Seedlings on Windowsill

Recruit Council Members

The ninth step in the start-up phase of food council development is to recruit members to serve on the council.

What should you consider?

The evolution of a food council is a intentional process that takes time. The nature of working with a variety of community groups and individuals forming a working council takes time.

With that in mind, the first couple years of the council has a heavy emphasis on organizational development: establishing by-laws, learning about the current food context of a community, setting strategic goals, and developing a committee structure.  Through this initial work, the council determines how to include more people in its work and the process for selecting new members.

The organizing group needs to recruit people who will be good at this type of work, and who are willing to put in 1 or more years into helping grow the council. At the same time, the membership needs to include a cross-section of the food system so that the decisions made reflect the diversity of the whole system and not just one segment or the most visible voices of the community.

Issues arise around membership selection. Community members often feel a sense of competition about the seats, and sometimes animosity toward those in the organizing group for not being inclusive. For this reason, it is essential that member expectations are laid out very clearly, even before people are nominated or apply to serve.

What does the process involve?

First, the organizing group identifies what the expectations of the initial members will be, typically pulling from the charter and other decisions made in previous meetings.

Next, the organizing group identifies the cross-section of stakeholder voices that are needed (typically this is already laid out in the charter in the section on council structure). They also identify the types of specific skills they might need (typically pulling from their work on resource needs).

Finally, the group decides on a process for how it recruits and selects members. Casting a wide-net to recruiting may include press releases and community meetings. Another strategy includes targeting specific individuals already known to the group.

What else should you consider?

It is helpful if there are members of the organizing group who want to serve on the council. This provides continuity for the new group. That said, existing group norms and working agreements will need to be revisited with the council itself so that new members have a chance to weigh in and give consent to a shared purpose and establish a way of working together.

Concerns about fairness often emerge when it comes to membership selection. If self-selected organizing group members apply to serve on the council, it must be clear to all why they are chosen – for example, they have demonstrated a commitment in the start-up phase and will provide continuity for the growth phase, etc. Whether the organizing group is to select all new members or the job falls to local government to appoint seats, concern seems to emerge around fairness.

One way to defray concern is by distributing the selection process across multiple organizations, stakeholder groups, and individuals. For example, when each municipality and the county each have a seat they are responsible for appointing, the organizing group can more easily select the rest of the membership from an application pool.

Here are helpful tools and resources for thinking about membership selection

Sample Applications / Job Descriptions