Formal survey techniques are best for estimating potential membership. The adviser usually drafts the survey questionnaire for the steering committee to review. Appendix I carries a sample questionnaire, but the following list gives a general idea of the needed information:
- Volume of need or use in an appropriate unit of measure for the most recent or typical year;
- Member-user experience and capabilities-years in present location, overall success, demand specific to the cooperative venture, and production and marketing success
- Variety of products or services to be offered or needed;
- Period of need or services;
- Current unit value-sales price or cost per unit;
- Member-user–location of use or need;
- Familiarity with and use of other cooperatives and willingness to join, finance, and use one.
While the questionnaire is being prepared, the steering committee should develop a list of potentially interested members. When the questionnaire is completed and approved, the committee interviews potential members.
Steering committee members might travel with the adviser or advisers to locate potential users or otherwise fix locations on a map. But the adviser, not committee members, should conduct the survey interview to preserve confidentiality of information provided. Such occasions should be carefully assessed beforehand.
The adviser should also discuss and answer questions about the proposed cooperative venture. Surveys also can be conducted at scheduled group meetings at a central location.
Estimates of both membership and volume should be conservative. Not all persons interested will join initially and some may wait to join later. And, unfortunately, not all who join will make the fullest use of the cooperative’s services.
The adviser analyzes the survey, prepares a report, and presents it to the steering committee. The results and implications are then discussed at a meeting of all persons surveyed. Survey results should reveal how potential members identify the economic need and the degree of interest in a cooperative to fulfill that need. The survey should indicate the level of support in terms of business volume and if financial commitment is sufficient to organize and successfully operate the cooperative. The final action at this meeting is a vote on whether to continue.