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A New Mission for the Co-op

A few months ago, my fellow Board member, Nina McGuffin, wrote about one of the outcomes of the 2009 Board retreat (held February 21st)—a vision statement for the Willy Street Co-op. A vision statement is supposed to be a really long-range goal that your organization is moving towards. In fact, it’s probably a little limiting to describe a vision statement as a “goal”—it’s even less concrete than that—a vision is a really, really big picture—that pie in the sky you may never get to eat, but want to keep aiming for.

At that retreat back in February, the Board also worked on a mission statement for Willy Street Co-op. Before February 2009, the Co-op did not have a formal vision statement, but we did have a mission... Or did we? In the bylaws, the Co-op has the following under the heading “Mission Statement,” but this could also be called a Statement of Purpose. This statement reads:

“The purpose of the Co-op is to serve the needs of its Owners. Its primary focus is to operate a grocery business providing nutritious food to the community at fair prices. Consistent with that focus, it may also engage in other activities and provide other goods or services as may be desired by the Owners.”

In the Ends policies, we have what seems to be another mission statement:

  • “The Williamson Street Grocery Co-op is, and will remain, an economically viable and environmentally sound business cooperatively owned by its owners; its primary mission, as expressed in article 1.1 of our bylaws, is to operate a retail grocery store that forms a cornerstone of a vibrant community.” [author’s note—it’s actually article 2.1 of the bylaws]

Our facilitator for the retreat, Anne Rodgers-Rhyme, introduced the Board to this definition of Mission:

  • Mission: what you do, who you do it with, where you do it.

Using this definition, we started analyzing the parts of Willy Street Co-op’s various stated missions, looking for what we do, who we do it with, and where we do it.

For “what,” we came up with ideas like Willy Street is a grocery business, providing nutritious food to the community at a fair price. By doing so, the Co-op contributes to the health and happiness of its Owners and employees. We also wanted to hang on to the idea that, if the Owners want it, the Co-op might venture into other areas in addition to the grocery business. Other co-ops around the country operate restaurants, farms, and even co-op housing.

Moving on to “who,” we came up with Owners, all of our suppliers, and the community at large. The Co-op aims to be a cornerstone of its community. Willy Street Co-op is not just a grocery store; we’re involved in all sorts of community activities from the Willy Street Fair, to the Community Reinvestment Fund grants that fund other organizations’ projects, to hanging local art in the community room.

Although earlier iterations of the Co-op’s mission mentioned the near-east side of Madison, with over 16,000 Owners living all over Dane County and beyond, as well as the many farmers who supply the Co-op whose land is located outside of Madison, the Co-op’s activities go well beyond the near east side. “Where” became South-central Wisconsin.

There were also some phrases from the visioning process that seemed mission-related, such as:

  • Fair and joyful workplace

  • Support suppliers

  • Sustainable food systems

I’d like to report that we came out of the retreat with a well-crafted mission statement, but of course, that did not happen. A small subcommittee took the ideas generated at the retreat, and came back to the next Board meeting in March with a new mission statement for the Co-op, that we hope takes into account all we wish to be—purveyor of nutritious food at the best prices, a great place to work, part of a sustainable food system, and an important part of the community.

“The Williamson Street Grocery Co-op is an economically and environmentally sustainable, cooperatively owned grocery business that serves the needs of its owners and employees. We are a cornerstone of a vibrant community in south-central Wisconsin that provides fairly priced goods and services while supporting local and organic suppliers.”

Run for the Board

And, since I am reporting on Willy Street Co-op Board activities in the July issue of the newsletter, I have to include a reminder - if all this sounds interesting to you, and you are an Owner of Willy Street Co-op, I encourage you to run for the Board!

There will be five seats opening on the Board this summer. We’re looking for Owners with experience in group decision-making and meeting facilitation, and great communication skills. The deadline to apply to run for the Board is July 9th, by the end of the Annual Meeting & Party.

For complete information on how to run, see the Willy Street Co-op website, (, the article on page 4 and/or contact the Board executive assistant, Stephanie Ricketts, email: ; telephone: 251-0884.

You may also contact current Board members, to ask about their experiences on the Board. As a member of the finance committee since last fall, I can share with ownersthe fact that despite the current economic downturn, Willy Street Co-op is in excellent financial health. It’s pretty clear that much of the country’s recent financial woes have been caused by greed. In contrast, Willy Street Co-op’s health is partly due to careful stewardship of the Co-op’s resources by management and the Board, but also largely because Willy Street Co-op is a cooperative, and therefore its profits are reinvested in the Co-op, given back to Owners, or used to provide new services that benefit the many Owners. Watch for another Board report later this summer with more financial details—and think about running for the Board!