The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (BJF) was established in 1985 from a donation of stock by Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., the ice cream company created seven years earlier by Ben Cohen) and Jerry Greenfield. Cohen initially endowed BJF with $850,000 worth of his shares in the ice cream company, which in turn pledged to thenceforth give 7.5% of its annual pretax profits to the Foundation for philanthropic purposes.
A member organization of the Peace and Security Funders Group, BJF pursues its mission of “furthering social justice, protecting the environment, and supporting sustainable food systems” by giving financial support to nonprofit groups that employ “non-violent … grassroots organizing strategies” designed to foster “social change.” Such organizing, says BJF, consists of “collective action that challenges the status quo, demands changes in policy and practice, educates communities about root causes of social problems, and advocates and agitates for systemic and just solutions.”
Today BJF awards approximately $1.8 million per year to nonprofit organizations located mainly in Vermont but also elsewhere in the United States. The Foundation administers 4 major grant programs:
1) Each month, the Vermont Community Action Team (VCAT) Program awards small grants—generally under $2,000 apiece—to various community-based nonprofits, social service organizations, and cultural, recreational, and arts programs based in the state of Vermont. VCAT’s philanthropic priorities include: “under-served populations including seniors, at-risk youth, and low-income communities”; “basic human needs and the needs of underserved areas of the state”; and “organizations that are primarily volunteer-led.”
2) Each summer, the Vermont Economic Justice Program offers competitive grants of up to $20,000 to Vermont-based nonprofits that seek to “address the economic, social and environmental impacts of poverty” through “innovative programs” promoting “fundamental change” as well as “social justice and equity.” The program’s areas of interest include: “equity in education,” “access to safe and affordable housing,” “access to jobs with livable wages,” “workers’ rights,” “access to affordable health care,” and “access to healthy and affordable food.”
3) Each year, the Vermont Capacity-Building Program offers one multi-year grant (worth up to $25,000) to a Vermont-based, statewide nonprofit organization that works to “further social justice, protect the environment, or support family farms and local food systems.”
4) The Grassroots Organizing for Social Change Program—open to beneficiaries not only in Vermont, but anywhere in the U.S.—offers one-year grants (worth up to $20,000 each) to nonprofit groups with annual budgets of less than $500,000. To be eligible for one of these grants, a group must engage in “community and ally outreach,” “leadership development,” “constituent empowerment and decision-making,” “popular education,” “root cause analysis,” “power analysis,” “campaign development,” “coalition building,” or “direct action.”
Among the more noteworthy organizations funded by the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation are the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, ACORN, the Border Action Network, Global Exchange, Grassroots International, the Institute for Policy Studies, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Ruckus Society, the Tides Foundation and Tides Center, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. To view a list of additional BJF grantees, click here.
Over the years, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen, who helped establish the antiwar group True Majority, has personally endorsed and given money to a number of high-profile Democratic political candidates. These include Barbara Boxer, John Edwards, Al Franken, Tom Harkin, Dennis Kucinich, Claire McCaskill, Ralph Nader, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders. He has also made financial contributions to groups like the Progressive Majority and USAction.
Ben & Jerry’s other co-founder, Jerry Greenfield, today serves as president of BJF.