Cooperatives vs. Corporation

What's the Difference?

Cooperatives and corporations are both types of business entities, but they differ in their structure and purpose. Cooperatives are owned and operated by their members, who are typically customers, employees, or suppliers of the cooperative. The primary goal of a cooperative is to serve the needs and interests of its members, rather than maximizing profits. On the other hand, corporations are owned by shareholders and are driven by profit maximization. They are typically managed by a board of directors and aim to generate returns for their shareholders. While both cooperatives and corporations can be successful in their respective fields, their fundamental differences lie in their ownership structure and primary objectives.


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OwnershipOwned and controlled by membersOwned by shareholders
Profit DistributionShared among members based on participationDistributed to shareholders as dividends
Decision-MakingDemocratic, one member one voteUsually based on shareholding, one share one vote
ObjectiveServe the needs of membersMaximize shareholder value
MembershipOpen to individuals or organizations with common interestsOpen to anyone who can purchase shares
LiabilityMembers have limited liabilityShareholders have limited liability
TaxationMay have tax advantagesTaxed at corporate rates
LongevityCan be long-lasting, based on member supportCan be long-lasting, based on profitability
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Further Detail


Cooperatives and corporations are two distinct types of business entities that operate in various industries. While both aim to generate profits and provide goods or services, they differ significantly in their structure, ownership, decision-making processes, and overall objectives. In this article, we will explore the attributes of cooperatives and corporations, highlighting their key differences and similarities.

Ownership and Structure

One fundamental difference between cooperatives and corporations lies in their ownership and structure. Cooperatives are owned and controlled by their members, who are typically the customers, employees, or suppliers of the cooperative. Each member has an equal say in the decision-making process, regardless of their financial contribution. On the other hand, corporations are owned by shareholders who hold shares of stock in the company. Shareholders elect a board of directors to make decisions on their behalf, and the board appoints executives to manage the day-to-day operations.

Profit Distribution

Another significant distinction between cooperatives and corporations is how they distribute profits. In cooperatives, profits are typically reinvested in the business or distributed among the members based on their level of participation or patronage. This means that members receive a share of the profits proportional to their engagement with the cooperative. In contrast, corporations distribute profits to their shareholders in the form of dividends. The amount of dividends received by each shareholder is determined by the number of shares they own.

Decision-Making Process

The decision-making process in cooperatives and corporations also differs. In cooperatives, decisions are made democratically, with each member having an equal vote. This ensures that all members have a say in the direction of the cooperative and promotes a sense of ownership and participation. On the other hand, corporations have a hierarchical decision-making structure. Shareholders elect the board of directors, who then make decisions on behalf of the shareholders. This top-down approach allows for efficient decision-making but may limit the input of individual shareholders.

Objectives and Focus

Cooperatives and corporations often have different objectives and areas of focus. Cooperatives are typically formed to meet the specific needs of their members, whether it be access to affordable goods, services, or fair prices for their products. Their primary goal is to serve their members' interests rather than maximizing profits. In contrast, corporations are primarily focused on generating profits for their shareholders. They aim to maximize shareholder value and often prioritize growth and market dominance.

Longevity and Stability

When it comes to longevity and stability, cooperatives and corporations may exhibit different characteristics. Cooperatives tend to have a long-term perspective and can be more resilient in times of economic downturns. This is because their focus is on meeting the needs of their members rather than solely pursuing short-term profits. Additionally, cooperatives often have a strong sense of community and loyalty among their members, which can contribute to their stability. On the other hand, corporations may be more susceptible to market fluctuations and changes in shareholder sentiment due to their profit-driven nature.

Examples and Industries

Cooperatives and corporations can be found in various industries, although they may be more prevalent in certain sectors. Cooperatives are commonly found in agriculture, consumer goods, and financial services. For example, agricultural cooperatives allow farmers to pool resources and collectively market their products. Consumer cooperatives, such as grocery stores, enable customers to become members and enjoy benefits like discounts and a say in the store's operations. On the other hand, corporations dominate industries such as technology, manufacturing, and finance. Companies like Apple, General Electric, and JPMorgan Chase are examples of well-known corporations operating in these sectors.


In conclusion, cooperatives and corporations differ in ownership, profit distribution, decision-making processes, objectives, and stability. Cooperatives are owned and controlled by their members, distribute profits based on participation, and prioritize meeting members' needs. Corporations, on the other hand, are owned by shareholders, distribute profits as dividends, have a hierarchical decision-making structure, aim to maximize shareholder value, and may be more susceptible to market fluctuations. Understanding these differences is crucial for individuals and communities when considering the type of business entity that aligns with their values and goals.

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