The Write Stuff and More

Co-op Communicators Institute focuses on skill development

During four days in June, I met communication professionals from cooperatives around the country…not food co-ops, but just about every other kind of co-op: electric, agricultural, telecommunications, credit unions, housing, and even a bicycle purchasing co-op. Editors, writers, photographers, designers—they were all gathered for the Cooperative Communicators Association’s annual Institute in Portland, Oregon.

CCA in general and the Institute particularly are focused on professional development for anyone who works to get across the message of co-ops. CCA recognizes that while there are differences among the many types of co-ops, there are also enough things in common to bring everyone together to learn and share. According to Susie Bullock, CCA’s executive director, “CCA focuses on furthering the communications skills of its members, better equipping them to tell the story of how their own particular type of cooperative can benefit the community. CCA strives for excellence in communications while cutting across industry boundaries of cooperative businesses.”

The 2006 Institute offered over a dozen workshops that went above and beyond writing and editing, including how to take good people pictures, design ideas for creative marketing, techniques to get the most out of digital photos, and two inspiring sessions on incorporating podcasts and blogging into your co-op’s website.

The Institute also hosted the annual Communications Contest, which invites co-ops of all types to submit everything from newsletters, press releases and annual reports to photographs, websites and ad campaigns to be evaluated among peers. Winners are honored at a Red Carpet Awards Dinner. For several days, the contest entries are all available for everyone to look through, so it’s a good chance to see what kind of work is being done at co-ops across the country. (You don’t have to be a member to submit your co-op’s work to the contest.)

In addition to the annual Institute, CCA offers a number of other benefits to members throughout the year. There are regionalized workshops that are often held closer to home than the Institute. For instance, the North Central region (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas) organized a session in the Twin Cities in early 2006. Members are eligible to apply to the CCA Education Foundation for grants to fund attendance at regional workshops or for other professional development opportunities outside CCA.

CCA sponsors a Master Cooperative Communicator certificate, which is a chance to demonstrate professional competency as a communicator in a tangible way. Certificates are awarded based on a combination of continuing education through seminars, workshops and credit courses; service to CCA; awards and a portfolio. The areas that are considered for the MCC certificate are knowledge of cooperatives, knowledge of your co-op’s industry, technical communications knowledge (depending on your area of communication work), publications and writing, projects completed, and planning and program (research, planning, media relations, event planning, and so on).

Lani Jordan, director of corporate communications at CHS and winner of numerous contest awards and other CCA honors, is one of CCA’s strongest advocates. She said, “As a nearly two-decade member of CCA, I’ve had access to top-notch national and regional development programs, meaningful evaluation of my work through its annual communications contest and, most important, wonderful mentors and priceless friends to support me and help me grow.”

The 2007 Institute is scheduled for June 2–5 in Williamsburg, Virginia. In addition to a range of sessions on public relations, writing, media relations, and photography, the Institute will begin with a half-day workshop by Adobe Systems on using InDesign, Acrobat and Photoshop. The Institute is affordable as conferences go, and scholarships are available for CCA members through the Raymond Crouch Fellowship.

While the Institute’s scheduled date is very close to the CCMA conference, it is still an attractive opportunity for marketing and communication staff at food co-ops across the country to further their skills and meet a wide range of people working to promote all types of co-ops.

More information on membership, the Institute, contest, and Master Cooperative Communicator certificate is available at


Pat Thompson is creative director at Triangle Park Creative in Minneapolis ([email protected]).

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