"What is a cooperative?" is a question that is asked by many of the new residents to our service area. In short, a cooperative can be defined as a nonprofit form of enterprise, organized and controlled by people working together to accomplish something they could not do individually.
Cooperative businesses are unique because they are owned by the consumers they serve and because they are guided by a set of seven principles that reflect the best interests of those consumers:
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights - one member, one vote - and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development for their communities through policies accepted by their members.
More than 100 million people are members of 47,000 U.S. cooperatives, enabling consumers to secure a wide array of goods and services such as health care, insurance, housing, food, heating fuel, hardware, credit unions, child care or utility service.