[hackerspaces] Hackerspace as a co-op?

Eric Moore eric at htink.org
Thu Nov 24 20:44:51 CET 2011

HTINK in NYC is a legal co-op. www.htink.org

We aren't a classic hackerspace, our members provide educational  
services to school districts, homeschool groups, individuals and  
companies in our area.

The incorporation type creates a lot of challenges and opportunities.  
Our managing directors both have been providing these services for  
years and one receives a salary from HTINK while the other board  
members provide other services to the co-op. We only have a handful of  
full members since being part of the co-op means you have either  
purchased a member share or earned equity.

Opening a space is part of multiple potential revenue streams for the  
co-op, but the model requires an individual be motivated to join the  
co-op and manage the space as their activity, or the board must vote  
to attempt to hire and individual to provide those services, but that  
can be dangerous if the person hired doesn't share the groups values  
because they automatically get a vote equal to everyone elses.

Egalitarianism has some inherent drawbacks, but through the  
appointment of different officers and managers most of the decision  
making can be done by motivated individuals with the board existing to  
provide governance rather than management.

Fund raising requires either a 501c3 partner or in some states the  
selling of preferred non-voting shares. An individual may own only one  
member share, but they may own any number of preferred shares. Getting  
set up to sell shares is very difficult and requires significant  
investment by the co-op.

There is a ton more, I am not the best person to talk to you about  
co-ops in our group. Ping me off line and I'll ask the rest of the  
board if anyone would like to discuss this in more detail with you.


Quoting Matthew McCabe <matt at mrmccabe.com>:

> Thank you for all of the feedback!  I was curious if any US hackerspaces
> have looked at the legal co-op model vs. non-profit or for-profit.
> To be clear, we are looking at possibly creating a legal co-op in Texas.
>  It has been difficult to find much info about how this works in our state
> and the pros/cons of this legal entity.  It is definitely an option,
> though, because there are other community co-ops in town that are
> successful (for example, Black Star - http://www.blackstar.coop/ - which is
> a pub and brewery co-op).
> We are also talking to the folks at Space Federation and considering
> partnering with them.
> Thanks,
> Matt
> On Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 10:20 PM, Far McKon <farmckon at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Right,
>> There is a big difference between something that is functionally owned
>> by it's members (aka, coop by action) and a legal cooperative.
>> cooperative by action:
>> Many hackerspaces act as a cooperative, such that all members are
>> owners of the organization, and have voting rights. (As opposed to a
>> few board members run the nonprofit, and members have little or no
>> say).
>> One of the downfalls of cooperative style management is having people
>> take ownership.  Some hackerspaces have members that would rather do
>> the 'buy a gym membership' model than 'we are a cooperative
>> mini-democracy' model.   For the people that fall into the first case,
>> trying to run things in the second case can burn them our, or
>> frustrate them. And vice-versa.
>> cooperative by law:
>> It gets to be a state by state thing at some point. Some states have
>> easier reporting for taxes for cooperatives, others for state
>> nonprofits, others for the new 'For Benefit' types of entities. Your
>> Mileage May Vary, I Am Not A Lawyer. If you are a cooperative, check
>> how the state taxes 'profits' from the entity. Cooperatives,
>> for-benifits, or technically for-profit (but just to be filed) may
>> cause a tax burden on members since end of year cash on hand can be
>> counted as 'income' in some states.
>> Most spaces I don't see a need to be a federal 501(c)3. very few
>> spaces get donations where tax deductions play into it.
>> Yoy may want to check out Space Federation if you just want to start
>> hacking on things. They are a national org for hacker/maker/art spaces
>> that can/will act as a 501(c)3 sponsor. e, they accept donations,
>> verify you are using them in a way that matches nonprofit standards,
>> etc.
>> In short:
>>  I think cooperative in action can make a great hackerspace, or can
>> burn people out. Cooperative by law is a state by state situation.
>> Just another 0$.02, Hack on,
>> - Far McKon
>> http://www.FarMcKon.net "Creatively Maladjusted"
>> On Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 8:27 PM, Will Bradley <will at heatsynclabs.org>
>> wrote:
>> > I understand what a co-op hackerspace might look like, but I don't think
>> > it's a contentious question... for example HeatSync isn't a "co-op" per
>> se
>> > but it is a 501c3 nonprofit whose members get to vote in the board of
>> > directors and also participate in self-governance via proposals and
>> votes at
>> > regular meetings. But there is still a board, an organizational bank
>> > account, we're a registered nonprofit corporation with the state.
>> >
>> > I suppose a co-op would include more strict language in its bylaws
>> > indicating that paying members are all given an equal vote and are the
>> > highest authority in the organization (as opposed to a board-based org.)
>> >
>> > But colloquially, I'm pretty sure that some form of member self
>> governance
>> > is a very common feature of hackerspaces.
>> >
>> > On Nov 22, 2011 5:34 PM, "Rubin Abdi" <rubin at starset.net> wrote:
>> >>
>> >> Rhys Rhaven wrote, On 2011-11-22 15:11:
>> >> > What do you mean by co-op?
>> >>
>> >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-op
>> >>
>> >> --
>> >> Rubin
>> >> rubin at starset.net
>> >>
>> >>
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