Editor’s Note: Ohio Farm Bureau’s Board of Trustees and the state code committee recently recommended changes to the organization’s membership model. Delegates will consider the code committee’s recommendation at Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in December.
Growing Farm Bureau through membership is a consistent goal from year to year. But in 2013, the OFBF board of trustees set an additional goal of “Explore new membership models for future strength.” While the organization is currently well-positioned to carry out its purpose of working together for Ohio farmers, the board recognized that the existing approach may not serve us well in the future.
5 Reasons To Consider A New Membership Approach
1. Our current approach is challenged because of stagnant growth and increased business costs. Fewer members means less revenue to fund Farm Bureau’s programs.
Consider this: OFBF has not had a dues increase since 2005 and we have lost 30,000 members since 2009. At the same time, expenses for personnel, fuel, healthcare and program costs have increased an average of more than 5 percent per year for the last seven years. In this challenging financial environment, Farm Bureau leadership has consistently managed resources through budget management and directing employee resources to where they are needed most. Farm Bureau staff, in the field and in the state office, are now being called upon to do their jobs differently. Eleven staff positions have been eliminated since August 2013 in order to balance priority tasks with available resources. Ohio Farm Bureau currently employs 67 full-time employees, which is 30 fewer employees than 10 years ago.
2. Younger generations want different membership and engagement experiences. Will Farm Bureau find new ways to connect with and be relevant to the next generation of farm families?
3. We need a broader coalition of like-minded supporters to maintain a social and business climate supportive of farming. Consumers and policymakers are asking tough questions about livestock care, environmental impacts of farming and the public’s investment in farm programs. Are we willing to engage with them by answering their questions and reinforcing their trust in agriculture?
4. Member engagement/recruitment is difficult, yet we know that involvement is key to a better membership experience.
5. Our communities need strengthened on many fronts, but a leading one is economic development. Agriculture and the food industry are central to many communities’ economic well being. Farmers need a food processing and equipment manufacturing infrastructure to support them. Farm families rely on off-farm jobs and employers need a quality work force. It’s up to Farm Bureau members to help “connect the economic dots.”
How the Proposed Changes Address These Challenges
In order to offer more ways for more individuals to join—and more importantly—engage in Farm Bureau programs and activities, we are considering four classes of membership.
Engaged Agricultural Members (currently called active members)
Description: Includes those who currently meet the OFBF code definition of active members.
Attributes:• Has a governance vote• Is the focus of county membership efforts• Receives insurance discount through Nationwide• Has access to Farm Bureau benefits
Emerging Agricultural Members (a new membership class)
Description: Includes young people, ages 17-24
Attributes:• Has a governance vote• Offered a special lower statewide rate• Key benefit is networking opportunities for jobs and professional development
Heritage Members (currently associate member)
Description: Nationwide Insurance members not involved in agriculture. Farm Bureau and Nationwide will provide enhanced membership experience to build community around food, family and community security.
Attributes:• No governance vote. • Access to member benefits and services• Our Ohio magazine subscription
Community Members (currently associate member)
Description: Individuals employed within and outside of Ohio’s food and agriculture community who believe in Farm Bureau’s mission. Attributes• No governance vote• Key member benefit is an enhanced community experience (Our Ohio magazine, invitations to events, educational sessions and networking)• Access to member benefits and services• Engagement in policy discussions and issue support
Proposed dues levels effective in Fiscal 2015
Member class Dues amount OFBF portion
Engaged Agricultural Member county set $56* (currently $46)
Emerging Agricultural Member $20 $16
Community Member county set $56*
All include membership in American Farm Bureau
*OFBF’s portion would go to $60 in Fiscal 2018
Nationwide: Our Greatest Partner
As good partners intent on maintaining our 87-year-old relationship, Nationwide wants to work with Farm Bureau on how we might adapt for the future.
In recent years, Nationwide’s ability to help Farm Bureau sign new members has declined considerably, not because our partnership has faded, but because of a changing insurance marketplace. Clearly, Nationwide is adapting to the new marketplace and one new idea for the OFBF membership model is the Heritage member concept.
It might work like this: For some Nationwide customers, a Farm Bureau membership would be a part of their insurance policies. Nationwide would support Farm Bureau for providing an enhanced membership experience, for example providing Our Ohio magazine, invitations to food and farm events and providing Nationwide product education and endorsements. Ultimately, both Nationwide and Farm Bureau will benefit from this connection to our customers as we build a community around food, family and community security.
Farm Bureau and Nationwide’s partnership remains mutually valuable. Revenue from Nationwide makes up a large portion of Farm Bureau’s operating budget. How to keep the partnership strong for future generations is the question we’re compelled to answer today.
Farm Bureau’s work and vision for Ohio remains rooted in the themes identified through our Envisioned Future strategic plan:
Through our policy advocacy efforts, we will work to ensure broad public support for agriculture’s public policy priorities.Farm families need more services for localized legal and educational information to help them understand issues related to property rights, zoning, transportation, energy, environmental compliance, CAUV, and so on
Farm Bureau has made great strides in connecting with consumers through quality communications.
Policy development is one of the most important functions Farm Bureau members engage in. We need to involve more members in this process.
A bigger alliance that shares Farm Bureau’s values and mission is an even more powerful political force.
Preserving agriculture for future generations means creating a business climate and public support for Ohio farmers.
Ag education and leadership development: Our efforts in this area focus on recruiting, engaging and training new leaders and helping them in their development as professionals in agriculture.
As OFBF President Steve Hirsch wrote in last month’s Buckeye Farm News, “As farmers, we’re not averse to finding new, better ways to do things…Just as we’re open to changing the way we farm, we’re again considering some changes to the way we do things in Farm Bureau.”