One of the most important but under recognized jobs that members undertake from time to time is representing their co-op as a delegate. Many of us have taken the job without any clear direction on what was expected of us except to attend a meeting or event and report back.
The job of the delegate is much more than that. Representing your co-op requires that you speak for your fellow members and vote on their behalf. In order to do this effectively, knowledge of the issues and of the organization (usually SACHA or CHF Canada) is essential. As a delegate, you have an obligation to seek out information and educate yourself so that your voice and vote are meaningful. Informed and thoughtful delegates strengthen our federations and ensure that they continue to provide co-ops with the services they want.
Representation is only one part of the equation. Bringing back information and the results of decisions to your co-op completes the circle. Delegates should be reporting back to their Boards of Directors and to their fellow members. This is usually done by written report, but could include submissions to the newsletter and speaking out at members meetings on items of interest. It is important that members are kept informed of the activities in the larger sector.
Educating yourself, as a delegate, and reporting back to the co-op are the bookends of being a delegate. In order to ensure that your co-op enjoys the maximum benefit of membership in an organization such as SACHA and CHF Canada, it is important that you keep to date on their activities by visiting their websites, reading their newsletters and bulletins, participating in the on-line discussions, submitting articles and sharing what you find with your neighbours and directors.
Co-ops, for their part must choose delegates carefully selecting someone who has a heightened interest in or some experience with SACHA or CHF Canada. Co-ops also must ensure that a job description is approved for delegates. This should include how delegates are selected, how long they serve, their specific duties, the expenses they are entitled to and under what circumstances they can be removed from their role.
So, before putting your name forward to serve as a delegate, check in your member handbook and see if a job description exists. If it doesn't, ask specific questions of your board of directors on what their expectations are for delegates. Most of all, volunteer! Learning more about and participating in the co-op housing sector enriches your co-op and the organization you are delegate to. It is an exciting job that opens up a range of possibilities, benefits and new friends.
Patricia Matthews is a long-time volunteer with both SACHA and CHF Canada. She has been her co-op's delegate to both organizations and SACHA's delegate as well. She is also a certified Co-op Housing Educator and a consultant with SACHA.