Ben & Jerry's Foundation: Giving Back With Grants and Beyond

Volunteers planting a tree

While almost everyone has heard of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, not everyone has heard of the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. Ben & Jerry's has always held certain values that have permeated every aspect of their business, so it's no surprise that the successful company created a foundation as a way of giving back to the community. The Ben & Jerry Foundation began in 1985 with a dual donation of the company's stock as an endowment as well as a commitment to using a portion of their pretax profits for philanthropic endeavors. Take a look at how the foundation's community action teams choose reputable grassroots nonprofit organizations and help distribute these grants among them.

Ben & Jerry's Company Values

From the very beginning, Ben & Jerry's has held the belief that businesses have a responsibility to protecting the environment and to supporting the communities that surround them. This attitude is reflected in their business practices in several ways:

  • Ben & Jerry's buys their brownies from Greyston Bakery, a bakery committed to providing jobs for those who might otherwise be unemployed. In addition, Greyston Bakery helps support the impoverished community in the surrounding area of Yonkers, New York.
  • They are Fair Trade Certified, meaning that they don't buy ingredients in countries where others are being exploited for their labor.
  • They oppose the use of rBHG (bovine growth hormone), and the company buys all of its milk and cream ingredients from farmers who don't use the growth hormone in their cows.
  • They use their funds, cultural clout, and day-to-day business operations to fight global climate change, get actively involved in local environmental causes, and promote peaceful living.

The Inner Workings of the Ben & Jerry's Foundation

According to the Ben & Jerry's Foundation's website, the organization is interested in "furthering social justice, protecting the environment, and supporting sustainable food systems." In order to accomplish these goals, the foundation supports "non-violent, thoughtful and strategic approaches that are utilizing grassroots organizing strategies to work for social change." What does that mean, exactly? It means that the foundation has a few pieces of criteria for grassroots organizations which they might be interested in funding, which include:

  • Organizations need to be grassroots in nature and "constituent led," meaning a local organization led by a diverse group of members of the community.
  • Organizations need to be focused on enacting change, which addresses systemic forces and focuses on long-term solutions.
  • Organizations need to align with what the foundation's terms of "priority strategies" like coalition building, direct action, community & ally outreach, and root cause analysis to name but a few.
Recycling in the classroom

Types of Grants and Restrictions

The foundation directly addresses the fact that they don't fund any type of organization besides grassroots, 501(c)(3) organizations. Similarly, they acknowledge that they don't fund social service agencies or organizations that are faith based or religious. In regard to their grant programs; the foundation offers one-year grants "for up to $30,000 to organizations with budgets under $500,000" through their Grassroots Organizing for Social Change grant program which is available to all areas of the United States, as well as offering several other Vermont-specific grant programs. It's important to note that all applications for these grants must be received through their online grant management system.

How to Apply for a Foundation Grant

The most important step to take when applying for a grant is making sure that your project meets the funding criteria. The reality is that in the funding world, there are a whole slew of foundations that have money for funding, but these often have incredibly specific criteria your organization has to meet in order to be applicable. The bottom line is that if you want a grant from the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, you need to make sure that your program is grassroots and that it addresses a social problem in a new and creative way which will lead to societal change. Once you're sure that you meet these qualifications, you should follow these steps:

  1. Submit a letter of interest: Submit your letter of interest to the foundation through their online grants management system before the yearly deadline; make sure you've registered your group through the system before trying to apply. On average, applicants hear within thirty days of their submission as to whether they'll need to send in a full proposal.
  2. Get invited: If your proposal has been accepted, the foundation will send you an invitation to send in a full proposal. Once you've received an invitation from them, you have up to a year to get your proposals sent in.

How Organizations Have Used Their Grants

The most inspiring part of the Ben & Jerry's Foundation's grant initiatives is getting to see how the grantees use their funds to enact serious change in their communities. For instance, the Salvation Farm used their $10,000 grant to help develop educational programming on how to make use of surplus produce in the Vermont area and brought it to places like the Department of Corrections, the Community High School of Vermont, and many others. Similarly, the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge used a $1,000 grant awarded to them in 2013 to support their Children's Fishing Clinic, which has helped thousands of children connect with a newfound love of fishing.

gardeners standing together in greenhouse

Giving Back One Grant at a Time

There's nothing more reassuring than seeing massive corporations use their profit-driven capital to bolster the health and safety of their community and environment, and the Ben and Jerry's Foundation's efforts are helping to affect real-world change across the United States every year. If you work for an organization who fits the foundation's criteria, take a couple of minutes to send in a preliminary proposal - what have you got to lose?

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Ben & Jerry's Foundation: Giving Back With Grants and Beyond