is too time consuming or they’re not yet ready for the level of responsibility, it may be time to break out your opportunities into smaller “bite-sized” advisory or action committees. Utilize those committees as pipelines for future board candidates.

Step four:

  • If you don’t already have a nomination and/or elections committee, now is the time to establish one. These important groups help set the standard for campaigning and guidelines such as candidate platforms, authorized events, solicitation, advertising and protecting member privacy. They can also help spread the word about serving on boards and committees and help recruit for future elections.

Step five: Make the online nominations process as easy as possible for interested members.

If your current nominations process is overly complicated or still solely paper-based, now is the time to make changes. Ease of use and convenience will help remove barriers that can prevent potential candidates from participating. Focus on anytime, anywhere self-registration and flexibility in how candidates are allowed to distribute petitions and collect signatures. This will make it more likely potential candidates will follow through with their entire registration and see their campaign through to the end.

Our DirectNominations platform offers online nominations and petitions to simplify your process, make it speedy for candidates and easy-to-use and trackable for your administrators. Additionally, SBS will provide official results of your nominations, adding protection and support to the entire election outcome.

Starting early, casting a wide net, being strategic about your search and simplifying your nominations process are the cornerstones of finding great candidates to help grow and evolve your cooperative well into the future. Focusing on an increasing number of high-quality candidates will also help increase member engagement and voter participation.

Have additional questions about finding nominees for your co-op’s leadership positions? Need more information about DirectNominations? Contact us, we’re here to help!