What is a Cooperative?

Cooperatives Belong to Everyone

In many ways a cooperative is 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 handle 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. All net savings (profits) left after bills are paid and money is set aside for operations and improvements, are returned to co-op members.

They Are Everywhere

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.

Quality Products and Services

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.

They Work Together

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.

Cooperatives are united internationally as well. Over 200 national cooperative organizations, representing 92 nations belong to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the apex organization of all national cooperative movements. The ICA aims to promote cooperative development and trade worldwide and boasts an individual membership of more than 700 million people.