A variety of other types of co-ops serve the needs of their members; in each type the members elect a board of directors to make decisions. While the members of a business or "shared services" cooperative are small businesses or entitiies that join together to gain market power or reduce operating costs, consumers comprise the membership of insurance, retail, and student cooperatives.
Business cooperatives are formed by smaller, independent enterprises to reduce costs and gain market advantages through joint purchasing and marketing of supplies or services. They vary widely both in size and type.
Members are often individual business proprietors such as hardware store owners or realtors. Members could also be taxicab owners who join together to share dispatch services, or plant nursery owners may purchase supplies cooperatively to take advantage of bulk discounts. Sometimes these cooperatives are referred to as "shared services" cooperatives. Public entities may form this type of cooperative--for example small school districts may form a cooperative to efficiently operate school bus services for students.
Insurance cooperatives provide insurance services to their members, who are consumer policyholders. Insurance cooperatives operate by pooling and investing the premiums paid by the members. The revenues generated are then used to reduce the costs of providing insurance. Because policyholders are also owners, any profits are returned to the consumers as dividends. Insurance cooperatives are able to provide lower insurance rates and greater control for members.
Retail cooperatives sell goods to consumer members and non-members. The purpose of the retail business is to serve members and members enjoy discounts, patronage refunds, or both. Patronage refunds are the manner in which member-owners share in the earnings of the cooperative. In every cooperative the term "patronage" is used because member-based "profits" are returned using a formula based on the members use of the cooperative (in a retail co-op "use" would be the purchases over a specific period of time).
Retail cooperatives also offer control. Members control in the cooperative by participating in elections and monitoring the progress of the cooperative at annual membership meetings. Members comprise the democraticallly elected board of directors, who establish policies and oversee the mangement of the cooperative.
Student cooperatives are established to meet a variety of specific needs related to their student status and lifestyles. Membership includes a share in the establishment which is relinquished when the member is no longer a student. The cooperative is democratically governed by student-members, typically on the basis of one-member, one-vote. However, smaller cooperatives may use consensus or modified consensus to make decisions. Although members are students, the bylaws of student cooperatives sometimes require that the board also include alumni, university officials, or other non-students.
Housing and food cooperatives are the most common types of student cooperatives, but students also form child care and bookstore cooperatives. In each case the cooperative addresses a member need, such as lower costs and student-focused services. For example, student housing cooperatives usually offer reduced costs, close proximity to campus, and amenities such as meals, internet services, and utilities. Housing cooperatives may also accommodate lifestyle desires related to social activities, academic pursuits or diet preferences.
Student cooperatives are distinctive because of high membership turnover. For this reason, the infrastructure must be designed to offer needed stability and continuity. Student cooperatives often include a staffing structure and policies that encourage employment longevity. The infrastructure usually also includes established rules and operating practices, mechanisms for ongoing training and education, and an operating system designed for relatively short-term membership and high turnover. Including board members who are former members is another mechanism to address issues created by high turnover. Organizations such as the National Association of Student Cooperatives can be particularly useful in supporting needed stability.
Besides reduced costs for basic needs such as housing and food, student cooperatives provide other important benefits. Students can participate in the management of their cooperative and learn valuable business and organizational skills. In cooperative housing, students may also gain valuable experiences by living with people from different cultural and social backgrounds.