QUESTION: Co-operative organization and not becoming the go-to-person

question / pregunta: 

My name is Adam and I have been working with an organization dedicated to developing and educating about worker co-operatives, the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives ( I represent my collective, Collective Copies, and I've been active in this group from its beginning about 4 years ago, have a strong passion for it and love the work; and even some 'mundane' tasks like accounting and press releases offer me excitement watching this organization grow.
Many other representatives from other co-ops can only find time to attend monthly meetings and can contribute little outside of this. This is okay by me. What I feel happening sometimes is deference to or preference of following the core group of people who show up pretty much every month. I see this doesn't light everyone's fire like it does mine and a couple others in the group. I also see that I am excitable in meetings and have some strong beliefs but I sincerely do not want people to take my word for it and go along with me or be seen as a central figure. I am usually very clear about wanting someone else to speak at an event or represent us at a conference or workshop instead of me and support those who do, but I'm wary that there is more I can do. In fact I view much of our work developing inside everybody the expectation of valuing their own opinion and understanding those of others, even and especially if it's less experienced.
My question concerns resources on being a part of a not-for-profit membership organization that doesn't operate on formal or informal hierarchies. I am aware of many in the for profit realm, but many of these of course assume the shared interest of the business. What have others done to integrate the opinions and encourage activity of others aside from asking for it? Are there books or journals about tools and awarenesses for an individual to know when organizing?
Many thanks in advance,
Adam Trott


Answer posted by:

A lot of collectives use consensus to create non-hierarchical organizations.

For more background, gives a good overview.

If this sounds like something you and your group would like to implement, I highly recommend Consensus: A new handbook for grassroots social, political, and environmental groups by Peter Gelderloos. This is the model Food Not Bombs uses. The handbook includes the consensus process, meeting structure, awareness of group dynamics, and an appendix of sample dialogues.

Resolve (a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the effective use of consensus building in public decision making) also has an online guide to consensus that is a quick and easy reference for the process.

There is also the Basic Intro to Co ops Zine (PDF) from, covering the topic well and hey, it's a zine!

Hi Adam,

I have been looking for books that may appeal to your question, and I must say that I have been a bit disappointed in what I have (or have not) found! There are, of course, a plethora of corporate titles that will tell one "how to manage," (hierarchically) and there are many lefty publications about activism, but few that are written by activists or radicals about how their cooperatives work (that I was able to find).

I browsed through a few library catalogs and bookstores, and was only able to find a few titles that looked like they might touch upon your question:
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
The revolution will not be funded : beyond the non-profit industrial complex by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence.
Organizing for social change : Midwest Academy manual for activists by Kimberley A Bobo; Jackie Kendall; Steve Max; Midwest Academy.
Tools for radical democracy : how to organize for power in your community by Joan Minieri; Paul Getsos.
Building powerful community organizations : a personal guide to creating groups that can solve problems and change the world by Michael Jacoby Brown.

Some of the subject headings that might be useful for searching for other titles:
Non-governmental organizations.
Community organization.
Community power.
Community organization -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Social action -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Citizens' associations -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Community development -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Organizational effectiveness -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.

This doesn't mean that there may be more resources in journals, magazines or online. Since I am also interested in this topic, I will keep searching and share what I can find here. Hope this helps, Adam! If this is all way off, let me know and I can try further searches.


Yes, thank you for that. Consensus is a great tool but even inside that informal hierarchies (I've been here 30 years, I know better, or Adam's a white male, let's follow his opinion) are established. These are the kinds I'm trying to work with in my group, which does operate by consensus.

Adam Trott
Owner/Co-operator Collective Copies
Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives

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