Cooperative Benefits and Principals

Cooperatives businesses are based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equity, equality, and solidarity. These values underpin how cooperatives operate and the principles that unite cooperatives across the globe.

One of the unique aspects of the cooperative business model is the “cooperative principles,” a set of globally recognized ideas that unite cooperatives around a shared vision and approach. The cooperative principles create a guideline for cooperatives, but just as each cooperative is a unique business, the ways that cooperatives embody the cooperative principles is varied and diverse.

The International Cooperative Alliance, a non-governmental organization that unites and represents cooperatives across the globe, adopted the current version of the globally recognized cooperative principles in 1995 in the State on the Cooperative Identity. The current cooperative principles trace their history to the principles adopted by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society in 1844. Read more about the history of the cooperative movement on Co-op Mastery’s History section.

In a guidance document discussing the principles, the Alliance notes,

“The seven Co-operative Principles are the internationally agreed foundational principles that, when applied to the day-to-day governance and management of co-operative enterprises, enables them to achieve the objective of meeting their members’ needs and aspirations.”[1]


  1. Voluntary and open membership:Cooperatives exist to serve members. Individuals that want to use the services and agree to the cooperatives’ guidelines and responsibilities for members can become a member without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic member control:Cooperatives are controlled by their members using shared, democratic decision-making structures.
  3. Member economic participation:Members contribute equity to their cooperatives and share in the financial gains and risks of the business. They ensure the financial success and longevity of the cooperative by doing business through the co-op. Surplus capital is generally returned to members on the basis of their use of the cooperative.
  4. Autonomy and independence:Cooperatives are committed to the welfare of all members with an emphasis on equitable profit sharing, fairness, and mutually acceptable business agreements. They are autonomous enterprises controlled by their members.
  5. Education, training and information:Continuous training and education of members, management, and directors positions cooperatives for positive growth and development. Information sharing and transparency differentiate cooperatives from other forms of business.
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives:Cooperatives maintain a spirit of cooperation with other cooperative businesses, often developing business relationships that are mutually beneficial and working through local, national, regional, and international structures.
  7. Concern for community:Cooperatives give back to their communities, providing jobs and services to co-op members and their families. They make meaningful economic and social contributions to their communities with a focus on sustainable development.

Rick Petty, Logan County Electric Cooperative General Manager, shares insights.
*View video transcript

Cooperative Benefits

As a member owned and controlled enterprise, a cooperative’s main purpose is to serve its members. The benefits to members, and the public, from cooperatives include access to services and markets, opportunities for democratic participation, and important economic contributions to communities, among others.

About 3 million cooperatives around the world employ an estimated 280 million people (about 10% of the employed population of the world!).

About 12% of the world’s population is a part of a cooperative.

There are an estimated 452 cooperatives headquartered in Ohio.

In the United States, there are an estimated 65,000 cooperatives.

An estimated 1 out of 3 people in the U.S. is a member of a cooperative.

SERVICES: From the benefits of group purchasing to bringing services to new communities, co-ops can help members access the services and resources they need, like electricity, broadband services, and more.

MARKET ACCESS & SCALE: Cooperatives can help members enter new marketplaces or reduce the costs of marketing by pooling members products, lowering risk, and sharing the costs of marketing infrastructure.

DEMOCRACY: Members have a voice in the operation of their cooperative. Many cooperatives use a “one member, one vote” system, giving members equitable control of their cooperative and making cooperatives unique compared to some other business models.

COMMUNITY: Cooperatives share surplus capital with members based on their use of the cooperative and the cooperative principles encourage co-ops to invest in their communities. From scholarship programs to promoting youth events or public awareness campaigns, cooperatives care for their communities in unique and diverse ways.

Cooperatives are uniquely positioned to address today’s grand challenges, from growing wealth inequality, to climate change, to the increasing divide between America’s rural and urban communities. Co-ops are driven by member problem-solving and innovation.


“Understanding Cooperatives: Cooperative Business Principles”(2011). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 2. Retrieved from

“Understanding Cooperatives: Who Runs the Cooperative Business?”(2011). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 4. Retrieved from

Zueli, K. & Cropp, R. (n.d.). “Cooperatives: Principles and practices in the 21st century.” UW Extension.

[1] Bancel, J.L. (2015). Guidance Notes to the Cooperative Principles: Preface. (xi). Retrieved from: