Good Governance Makes Community Stronger

Good Governance Makes Community Stronger

Columinate | 12-12-2018

Maple City Market
Goshen, IN
Year founded: 1976
Membership investment: $100
Number of members: 3,000
Number of employees: 25

Recently, Goshen, Indiana was named “Community of the Year” by the state’s Chamber of Commerce. For many years, this northern Indiana town on the border of Michigan held many undiscovered charms. No longer. It’s an increasingly diverse town recognized for its civic pride, hosting many arts, culture and educational happenings. Maple City Market, the local food co-op, is a contributor to the growing vibrancy of the “Michiana” region’s food scene.

Brian Wiebe, Maple City Market’s current board chair, believes having a great board has created a lot of positive impacts within the co-op that extend out into the community. That’s why the co-op’s board puts a lot of energy into recruiting new directors and taking the initiative to network in the community—they approach it as an important contribution to civic life. “We have one of the finest boards in Goshen, and I think it’s because we have an important mission and we take governance seriously.”

The board created a perpetuation committee to engage with people throughout the year and talk with them about the board’s work. “We are always in recruiting mode,” Wiebe explained. “We have conversations with people and keep in touch.” Everyone on the board has their own personal and professional network, and everyone has a role to play in leveraging their contacts on behalf of the Maple City Market’s board. This level of proactivity has also helped them as they transition from being a 7-person board to a 9-person board by 2019.

Wiebe understands that not everyone has experience with cooperative board work, so in order to maintain a strong board they orient people to the process. “We meet the candidates and explain our process of governance early on. We explain that we govern as a group, talking about our Ends and the 4 Pillars of Cooperative Governance, and we are not so interested in people who have an agenda. We help them understand what they are getting into.”

He said their ability to onboard new directors has become more efficient since they started doing it in 2012. “People joining now have a more thorough orientation, and by doing this we are building our own capacity to lead.”

He said having a strong, engaged, well-informed board has resulted in more positive community engagement. “The fact that we reach out to people and share good experiences about being on the co-op’s board shows we have a deep bench. It’s part of the brand of the co-op. It shows a vibrancy and love for our role in the co-op to the community. We love hearing ‘Maple City Market’s a really good board to be on.’”

Wiebe noted that another good outcome is achieving stability within the board-general manager relationship. “We want to be a good board for our general manager. General managers don’t like boards that have muddled messaging or an inability to delegate.”

Wiebe, who has served on the board for over eight years, two as board chair, has also been impressed by the support they’ve received from consultant Thane Joyal. “She’s been really tremendous for our co-op and the community. We are so fortunate to be in a world where governance can be done really well. Not every sector has access to consultants who help us do that.”

He also said that other board members have taken what they’ve learned about governance on the Maple City Market’s board to improve other boards in the Goshen area—most notably the school board and local nonprofit boards. “We’ve been able to take those board leadership concepts to other places that have a positive impact. Good governance makes for a better community. It’s a great opportunity for us and the co-op to make the world a better place.”

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