What is a Co-op?
Businesses… A cooperative is a business. In many ways it's like any other business; but in several important ways it's unique and different. A cooperative business belongs to the people who use it – people who have organized to provide themselves with the goods and services they need.
These member-owners share equally in the control of their cooperative – they meet at regular intervals, hear detailed reports and elect directors from among themselves. The directors in turn hire management to manage the day-to-day affairs of the cooperative in a way that services the members' interests.
Members invest in shares in the business to provide capital for a strong and efficient operation. After bills are paid and money is set aside for operations and improvements, all net savings (profits) left are returned to co-op members.
For Everyone…Over 100 million people are members of 47,000 U.S. cooperatives. These people have organized to provide themselves with goods and services in nearly every sector of our economy. Their cooperatives may be organized in a number of ways and for many purposes.
For Their Members' Benefit…Cooperatives operate for the benefit of member-owners. In a cooperative, those with similar needs act together and pool their resources for mutual gain. But the returns are not just monetary. Members ensure that their cooperative business provides the best quality products and services at the lowest possible cost. Members control the business through participation in their cooperative; they extend democratic practice into their economic lives.
United…Cooperative work together on the local, regional and national level to promote exchange among cooperatives, foster cooperative development, provide educational services and provide a forum for examining and acting on common concerns for cooperatives. Numerous cooperative associations throughout the United States provide industry-specific services, educational programs and financial and other services to their member cooperatives.
Organized on Seven Principles…Regardless of their structure cooperatives generally use the same principles as adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995. These principles are:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
3. Members' Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.
Learn more about co-ops, and why co-ops are important