Photo by Melody

Co-op primer: What To Do When Things Go Wrong

1. Introduction

2. Tips For Organizers

3. Tips For Participants

4. What To Do When Things Go Wrong

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When things go wrong

Even when the organizer has great organization skills and the very best intentions, things can still go wrong. Here are a few of the most common problems, and some ideas on how to handle them.

Items are out of stock

Organizers should BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED! After contacting the vendor regarding last minute substitutions, and finding out what their options are, the organizer should notify the participants immediately. It is the participants' responsibility to read the postings and staying current with what is happening with the Co-ops they are participating in.

Organizers should state the problem and options as simply as possible. If time allows, the organizer can solicit participants' input (for example, if a smaller plant size would be acceptable instead of the larger one that is out of stock.) If there's no time to get everyone's input, the organizer should clearly state the plan they will use to remedy the situation (typically that all affected participants will receive a refund, after figuring the actual postage costs.) Work together toward an amenable resolution for everyone.

Participant stalls on paying

If this situation occurs, the organizer should attempt to contact the participant by email. If no answer is received by a stated deadline, then the items will be offered to others in the Co-op or to the organizer's backup list. The organizer should not have to buy extra items due to non-payment.

If something unexpected happens (e.g., the participant discovers they will be out of town due to a family emergency), the organizer may agree to hold the order until the participant returns home or another compromise solution can be worked out. The main thing is to keep the lines of communication open.

Participant backs out

"Sometimes life just happens" and the participant must back out of the Co-op after the order is placed, or even as it's being packed. It is the participant's responsibility to notify the organizer immediately via a private e-mail, and should be kept between the participant & organizer. If extra plants are then made available, the organizer can let the other participants know that the additional plants can be purchased. This can be done in the same Co-op thread or a new thread can be posted in the Co-op forum to let others know that these plants are now available. The organizer may have a "waiting list" of people (those who didn't get into the Co-op in time, are new to DG, or someone's cousin wants an extra plant, or well, you get the idea.)

However, if the items aren't claimed by others, the participant is responsible for paying for what he/she ordered!

Organizer backs out

As with a participant needing to back out, sometimes "life happens" to organizers, too. It's important to carefully consider the steps and obligations before you offer to organize one. But if something comes up after your Co-op is underway, you have a choice to make:

  1. Ask for help, or for someone who can take over and receive and ship the orders.

  2. Try to cancel the Co-op, and return any monies that have been sent to you (this option is probably only possible if the vendor hasn't yet shipped the order.)

Whatever you do, don't procrastinate on making this decision and notifying the participants and/or the company. Dragging it out will only make a bad situation worse!

Plants are lost in the mail

USPS charges $.40 per package for delivery confirmation; UPS includes it as part of their shipping service. It's well worth the additional expense to be able to confirm delivery. In any case, lost plants in a Co-op purchase are quite similar to plants lost during a trade: the organizer and participant should work out a mutually agreeable arrangement, since you're both out time and money.

Plants are dead or damaged

Organizers have an obligation to be ready for the plants to be repackaged and shipped in as short a time as possible. Participants have an obligation to make arrangements to receive boxes and store them in a cool, protected spot until they can open them. Boxes should be opened immediately, or within a few hours of arriving. If the plants are dead or on life support when they arrive, the Co-op organizer and participant should work together to request that the company honor their guarantee; if not, you may agree to share in the expense of the dead plants.

Organizer takes the money and runs

This RARELY happens. But since it has happened on a few occasions, we felt we should acknowledge the possibility. The usual warning symptoms include a new (or newer) member trying to organize a Co-op, and they get in over their heads with a large or complex order. If they can't bring themselves to admit they've made a mess of things or call the whole thing off, they cut off contact with the participants to avoid facing the unpleasant reality of the situation. Unfortunately the only cure is prevention: new organizers should start out with simple, small Co-ops, and ask for help from more experienced organizers if they need it. As they build their confidence in organizing a Co-op, they'll also establish a good reputation among participants.

Participants should view each Co-op like a plant trade - don't order more than you can afford to lose, especially if the organizer is new or inexperienced. To pursue legal recourse against an organizer probably would cost more in legal fees than you paid to the organizer.

When notified, the DG administrators will take steps to ensure an organizer who absconds with Co-op funds is prevented from engaging in other trades or Co-op purchases on the site.

Closing thoughts

Successful Co-ops are rewarding for everyone involved, and participants have enriched their gardens and gained new friends through these purchases. We're grateful for organizers willing to spearhead a Co-op purchase, and hopefully they can maintain their sanity and sense of humor in the process. We hope this primer answers many of your questions about Co-op purchases, either from the organizer's or participant's perspective. If we didn't answer your question, feel free to ask someone!

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