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Pioneer is pleased to help sponsor Trent Scott’s breakout session, Annual Meeting Makeovers, at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) 2020 CONNECT Online conference. Since many utility pioneers are planning fall and spring meetings, we asked Trent to share insights for planning a meeting during a pandemic. Find more best practices and digital meeting tools here.

Over the last 6 months, we have seen immense changes to the world around us. From commerce to education and entertainment to travel, almost every aspect of modern life has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Electric co-ops have not been immune. We closed lobbies, donned masks, and adapted our processes to meet the needs of our communities in a safe way. Beyond the day-to-day modifications to utility operations, many co-ops are also facing the challenge of holding an annual meeting in the midst of this crisis.

Event planning is a complex undertaking under the best of circumstances, and 2020 certainly hasn’t been a normal year. Annual meetings bring together large crowds of people – often older people – in small spaces. That’s a frightening combination in our current environment, representing a threat to the health of our members and the reputation of our co-op.

Are you planning your annual meeting? Here are some important points to keep in mind:

1. Place a Priority on the Health of your Consumer-Members & Your Community

Above all else, pursue the best interests of your attendees. Understanding the current risk that the virus poses for your community can be helpful. There are several tools you might find useful, including resources from Johns Hopkins, Harvard University, and Georgia Tech.

2. Do your Homework

Before making any decisions, it is important to understand your legal obligations and the impact decisions can have on public perception. Consult your attorney to fully understand statutory and bylaw requirements, as well as the options available for voting if you have a board election to consider. Whether you hold your meeting, modify it or cancel it, you should be aware of the message your decision communicates. Carefully consider how your decision impacts the long-term reputation of your cooperative.

3. Consider All the Options

Some electric co-ops have more choices than others, but most co-ops will have a few strong options to evaluate.

  • In-Person Event: Consider stadiums, arenas, parks, or even parking lots to accommodate a modified in-person event if the virus’s rate of spread in your community has leveled off.
  • Virtual Meeting: Hold a virtual event such as a telephone town hall, video conference or stream a pre-recorded video report if broadband is widely available in your community.
  • Hybrid Approach: Mix in-person and virtual elements for a hybrid meeting, such as voting at your co-op office and streaming a video report online.
  • Cancel Meeting: When health, technology, and timing limitations prevent all other options, some co-ops are forced to cancel their meeting.

Each option comes with pros and cons, and your team should carefully consider which is the best fit for your co-op and your community.

Focus on the Positive

For my family, there have been several surprising positives created by the pandemic. We replaced basketball, softball, and gymnastics practices with camping trips and movie nights. We have a dog and a few new animals on the farm, and we are being far more intentional about what we do and where we go.

Perhaps the pandemic will create some unintended positives for our annual meetings as well.

For many electric co-ops, it is well past time that we look closely at the effectiveness of our annual meetings. Why do we hold these meetings in the first place? How well does our traditional format engage with members of all ages and demographics? Is there room to improve? For most co-ops, the answer is probably “yes.”

A Chinese proverb reminds us, “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”

This year, don’t view the pandemic as a challenge to your annual meeting. View it as an opportunity to reevaluate what you do and create something with purpose and meaning.

Electric co-ops pour blood, sweat, and tears into creating opportunities to engage with your members. Regardless of how your next meeting looks, I hope it is a grand success.