At this time last year, the team at NineStar Connect was making plans for the cooperative’s annual meeting. The venue was booked. The menu was selected and the program arranged.
Then COVID-19 upended everything.
“Necessity proved to be the mother of invention and we quickly shifted gears to host a virtual event,” said David Spencer, director of marketing & public relations for NineStar Connect. “This year we are in the same boat, but this time we had a few more weeks to prepare.”
NineStar is excited to announce that this year’s annual meeting will be held virtually on Friday, March 26 at 6:00pm and will include everything that members have come to expect over the years – with a few twists. The gathering will feature a performance by the Hancock County Children’s Choir, an invocation by a member of the local clergy, the Pledge of Allegiance recited by a class of first graders, the presentation of scholarships and of course the election of NineStar leadership.
“Everyone who votes early will receive a $10 credit on their bill and they will be entered in a drawing for $5,000 in various cash prizes as well as an additional $5,000 in merchandise offerings,” Spencer said. “However, we must make quorum in order to hold the event at all.”
Spencer said that over the past year, utility cooperatives throughout the country have gotten creative when it came to holding their annual meetings. The Richland Electric Cooperative in Richland Center, WI held a drive-in event in the spacious parking lot of its service center. Members stayed in their car throughout the meeting and honked their approval for proposed motions. Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative held their meeting in a drive-in theater in Gibson City where members could listen to leaders talk about the state of the co-op in the comfort of their cars.
While there are a number of ways in which cooperatives can adjust their events, Spencer said NineStar was in a unique position to take their meeting to the next level.
“Most cooperatives do not have a communications component,” Spencer said.
This allowed NineStar to expand the way in which they held their meeting while encouraging more members to participate. Spencer said that throughout the broadcast, the viewership vacillated between a couple hundred and over 1,000. Over 500 members voted prior to the broadcast, which was a record and it seemed only natural to do it again when social distancing protocols made an in-person event impractical for 2021.
“We are always looking for new ways to help people learn more about their co-op and while some of our members have come to expect the traditional meeting, the next generation is comfortable with a virtual event,” Spencer said.
A virtual meeting also enables NineStar to do things that they can’t do in a traditional gathering such as getting more community members involved in the presentations and showcasing the new water tower that people may not have a chance to see.
Voting for our 2021 Board of Directors will also be different this year. Members have the option and are encouraged to vote online via SmartHub. “We wanted to give our members another option to vote and a with the pandemic still happening, a safer way to vote as well. Members can login in to their SmartHub account to vote online. Members who do not want to vote online can still visit a NineStar location to cast their vote.
While he knows that members will miss the traditional meal supplied by Jonathon Byrd’s Catering, he also knows that everyone appreciates an extra $10 in these uncertain times. He said things have been rough and right now, it’s hard for people to find ways to trim the budget so $10 helps. He noted that NineStar also increased the broadband speed for everyone in the service area from March through June in order to get students through the school year while helping parents who had to work from home.
“We did it again from November to January when classes moved online and the kids came home from college. That’s what you get from a community-focused cooperative. The big boys don’t do that, but we listen to our neighbors and member owners in order to provide for their needs,” he said.