Today’s news is filled with stories about business ventures financed through crowdfunding. And most of us are familiar with Yelp and Waze, crowdsourcing apps that help us choose restaurants or avoid traffic jams.
Community-driven collaboration is what drives the success of these “innovations.” This method of getting things done hits very close to home here at Walton EMC.
Walton EMC was established and continues to operate by a business model that resembles these “new” community collaborations. Borrowing a line from an old country song, our co-op was crowded before crowded was cool.
October is National Co-op Month, a time to celebrate our customer-owned electric co-op. From the very beginning right up to today, Walton EMC has thrived thanks to a crowd mentality.
Crowdfunding since 1936
Crowdfunding is the sourcing of money from a community of backers in exchange for rewards. You may be familiar with Kickstarter, a well-known crowdfunding app. Independent filmmakers and inventors are among those who have used Kickstarter to gain financial support from those who could enjoy or benefit from their creation.
We didn’t have Kickstarter back then, but Walton EMC was formed through crowdfunding. In 1936, rural residents in Walton County each paid a few dollars to establish a consumer-owned company to provide electricity to unserved areas.
We’re still crowdfunding today. New co-op members still pay a small fee to join the crowd.
And Walton EMC’s customer-owners are still earning rewards beyond reliable electricity. When Walton EMC’s revenues exceed expenses, the excess is refunded to its customer-owners in relation to the amount of electricity they purchased. We call these capital credits.
In November 2018, the cooperative’s board of directors approved the return of a $6 million capital credit refund. That latest refund brings the total returned to the co-op’s customer-owners to just over $99.5 million.
Operation Round Up, Walton EMC's community service assistance program, is an example of successful crowdfunding done the co-op way.
Operation Round Up, Walton EMC’s community service assistance program, is another example of successful crowdfunding done the co-op way.
Members who elect to fund the program do so by rounding up their monthly electric bill to the next dollar. For example, a bill totaling $52.51 is rounded up to $53. The extra 49 cents goes to a special fund administered by volunteer co-op members. Participants give an average of 50 cents a month or $6 a year.
Each individual donation doesn’t amount to a lot. In fact, it’s not even enough to buy a fast food burger meal these days. But when it’s added to the contributions of others — here’s the crowdfunding — it adds up to a lot of money benefitting local charities, needy individuals and service organizations.
The latest round of Operation Round Up donations, announced in August, totaled nearly $100,000. Since its inception, this crowdfunding effort has exceeded $6 million in donations. That’s especially impressive considering most of it was collected in increments of 50 cents or less from each participating donor.
Crowding — co-op style
Crowdsourcing — drawing on the knowledge, ideas and information of the community — borrows from the cooperative business model, too. The co-op’s member-elected directors are people who know the challenges and rewards of living and working in this area. They apply this knowledge when making decisions that are in the best interest of all of Walton EMC’s customer-owners.
The technology that allows you to track traffic from your mobile device also helps the co-op to better distribute electricity and provide valuable, efficient member services.
Another common denominator between newfangled “crowds” and Walton EMC is how technological advancements are making life better for those in our communities. The technology that allows you to track traffic from your mobile device also helps the co-op to better distribute electricity and provide valuable, efficient member services.
And, just like Waze users, the co-op uses technology to source and distribute information. For instance, Walton EMC’s Storm Center maps by-the-minute outage information reported by customer-owners and tracks restoration efforts to keep everyone informed of the progress.
Similar to a Yelp review, Walton’s customer-owners ranked the best holiday lighting displays last year. Responses offered via social media provided a road map of festively lighted locations to visit during the holidays. Be watching Walton EMC’s Facebook page for your chance to get in on the crowdsourcing fun by nominating a neighbor’s or family member’s lawn display this year.
Whether it’s crowdfunding for Operation Round Up or crowdsourcing to track power restoration, one thing is for certain: Working together accomplishes more than going it alone. They didn’t call it innovative, but those who founded Walton EMC understood the power of a crowd. This truth has successfully propelled our customer-owned electric company forward through the decades. Now, it’s nice to see that the non-cooperative world is catching on. Bring on the crowd!