OCF & Co-ops

Open Collective Foundation's values very much align with the 5 Principles of a Solidarity Economy and the 7 Cooperative Principles. The OCF team has a lot of experience with and love for cooperative structures, and as an organization we absolutely aspire to support co-ops.
Since explicitly naming our solidarity economy focus, naturally more cooperatives have been getting in touch. This page sets out some key points about how we can and can't serve co-ops.

Is OCF a good fit for co-ops? Yes and no.

OCF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that fiscally hosts Collectives with missions around education, social impact, and civic engagement. We're set up to serve a wide range of groups and activities, but not for everything.

When it's about education about co-ops.... yes

Are your activities focused on education about co-ops, capacity-building, research, mentorship, and building supportive communities learning about co-ops? Then we'd love to host you!
This also includes groups who are in the early stages of organizing around a social impact mission with potentially cooperative aspirations, but haven't yet settled on the structure they want to have (with some caveats... see below).
If you are planning to be an educational business, however, see below.

When it's about collaborative practice... possibly

If your interest in cooperation is about running a social impact Collective collaboratively, and practicing things like managing a budget together, how to make decisions as a group, sharing information, etc, then joining OCF can be a great way to start doing that stuff for real without having to take on heavy burdens involving legal entities and compliance.
However, your cooperative practice has to be around a mission that fits our criteria, i.e. focused on education, social impact, or civic engagement. If it's cooperation in service of other aims, like building a business, it might not work (see below).

When it's about business... probably no

A lot of cooperatives are businesses, and that's great! So much fantastic stuff can happen for people and communities through cooperative commerce. However, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, that's not what OCF is designed for. Collectives under our umbrella can do revenue-generating activities, but it all has to be in service to mission focused on education, social impact, or civic engagement.

When it's about ownership... no

The power of the cooperative model is about literal co-ownership in many cases. As a nonprofit, that's not a model that can fit inside OCF. You can practice many aspects of cooperative-style governance within an OCF-hosted Collective, but member or worker ownership is not possible in our structure.

When it's about incubation... sometimes

Early stage projects sometimes don't know what structure is right for them, and enabling that decision to happen when the time is right can be a real benefit. Sometimes proto-cooperatives get bogged down trying to answer a bunch of structural questions too early (like who should be the directors, processes for shareholding, etc).
If your focus is on one of our mission areas and you're seeking a way to get started quickly and easily so you can figure out structure questions later, OCF can sometimes be a good option. But it's important to understand the limitations.
Once money enters a 501(c)(3), it has to either be used to further the purpose it was donated for (i.e. used for project expenses), or transferred to another 501(c)(3). We can't transfer money out to a non-501(c)(3) in most cases. We don't want people to join OCF, raise a bunch of money, decide they want to found a commercially-focused cooperative, and not be able to bring their money over. So it's important to be aware of this restriction. Most cooperative structures are not 501(c)(3)s.

Resources & Options

Here are some links and resources to find other kinds of support for co-ops that OCF might not be able to provide.
Cooperative Incubation - Co-opLaw.org

Co-op Dreams

We would love to see more co-ops on the Open Collective platform!
It's good to remember that OCF is only one host among many. There are Fiscal Hosts like OCF specifically designed to serve co-ops in several countries:
We would love to see a co-op Fiscal Host emerge in the US! The right mix of people, resources, and timing just hasn't quite clicked to make it happen yet. How cool would it be to have a Fiscal Host specifically structured to support co-op Collectives? If you are interested in that idea, get in touch.
Also, the platform can be used by any entity to create a Fiscal Host or be an Independent Collective. So if you plan to or have already incorporated a co-op entity, you can absolutely plug Open Collective into it.