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Learn About Co-ops

What's a coop?

Cooperatives are businesses in any sector that exist to benefit the people that work, live, or shop in them. Profits from business or housing cooperatives aren't siphoned off to a single outside owner, but reinvested in the community they came from, serving their own members economically, socially, and educationally.
Cooperatives are community-builders. People often shop at, live in, or work for cooperatives because co-ops make a special effort to be active participants in improving the lives of neighborhood families.
Cooperatives are democracies. All co-op members have a voice in making decisions about what direction the enterprise takes. In this way, members gain valuable skills in governance, finance, management, and more.

How do co-ops work?

Cooperatives are usually made up of the general membership, committees, and the board of directors. The General Membership makes the biggest decisions, such as electing the Board, setting the rules and bylaws for the cooperative, and authorizing large expenditures. The Board of Directors makes daily operational decisions, manages the budget and handles emergencies - the Board cannot make big decisions without approval from the General Membership. The Board can establish Committees to research and handle specific issues that arise within the co-op.

Different kinds of coops

There are many different types of cooperatives with roughly this structure, and each benefit their members and communities in unique ways:

  • Housing co-ops give people with low to moderate income the opportunity to own their own homes and exert influence over their living conditions, building skills in governance, management and finance.
  • Producer co-ops provide income opportunities for small farmers and help increase their leverage in the marketplace. Many of these farmers grow and market organic products that promote a healthier work environment for farm workers. In addition, they practice a more sustainable approach to land use and create more options for consumers.
  • Consumer co-ops sell a wide variety of affordably-priced products and services with all profits shared equitably among consumer members. In New England there are many  natural foods coops that sell fresh, wholesome, minimally-processed and certified organic foods. Download our "Community Food Coops" brochure here.
  • Worker co-ops create or maintain employment and provide workers with ownership and governance opportunities seldom available in conventional business settings. Worker-owners of CFNE coops include printers,  food warehouse workers, car repairers, bakers,  and coffee importers.
  • Land co-ops and land trusts allow rural residents the opportunity to share scarce resources through the shared ownership of land. CFNE has made loans to land trusts that have purchased and preserved vital woodlands and farmlands, maintaining these resources for the benefit of future generations.
International Principles of Cooperation

These principles are defined by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) as qualities that every cooperative should have. The following is a revised list of the International Principles of Cooperation:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership: Everyone who is able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership can join a coop--no one is excluded, and one can leave the coop without consequences. Coops don't discriminate based on gender, social, racial, political or religious factors.
  2. Democratic Member Control: Members set policies and make decisions, and men and women serving as elected representatives are always accountable to the membership.
  3. Member Economic Participation: Members contribute to the cooperative financially--even if it's a small amount. Members also democratically control what happens to the money in the budget.
  4. Autonomy and Independence: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members.
  5. Education, Training & Information: Cooperatives educate and train their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives.
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives: Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, regional, national and international structures.
  7. Concern for the Community: Cooperatives try to improve their communities by setting policies that benefit the neighborhood at large.
Learn more about co-ops on our Resources Page