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A Learning and Training Toolkit for Understanding Worker Cooperative Finances

Newly Revised and Available in Spanish    December 2018

This learning and training toolkit has been developed for member education and board training about basic worker cooperative finance. It consists of a document and a set of linked spreadsheets that allow users to explore the relationship between the primary financial statements that are used for business reporting and decision-making.

The document describes a simplified, fictional worker-owned cafe and coffee shop, and the business assumptions that drive the financial reports in the spreadsheets.  Users can easily change spreadsheet assumptions about business conditions, or financial decisions by the board or management, and see the effects of these changes flow through to the financial statements.

The document also presents several scenarios in which the worker cooperative must decide whether to proceed with an expansion, how to finance it, and whether to change its salary structure.   The spreadsheets allow the user to test out different assumptions and approaches, and see the financial effects of these decisions.



  English VersionExcel Document PDF Document



 Excel DocumentPDF DocumentSpanish Version



This learning and training toolkit will continue to be a work-in-progress. Please contact us with questions or suggestions at

2018 Revision supported by a grant from The Cooperative Foundation.

Additional Resources on Worker Cooperatives

The learning and training toolkit on this webpage uses general cooperative terms such as allocated equity and patronage refunds in describing the illustrated financial practices.  However, there are a variety of ways to organize and describe a worker cooperative and its financial structure.  Worker cooperatives may manage retained allocated equity through internal capital accounts, and may have distinctive interpretations and expectations around these practices.  Other resources about worker cooperatives can be found at:

U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives

The ICA Group


About Cooperative Finance

A cooperative's primary value to its members is its ability to deliver the goods or services needed by its members.  These benefits of membership are accompanied by the responsibility of financial participation in the cooperative. Like any other business, a cooperative requires reserves for financial stability, and resources for reinvestment so it can continue to meet the needs of its members. Members, as owners of the cooperative business, can help meet these capital needs in a variety of ways.

In the case of worker cooperatives, worker members use the cooperative to meet their needs for good jobs and benefits through the democratic control of their business. Worker members function as both workers and business owners, and have different interests associated with each role:

  • Member interests include well-paying jobs, benefits, and working conditions.

  • As business owners, the worker member interest is in the financial health of the business, and its profitability. Members invest in the cooperative through the purchase of initial membership shares. These shares establish ownership and a right to a share of the profits based worker "patronage" -- in the case of worker cooperatives, a combination of labor, skill, and seniority. Member owners reinvest in the cooperative by allowing the cooperative to retain a portion of the patronage "refund".

These two sets of interests sometimes conflict. As cooperative members, worker members participate in strategic decision-making that equitably manages the tradeoffs between worker and owner interests, either directly or through a democratically elected board of directors.

Additional Resources on Basic Cooperative Finance

Cooperatives in Wisconsin (see pages 7-9)

Cooperative Equity and Ownership: An Introduction

UW Center for Cooperatives website: Finance