We all have childhood memories of parents, teachers and others encouraging us to work together. A co-op is what “working together” looks like all grown up.
From the outside, many co-ops look like any other business, since a co-op provides products and services like conventional businesses do. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that makes it different.
A cooperative exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners. So, in addition to getting the products and services you need, you also have a say in the business decisions your cooperative makes.
Rather than rewarding outside investors with its profits, a co-op returns surplus revenue to its members in proportion to how much they use the co-op. This democratic approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its members and the communities it serves.
Why co-ops matter
Cooperation is defined as working together towards the same end, and joining forces to accomplish a task that one can’t achieve alone. Simply put, co-ops provide the framework that allows people to get what they want in a way that better meets their economic, social and cultural needs.
And because cooperation builds strong bonds between the people who use products and the people who supply them, co-ops offer a way to transform the way business is done. Co-ops give you the opportunity to get the products and services you need on a daily basis while strengthening the community around you.
In addition to a co-op’s commitment to serving its members, most adhere to a set of seven principles that help guide the business. And as a result, many co-ops set a standard for the surrounding business community with a commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
Co-ops are all around you
Co-ops of all kinds are all around you. More than 800 million people around the world belong to cooperatives, and at least 100 million of them are employed by co-ops. And more often than you probably realize, co-ops play a vital part of your everyday life.
Consider the cup of coffee and cranberry muffin you recently enjoyed. That premium Sumatra Siborong-Borog coffee was likely purchased from a grower co-op in Indonesia. The flour in the muffin started as wheat from a farmer-owned, grain elevator co-op in the Midwest, and those cranberries might be from Ocean Spray, a producer-owned co-op.
Knowing the source of the foods you eat, the services you employ and the products you purchase are just a few of the benefits of joining a cooperative. As a member, co-ops invite you to take part in the way your favorite grocery store or financial institution is run, and share in any profits. This community approach to business is at the heart of the cooperative philosophy.
Frequently asked questions
How can I distinguish a co-op from other organizations? A co-op is a business, usually incorporated, that sells goods and services. It is not a charitable organization or a social service agency.
Who benefits from the co-op’s existence? A co-op exists primarily for the benefit of its members. Many co-ops also support other parts of the community through various programs and philanthropic activities as part of their commitment to cooperative values and principles.
Who controls a co-op? In a cooperative, members democratically control the direction of the business. In most co-ops each member gets one vote. Members elect a board of directors to monitor the business, set goals and hire management to operate their business. Ultimately, the board is accountable to the members for its decisions.
What motivates people to form a co-op? In private or stockholder-owned businesses, individuals invest to earn a financial return. In a co-op, individuals are motivated by a shared need for certain products or services. By joining together, members gain access to products, services or markets not otherwise available to them. In other words, when forming a co-op members are motivated to become co-owners of the business primarily so that their mutual needs can be met.
And co-ops return financial gains to their members, whether through discounts, lower costs or patronage refunds. People join existing co-ops for a variety of reasons. Whether it is the commitment to community, the democratic approach to business, the desire to be part of a business that is locally owned or something else “uniquely co-op” that appeals, anyone can join a cooperative!
* There are more than 29,000 co-ops in the United States with Americans holding 350 million co-op memberships.
U.S. co-ops provide over 850 thousand jobs and create more than $74 billion in annual wages with revenue of nearly $500 billion.
* The majority of the country’s 2 million farmers are members of the nearly 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives. They provide over 250 thousand jobs and annual wages of over $8 billion.
* Over 8,300 credit unions provide financial services to nearly 100 million members.
* More than 900 rural electric co-ops deliver electricity to more than 42 million people in 47 states. This makes up 42% of the nation’s electric distribution lines and covers 75% of our country’s land mass.
* Approximately 233 million people are served by insurance companies owned by or closely affiliated with co-ops.
Food co-ops have been innovators in the areas of unit pricing, consumer protection, organic and bulk foods, and nutritional labeling.
* More than 50,000 families in the U.S. use cooperative day care centers, giving co-ops a crucial role in the care of our children.
* About 1.2 million rural Americans in 31 states are served by the 260 telephone cooperatives.
More than 6,400 housing cooperatives exist in the U.S., providing 1.5 million homes.
* The .coop web address extension has been adopted by over 3,000 co-ops and while many cooperatives may use .com or other domain extensions, when you see .coop, you can be sure that it’s a cooperative. For more information, visit www.coop.
— Courtesy of www.strongertogether.coop