CN Celebrates 15 Years

The Cooperative Network, which represents nearly 2,000 cooperatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. CN reflects on the changes over the years to bolster service and makes plans now for another successful 15 years.

“It’s often said the only constant is change, and that applies to Cooperative Network as well,” says CN President and CEO Daniel Smith. “With the onset of the pandemic, we, like most organizations, saw a major drop in our number of in-person meetings, presentations, and speaking engagements. But we pivoted and added more virtual events and resources, including a new six-part video series for cooperative board directors and staff on topics of importance, such as best governance practices, talent recruitment, and understanding cooperative finances. We also launched a new bi-annual magazine called Cooperative Focus, which has been very well received.”

The magazine includes news and feature articles on projects and accomplishments of member
cooperatives, legislative updates, news of upcoming events, historical articles, and articles of interest
about the larger cooperative community.

    “A key common denominator for the work we do is communication,” says Smith. “It’s essential that policymakers, business leaders, and the public are aware of the economic, social, and cultural impacts of cooperatives. Towards that end, Cooperative Network maintains a robust and multi-faceted communication platform which includes our website, a bi-monthly legislative newsletter, a monthly membership newsletter, media interviews, press releases, blogs and social media posts, and now our new magazine.”

    ‘Opening doors and finding solutions’

    In critical times, CN opens doors and finds solutions. Just ask Robert Cornell, general manager of CN
    member Washington Island Electric Cooperative.

    “We suffered catastrophic equipment damage that required immediate replacement,” says Cornell. “Cooperative Network’s influence with those in state government got us in the door to present our request for disaster assistance, expediated the process, and resulted in rapid approval of much-needed funds.”

    Sadie Frericks, a Minnesota dairy farmer and Land O’ Lakes member, chairs the CN board of directors. She says cooperatives need to support each other.

    “We provide essential goods and services to the communities we serve. No cooperative operates in a vacuum,” she says. “Cooperation amongst cooperatives is the founding principle of Cooperative Network. Now, as much as ever, we need to work together to protect and promote the cooperative business model.”

    CN Membership Benefits

    The benefits of CN’s daily presence in the state capitols are evident in the track record of legislative accomplishments, says Smith. CN puts in countless hours of attending committee meetings, public hearings, and conversations with policymakers.

    “In recent legislative cycles, for instance, we worked with our state legislatures to establish grant programs to help finance new cooperatives and expand existing co-ops, expand farm service CDLs, advocate for historic investments in broadband infrastructure funding, and provide more support for agriculture industry programs, as well as state and federal exporting initiatives,” Smith explains. “Cooperative Network makes certain the voice of cooperatives is heard when important decisions are being made.”

    Membership in the organization provides many benefits, including access to a stock photography collection of nearly 2,000 professional royalty-free photos for use in marketing, communications, and advertising projects. Two electronic newsletters – Co-op Connection and Capitol Connection – provide
    members with up-to-date information on member services and news.

    Throughout the year, CN hosts numerous online webinars and forums on state and national issues of importance to cooperatives, including an annual Cooperative Communicators Workshop designed to improve member cooperatives’ marketing and communications skills.

    Members also have free access to graphics, logos, and other materials to help celebrate National Co-op Month, held annually in October. Members can post job openings on CN’s Co-op Careers page, and they also have access to many other resources including a ‘Co-ops are Everywhere’ animated video and a coloring book.

    In March, CN teamed for the first time with the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International to present the 2024 Cooperative Legislative Forum, a virtual discussion of federal and state issues important to cooperatives of all sectors and sizes.

    What’s Next

    CN is currently working on a series of monthly webinars on topics including co-op credit issues, director recruitment and onboarding strategies, cooperative insurance, and cooperative mergers and acquisitions. Plans are also in the works to develop a new Cooperative College, a series of virtual classes on cooperative governance, finance, succession planning and strategy, and other topics.

    Funded primarily through dues paid by member cooperatives, CN is launching a membership campaign in April.

    “Cooperative Network’s accomplishments benefit all cooperatives, yet only a fraction of cooperatives contribute financially to help the organization continue its work,” says Smith. “We believe this needs to change. We also believe membership in Cooperative Network provides an excellent return on a cooperative’s investment. In coming weeks and months, we’ll be reaching out to non-members to respectfully ask they join Cooperative Network.”