Each consumer of the cooperative is a member, with one vote in the affairs of the cooperative. Bylaws, adopted by the members, set forth rights and responsibilities of the members, and lay out the guidelines that assure a democratic organization.
Members also elect directors to serve on a Board of Trustees that meet monthly. Local boards employ a professional manager for the co-op, and the manager then has the duty of hiring trained personnel to perform the work necessary for the co-op to function. An annual meeting is held to conduct the business of the cooperative.
Electric cooperatives are private, non-profit corporations owned by their consumer-members. They are similar in concept to other consumer-owned businesses; including farm produce marketing co-ops and newsgathering and reporting co-ops, like the Associated Press.
All cooperatives were formed out of what is known as the “Rochdale Principles.” They were first set out in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England and have formed the basis for the principles on which co-operatives around the world continue to operate.
The implications of the Rochdale Principles are a focus of study in co-operative economics. The original Rochdale Principles were officially adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1937 as the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation. Updated versions of the principles were adopted by the ICA in 1966 as the Co-operative Principles and in 1995 as part of the Statement on the Co-operative Identity.