Cooperation Works! & the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program

Awarded under a competitive process by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Cooperative Development grants fund technical assistance centers that support the development of cooperative businesses. The majority of grant recipients are members of a national network of technical assistance centers known as Cooperation Works! Federal funding for rural cooperative development grants from FY 2003 to FY 2009 had been at a steady level of $6-6.5 million a year. In FY 2010, however, Congress increased funding to $11.8 million. Since the 1990s, these centers have helped start or expand more than 400 cooperative businesses with more than 47,000 members. These cooperatives have created over 5,800 new rural jobs in a wide array of industry sectors, including energy, housing, agriculture, forestry, food, senior and childcare services, and health care. Investment in these cooperatives exceeds $900 million.

CooperationWorks! is a national cooperative that links together local technical assistance centers to provide training and mutual support for their efforts. Members of CooperationWorks! work together to promote cooperatives through education, extensive networking, feasibility analysis, training, and business plan development.

Cooperation Works! offers three-day training sessions that introduce people to the cooperative field by explaining legal, business and organization aspects of cooperatives. Successful completion of the training allows participants to support a cooperative project through all of its stages. In addition to training and networking, members also share knowledge about funding opportunities. Cooperation Works! has partnered with the National Cooperative Business Association to help identify federal sources of funding for cooperatives.

People or organizations that would like to join Cooperation Works! may find an application here. Contact information can also be found on the application hyperlink. Members must adhere to a set of co-op development ethical standards known as the Madison Principles.

Because of the nature and community involvement of cooperatives, a community development organization may find it useful to assist other groups in forming cooperatives in the areas that they serve.