The Guadalupe Valley Electric Co-op was proposing a merger with another electric cooperative located in rural south Texas. A previous attempt to obtain co-op member support for the merger had failed, and the leadership was therefore anxious to create a winning strategy on the second attempt. Under Co-op rules, a majority of the membership in each of the affected co-ops must vote to approve the merger. In other words, if a majority of members simply chose not to vote, then the merger would be denied.
Efforts focused on a grassroots campaign to inform and motivate all of the members of both electric cooperatives to participate in the important decision regarding their member-owned utility. A comprehensive plan included “town hall” style open forums in each community that included members. Messages were carefully crafted to provide key information that local members would need to make a decision prior to the time of the actual election. Frequent briefings were provided for editors, radio station managers, and other representatives of the news media in each locality. We sought to build support in each community by recruiting a local opinion leader who served as spokesperson for the Co-op in their area, appearing at the town hall meetings and serving as the spokesperson for any inquiries from the news media.
We executed an extensive direct mail campaign, featuring personal letters signed by local coordinators in each area and providing a variety of information about the upcoming election. A toll free call in number was provided with each mailing to allow members to contact a Co-op representative with any additional questions about the election. Additionally, we conducted an effort to contact by phone every member of each co-op, urging them to watch for the arrival by mail of their ballot and to be sure to return the voted ballot promptly in order for their vote to be counted.
By conducting a comprehensive grassroots campaign throughout the territory covered by the two co-ops, we felt that we properly equipped the membership to make informed decisions about the proposed merger. When the mailed ballots came back to the Co-op office, we were gratified to learn that over 90% of the membership of the co-ops had cast ballots, and over 65% voted to approve the merger of the two entities.