CGIN’s second year of operations was a year of great progress. We’ve moved beyond figuring out how to put the concept for CGIN into practice and are now focused on figuring out how to do what we do better.
Legal and tax status
We’re very pleased to announce that we now have CGIN’s legal foundation totally in place. In March, our application for tax-exempt status as a trade association [501©(6)] was approved by the IRS. In November, the state of California also recognized CGIN as tax-exempt. And, finally, the state of California has now registered CGIN as a foreign corporation. (We are incorporated in Vermont.) We’re pleased to have this phase behind us.
The resources in our “Exchange Network” continue to grow in number and diversity. The “Exchange Network” — that portion of our web pages that is accessible only to members — is now made up of three sections: basic items, the deli recipe exchange, and retail operations training materials (coming soon). Of the “basic” items, we now have 190 items pledged and 135 actually online (exactly three times what we had a year ago). Thanks to our members, we have so many items in the “marketing and communications” and “management and personnel” areas that those topics have now been broken into sub-categories. Our deli recipe exchange was also new this year. We now have over 100 deli recipes, including portion and pricing information, available to CGIN members and hope to triple the number of deli recipes in the next year.
As we’ve expanded, it became necessary to make some changes. In addition to other changes already mentioned, we have also been working on a re-design of the CGIN home page — to make it easier to find what you need from CGIN and to develop CGIN into a web “portal.” This means that we’re trying to make the CGIN site your point of entry into the web. We’ve already done this by adding links to CoCoFiSt on our home page. We will continue to do this by expanding the information on our “resources” pages (pages accessible to anyone) and by developing an expanded list of links to other web-based resources of use to food co-ops.
Perhaps most importantly, the data we get show that CGIN’s web pages are being used. As of October, CGIN’s pages were consistently averaging 160-170 “hits” per day (up from 40 hits per day as of September, 1998). We hope this means that members and others interested in food co-ops are finding the CGIN site to be helpful.
CGIN’s listserve continues to be actively used by staff, managers, directors, and even some members of food co-ops. Our listserve is open to anyone, not just members. CGIN’s listserve provides a forum for exchange of information among food co-ops, beyond just a way for members to communicate about areas of interest.
Members and sponsors
As of the end of 1999, CGIN has 73 retail members and seven associate (non-retail) members. In addition, three of those associate members have provided additional funds as “sponsors.” We’re very grateful to Northeast Cooperatives, Ozark Cooperative Warehouse, and Tucson Cooperative Warehouse for their special support.
CGIN remains committed to a flat fee structure ($100/year for retail members). To make sure that CGIN’s services are accessible to small co-ops, we started a scholarship fund this year. This year, members contributed $825 in cash or credit towards our scholarship fund. Our sincere thanks to those who helped us get this fund off to a good start. We have many new members whose participation was made possible by these funds.
Board members’ access
During our annual meeting in June, a board member questioned our policy that only staff members have access to the secured portion of our site. In follow up to that discussion, we sent out a survey to 31 members — all of the members who had contributed items for exchange. We received input from 25 of them; 24 in favor of sticking with the current policy (no board members’ access) and 1 opposed. Thanks to our members for taking the time to participate in this survey. Here’s a sampling of the comments we received:
- “I think each board can determine who would get most use out of the site. In fact, board members that have used it (from our co-op) have been thrilled and motivated by what they’ve found.”
- “I have found no trouble with supplying my board with items that they request off the CGIN site.”
- “Your current policy doesn’t restrict access to board members. Since they’re volunteers, we don’t need to give them access; they can plan ahead and request information….”
- “This policy seems simple and fair…. I think CGIN is a great resource and would hate to have its credibility or viability compromised due to lack of security.”
- “Please, DO NOT make it any more tempting for directors who don’t understand their role to involve themselves in operations. The current system provides adequate security.”
- “We need to promote getting the materials TO them, but the current policy makes sense.”
- “Although I hate to maintain a structure that doesn’t facilitate easy access for those who need it, I oppose board member access. While most board members would be careful, the co-ops who contribute deserve more assurance of confidentiality. It’s easier to have some control over the behavior of paid staff.”
- “We’ve had board members with nasty intentions requesting access. We would contribute even less if access were available to elected directors. I think it’s unfortunate the listserve isn’t restricted, also.”
CGIN receives invaluable technical assistance from Anne Reynolds of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Anne and her staff supervise all of the technical details related to CGIN’s web pages. CGIN is grateful to Anne and the UWCC for this help. CGIN also has a valuable and close working relationship with the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). Our thanks to Paul Hazen, Arnetta Haines and others at the NCBA for their vision and support of CGIN since its inception.
We formalized another close partnership this year — with Cooperative Grocer magazine. Working with CG makes a lot of sense for CGIN. We began that formal relationship by offering magazine sponsors a discount for also sponsoring CGIN. In this way, we avoided competing for sponsorship dollars. In response to a request from Dave Gutknecht, publisher and editor of CG, the CGIN board has also agreed to serve as the magazine’s editorial board. The magazine will benefit from having this input and CGIN will help funnel ideas and suggestions for the magazine through other means. We are working on other ways to collaborate and look forward to maximizing resources. We’re very pleased and fortunate to have such valuable partnerships helping make CGIN a success.
In 1999, CGIN’s total income will amount to $28,900. Expenses will reach close to $26,000, leaving the organization with a surplus of about $3,000 this year. For 2000, income is projected to be $30,200, including almost $2,000 in advertising, sponsorships and contributions, while total expenses are expected to total $30,000.
CGIN’s leadership is beginning to think about what’s next for your organization. Watch for chances to tell us what you think we can do to use this network to help strengthen the food co-op system and bring continued strength and vitality to your co-op.