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Members vs. Shareholders: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 5, 2023
Members are individuals or entities belonging to a group or organization, while shareholders are individuals or entities owning shares in a corporation, hence, having a financial stake in it.

Key Differences

In the realm of business and organizations, the term "members" has a broad application. Members are individuals or entities that belong to a particular group, club, or organization and have met certain criteria to attain this status. Members may be part of non-profit organizations, clubs, or certain types of business entities where membership is distinct from ownership, such as cooperatives. In certain contexts, members can have voting rights or privileges based on their status or level of involvement within the organization.
Shareholders, on the other hand, refer to individuals or entities that possess shares, or units of ownership, in a corporation, which is typically a for-profit entity. Shareholders have purchased, been gifted, or otherwise acquired these shares, making them partial owners of the company, proportionate to the amount of shares they hold. Depending on the type of shares held, shareholders may have the right to vote on certain corporate decisions and may receive dividends, which are portions of the company’s profits distributed to shareholders.
Members and shareholders are both integral to the organizations or companies to which they belong, but their roles and entitlements can differ significantly. Members might have joined an entity for various reasons, such as common interests, professional networking, or collective benefits, without a direct financial investment into the entity. On the contrary, shareholders have a distinct financial stake in a corporation and their involvement may be primarily oriented towards receiving a return on their investment.
It's imperative to note that the delineation between members and shareholders becomes notably clear in terms of financial involvement and return benefits. Shareholders tend to have an intrinsic financial interest in the company as their investment's performance directly correlates with the company’s financial success or failure. Their involvement might be purely financial and might not require active participation in the company’s daily or routine affairs.
Alternatively, members might not have a direct financial stake in the organization to which they belong, and their involvement might stem from interest, professional alignment, or other non-financial motivations. In some cases, like in cooperatives or certain clubs, while members might have financial obligations or pay fees, their primary return may be in the form of services, support, or other non-monetary benefits, and any financial success of the entity may not directly enhance their personal finances.

Comparison Chart

Financial Stake

Generally do not have a direct financial stake in the organization.
Have a direct financial stake in a corporation through ownership of shares.

Purpose of Involvement

Involved due to interest, common goals, or to receive non-financial benefits.
Primarily involved for financial gain through dividends and appreciation of shares.

Voting Rights

May have voting rights, often unrelated to financial investment.
Typically have voting rights in relation to the number and type of shares owned.

Return on Involvement

Returns, if any, might be in the form of services or non-financial benefits.
Expect financial returns in the form of dividends and/or appreciation of share value.

Relationship with Entity

Membership does not imply ownership but implies belonging or association.
Shareholding implies partial ownership of the corporation.

Members and Shareholders Definitions


Members are individuals or entities that are part of a group, organization, or club.
The club welcomed all members to the annual meeting.


Shareholders possess a financial stake in a company proportional to their owned shares.
Shareholders experienced financial gains due to the company’s prosperous year.


Members often join an entity based on common interests, goals, or professional alignments.
The members of the association were all dedicated to wildlife conservation.


Shareholders may receive dividends, which are portions of profits distributed by the corporation.
The shareholders were pleased with the unexpected high dividends this quarter.


Members can sometimes have voting rights or a say in the organization’s decisions or directions.
The members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new policy proposal.


Shareholders may have voting rights in corporate decisions based on their share ownership.
The shareholders voted to elect a new member to the board of directors.


Members might have to adhere to certain guidelines, rules, or standards set by the organization.
The members were reminded to adhere to the professional code of conduct during the convention.


Shareholders are individuals or entities owning shares in a corporation.
The shareholders eagerly awaited the annual report to assess their investments.


Members might have obligations, privileges, and rights within the organization they are part of.
All members were entitled to utilize the recreation facilities at the club.


Shareholders assume a risk of loss relative to the company’s performance and share value.
Unfortunately, the shareholders incurred losses due to the downturn in the market.


(Linguistics) A syntactic unit of a sentence; a clause.


One that owns a share or shares of a company or investment fund. Also called shareowner.


(Logic) A proposition of a syllogism.


Plural of shareholder


(Mathematics) An element in a set.


What defines a member in an organization?

A member is an individual or entity that belongs to a group, club, or organization and adheres to its regulations.

What do members generally receive from their affiliation?

Members often receive services, support, or other non-financial benefits from the organization.

Is membership in an organization usually permanent?

No, membership can be subject to renewal, expiration, or termination based on various factors.

Do shareholders have a direct financial interest in a company?

Yes, shareholders have a financial stake and can gain or lose money based on the company’s performance.

Is a shareholder automatically a member of the corporation?

No, shareholding denotes ownership, not membership, although some rights might resemble those of members.

What primarily defines a shareholder?

A shareholder is an individual or entity owning shares, thereby having partial ownership of a corporation.

How does one become a member of an organization?

Typically, through application, invitation, or meeting certain criteria set by the organization.

Can membership fees be considered a financial investment?

No, membership fees typically provide access to benefits, not a financial return or ownership stake.

Can a member influence decisions within an organization?

Yes, members may have voting rights or influence over an organization’s decisions or policies.

Can shareholders influence corporate decisions?

Generally, yes; shareholders often have voting rights in corporate decisions, proportional to their share ownership.

Can anyone become a shareholder?

Yes, if shares are publicly available, anyone who purchases them becomes a shareholder.

Can a shareholder be a member too?

Yes, a shareholder can also be a member if they fulfill the criteria for membership in an applicable context.

Are shareholders’ investments in a corporation protected?

No, shareholders assume a risk and may lose their investment based on the company’s performance.

Is it necessary for a member to actively participate in organizational activities?

It depends on the organization's rules; some may require active participation, while others may not.

Do all members have voting rights in an organization?

Not always; voting rights of members depend on the organization’s rules and structure.

Can a non-profit organization have shareholders?

No, non-profits do not have shareholders; they may have members or donors instead.

Can members have a financial stake in an organization?

Not typically; members usually don’t have a direct financial investment or receive financial returns from an organization.

What is the main motive for shareholders in a corporation?

Often, it is financial gain through dividends and appreciation of share value.

Do shareholders always receive dividends?

No, dividend distribution is subject to a company’s profits and board decisions.

Can a shareholder sell their shares?

Yes, shareholders can generally sell their shares, subject to market conditions and regulations.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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