By TY HIGGINS
Ohio Farm Bureau
COLUMBUS – Balancing resources to better deliver local member services has been important and challenging considerations for county Farm Bureaus in recent years. More recently, competition for employee recruitment and retention have created an even more challenging situation.
In 2021, Ohio Farm Bureau conducted a feasibility study to help guide leadership decision-making by providing data on how county Farm Bureaus statewide are using office space, facility costs and opportunities for collaboration. The OFBF board of trustees reviewed the study and recommended sharing it with county Farm Bureaus as a resource, but making it clear that any actions regarding county office locations would remain a local decision. The study was shared widely with county Farm Bureaus earlier this year.
At the same time, the OFBF Strategic Plan outlines a need for fresh thinking and new options for how value is delivered to members. The strategic plan identified core functions that county Farm Bureaus do best (member engagement, quality programs, philanthropy) and activities best done in a more centralized manner (invoicing, accounting, IT, etc.)
A recent staffing change in northwest Ohio provided an opportunity to test a new arrangement involving eight county Farm Bureaus. The pilot project is being conducted in Hancock, Hardin, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, Wood and Wyandot counties.
“We are excited about the opportunity to test a new service delivery model in cooperation with these county Farm Bureaus,” said Paul Lyons, vice president of membership with Ohio Farm Bureau. “This project is designed to test possible solutions that our research, county leader and member feedback have identified. These include the need to lead with the value of the organization, increase engagement with members, create new approaches to retain and invite new members into the organization and foster a culture that attracts and retains exceptional talent.”
The project will test a unique combination of staffing and service delivery over eight counties instead of the typical four-county model. New positions have been added to provide more specialized, in-person membership engagement. This “value first” approach aims to build membership with programs and services with direct member input and feedback to staff.
Another factor in recruiting and retaining employees is offering benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. In this pilot, Ohio Farm Bureau is partnering with participating county Farm Bureaus to share costs for salaries and benefits.
“Our entire organization is challenged with these issues, but I’ve heard consistently that county Farm Bureaus need new ideas and options,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “The ideas being tested in this project very purposefully lay out new options for county/state partnership and investing in staff who specialize in value delivery to members. This pilot project is all about acting on the many exciting ideas that our members have shared with us about better serving members’ needs.”
The pilot project will be led by Kayla Richards, who moved from her role as organization director to assume the role as district director for the eight counties. Richards will lead a team of Ohio Farm Bureau employees that includes:
Amy Kearns, who will be advancing from her role of county office administrator to assume the role of district administrator. She will provide front-line member care by answering member inquiries, creating outbound communications and providing on-site assistance for upcoming events and activities.
Kirsten Ameling, who has taken a new position as member service specialist. Her job is to work with members individually to connect them to business solutions and build relationships with local agribusinesses, county-endorsed Select Partners, local Nationwide-appointed agents and benefit providers. In addition, she will assist the county Farm Bureaus in delivering valued programs that grow and retain members.
Shelly Bumb, who has taken a new position of membership marketing specialist. She will execute campaigns to grow and maintain membership. She also will work to build member profile information so members can be served better with relevant information.
Julie Haag, the new accounting specialist will provide day-to-day accounting services. She will work with 13 other counties in northeast Ohio that are serviced from the North Royalton office.
Ohio Farm Bureau’s mission is working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities. Learn more at ohiofarmbureau.org.