Forming a Cooperative

Forming a cooperative is different from forming any other business entity. To start up, a group of potential members must agree on a common need and a strategy on how to meet that need. An organizing committee then conducts exploratory meetings, surveys, and cost and feasibility analyses before every member agrees with the business plan. Not all cooperatives are incorporated, though many choose to do so. If you decide to incorporate your cooperative, you must complete the following steps:

  • File Articles of Incorporation. The articles of incorporation legitimizes your cooperative and includes information like the name of the cooperative, business location, purpose, duration of existence, and names of the incorporators, and capital structure. Once the charter members (also known as the incorporators) file with your state business entity registration office and the articles are approved, you should create bylaws for your cooperative.
  • Create Bylaws. While the law does not require bylaws, they do need to comply with state law and are essential to the success of your cooperative. Bylaws list membership requirements, duties, responsibilities and other operational procedures that allow your cooperative to run smoothly. According to most state laws, the majority of your members must adopt articles of incorporation and bylaws. Consult an attorney to verify that your bylaws comply with state laws.
  • Create a Membership Application. To recruit members and legally verify that they are part of the cooperative, you must create and issue a membership application. Membership applications include names, signatures from the board of directors and member rights and benefits.
  • Conduct a Charter Member Meeting and Elect Directors. During this meeting, charter members discuss and amend the proposed bylaws. By the end of the meeting, all of the charter members should vote to adopt the bylaws. If the board of directors were not named in the articles of incorporation, you must designate them during the charter meeting.
  • Obtain Licenses and Permits. You must obtain relevant business licenses and permits. Regulations vary by industry, state and locality. Use our Licensing & Permits tool to find a list of federal, state and local permits, licenses and registrations you’ll need to run a business.
  • Hiring Employees. If you are hiring employees, read more about federal and state regulations for employers.

Each state will have slightly different laws that govern a cooperative. Consult an attorney, your Secretary of State or State Corporation Commissioner for more information regarding your state’s specific laws.

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