The members are the most important part of a cooperative. Without dedicated and participating members, no co-op can succeed. To gain such a group of individuals, all co-ops need to remain voluntary organizations with membership opportunities for all. They should be open to any persons who are able and willing to join, accept responsibility as a part of the organization and can use the organization’s services.

    It also protects members and interested individuals from any form of discrimination. Cooperatives accept members voluntarily, meaning they cannot discriminate based on gender, sexuality, social status, race, political affiliation, religion or any other personal details. As long as individuals are willing to follow the core principles and values of the co-op, they can become members.

    This principle protects the fundamental human rights of interested individuals and members. It establishes that no person or organization can turn an individual into a willing co-operator and that their involvement has to come from a place of genuine interest. The voluntary membership also provides individuals with freedom of association. They can exercise their free will and decide if and when they wish to join and leave the organization.


    Cooperatives are founded on the ideals of democracy. Every member plays an integral role in making decisions that affect the organization as a whole. The cooperative makes crucial choices, adds or reforms policies and elects new representatives as a group. All of the members have equal voting rights, with one ballot per individual, and elected officials hear every person’s voice.

    Since all members are affected by the co-op’s choices, as they all hold the same status, it’s natural that they should have the power of decision. It’s a vital part of all operations, from the day-to-day schedules to broader issues that will affect the future of the co-op. Providing a democratic structure ensures all members have a fair stake in the organization and that their opinions and observations are considered. Healthy debate is also essential for a working democracy.

    Beyond creating a fair method of decision-making, it engages all members and serves as an incentive to participate. If members know their votes count and are valuable to the good of their organization, they will be more willing to participate in democratic practices as well as daily operations. Democracy also ensures those in elected positions are held accountable for their actions. If members decide an official is abusing their power or not considering the good of all members, they can take steps to solve the issue as a group.


    To maintain fairness in all areas of the cooperative, members need to contribute equitably to its economy. They should also maintain democratic control over the collected capital. A portion of the capital is considered the property of the group.

    Should there be any surplus capital, the members decide where to distribute the money. Surpluses typically go towards:

    • Developing the cooperative or creating reserves
    • Benefitting members equitably based on their transactions
    • Supporting membership-approved activities

    Creating an equitable and democratic economy is essential for several reasons. For one, it establishes that capital supports business pursuits but doesn’t rule how the cooperative operates. Money should always be considered a servant of the members. It is a means by which the co-op can develop and grow. Additionally, creating a democratic process for allocating capital ensures the co-op spends it with its people in mind and prevents any major excess.


    While each member has their own freedoms within the cooperative, the organization itself is also an autonomous and independent entity. The members of the co-op determine everything it does, which allows the co-op to function independently. The organization needs to be self-sustaining for each member to be able to exercise his or her freedoms within the structure.

    The autonomy of the cooperative is also essential to outside collaboration. Co-ops can decide to enter business relationships with other organizations or raise additional capital from outside investors or sources. This principle ensures they keep their democratic and independent structure regardless of who they enter into agreements with. It even extends to arrangements between co-ops and external governments. The terms and conditions should always include group autonomy.

    Maintaining an autonomous and democratically run organization is essential to cooperation. Without these two factors, co-ops would have no self-identity and would have no unique connections to share. They also ensure the members can continue to run the co-op by self-governing, regardless of their relationships and agreements with commercial entities and national governments. Securing democratic practices is especially important when it comes to working with sources of capital.


    To run a co-op successfully, promoting and spreading education is a necessity. Every individual involved with a cooperative needs to be well informed about the way they operate, their purposes and the responsibilities of each person. Members, employees, managers and elected officials all need continual training as the cooperative evolves and changes over time. If they are well versed in the co-op’s policies, regulations, values and principles, they’ll all be able to contribute more effectively to its development.

    But education shouldn’t stop at the cooperative’s internal members. It should also extend to the surrounding community and the general public. Members can teach others about the beneficial nature of cooperative businesses and encourage interest in their organization. Informing younger generations and community leaders not only creates outside approval and awareness, but it may also encourage interested individuals to join the organization.

    Internal and external education are both necessary parts of cooperative practices. Continual member training helps cooperatives develop, advance and adapt to new technologies, helping them become better business entities. It also supports co-ops in adjusting to other changes, such as changes in laws, social trends or the economy.

    Beyond the cooperative itself, education encourages the spread of information. It helps create relationships with universities and supports research regarding the cooperative movement. With formal research, co-ops can help spread the educational material to governments and officials and inform future policies. Teaching the wider public about the history, principles and day-to-day operations of a co-op can create a stronger, more supportive local community.

    Overall, continual education is crucial for a cooperative to function. Regardless of how far a co-op’s outreach goes, there’s always a core purpose in mind — to nurture a more complete understanding of the nature of cooperation as well as to emphasize its benefits.


    While co-ops are independent of one another and run by autonomous individuals, they also need to work together harmoniously. Creating a larger network of cooperatives — locally, regionally, nationally or even internationally — allows independent organizations to better serve their members. Each co-op brings its unique abilities and contributions to the table, and they function with more strength as a unit.

    Not only do individual members benefit from the connectivity, but it also helps the cooperative as a whole. Developing larger structures that span multiple cooperatives strengthens the movement through combined efforts and support. The networks can then work together across organizations to better serve their members. They can also choose to work with other structures that will serve the common good of the members and the movement as a whole.

    Creating a stable structure establishes independent co-ops as both social and economic entities in relation to other groups and organizations. Forming these networks allows co-ops and their collaborators to gain a mutual benefit from one another, rather than to compete against one another for profit, like non-cooperative businesses. Working together emphasizes the value of solidarity.


    All cooperatives focus on their internal communities, but they are also concerned with their local communities outside of the organization. Co-ops source materials from and invest in local suppliers to contribute to the community’s sustainability. While the group works as a unit, each member should also take it upon themselves to contribute to the community in some way. The cooperative and surrounding network should encourage them to serve with pride.

    But sustainability doesn’t stop at the local level. Community goes as far as a worldwide reach, and cooperatives should think and act on both a local and global level. Members can work towards approving policies that consider the community at large.

    Maintaining local and global concern is important for several reasons. As other principles dictate, cooperatives are independent organizations that work best in a collaborative effort. So, each co-op should have their own way of contributing to sustainable development, but they should also work within their networks. This enables cooperatives to take action on a level that can affect the world. Not only are co-ops directly affected by community development, but they can also have a great impact if they work together.