Inside Cooperative Principal


Cooperative Principal (CP) 001 started off the new year at the Eastside Food Cooperative’s juice bar. Getting a taste of the juices, coffee drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the co-op’s new cafe, club members got a chance to see the in-progress renovations of the store’s new building. “We’ve got to check out what the co-op did with our money,” members joked as we walked through the soon-to-be refrigerator and dry goods storage area before settling down for business in a temporary office behind the store.

This investment club, founded in conjunction with a nonprofit by the same name, offers average folks the chance to learn about and collectively invest in cooperatively run businesses. Despite the meeting being filled with technical business topics like a “Financial Review of Investments Outstanding and Portfolio” and “2015 Tax Reporting,” members were making wisecracks and jokes, turning a dry agenda into a fun and lively conversation. 

Accessibility is tenant of the club and was a large part of the meeting. With the tagline of “investment clubs for the 99 percent” participants aren’t turned away for lack of knowledge and investment amounts aren’t large. Members put aside $50 each month, and more knowledgeable folks share the facts with others still new to the process. At this evening was no different. Beginning with self confessions of “I forgot my checkbook…,” and casual chiding by less forgetful members, the group jumped into the nitty gritty. When ideas suggested didn’t fit tax codes, more experienced investors graciously reminded newer folks of what was feasible.

Looking at their financial review, one member spoke up, realizing that the group wasn’t measuring the success of their investments. Which ones were risky? Which co-ops were doing good business? Which investment were going as planned? Maybe we should create rating system to rank our investments, one member tossed out. Or at least read the co-op’s annual reports, another added. Jokingly volunteering each other for every action suggested, the group agreed upon a process for reviewing their investments. The discussion highlighted a key fact about CP 001: they’re about the process of the investing, as much as its outcomes.

Growth was another important topic of the meeting. As a nonprofit, Cooperative Principal also offers opportunities for others to learn about cooperatives, financial literacy, and of course, starting an investment club. In addition to doing educational events with us at Renewing the Countryside, the club is looking to share its model with cooperatives who might be interested in getting their employees to form an investment club. At this meeting, the club brainstormed tools and people for outreach. Should we partner with more co-ops? Invite a new business friend to our meeting? What about creating a video describing the process? These were just a few of the ideas that came up as Cooperative Principal explored expanding its educational arm.

CP 001 typically makes investment decisions at alternating meeting, and January was an off month. This left the end of the meeting for some creative brainstorming of where to put their dollars next. Should it be the thriving food co-op in Fargo? Was it worth following up on a rumor of a morticians and funeral services co-op? With the clock ticking down the minutes, and cramped the temporary offices of the Eastside Co-op beginning to get stuffy,the members of CP left brimming with new ideas and a plan to come back two months later to send another several thousand dollars to a cooperative of their choosing.

Renewing the Countryside is currently seeking individuals interested in starting an investment club focused on food and farming. If you're interested in starting one, email us at [email protected].

To learn more about Cooperative Principal, visit