Ben & Jerry's Puts Power in the Hands (and Voices) of Women

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Vermont-based ice cream company, was established in 1985 with a gift of stock from one of its namesakes, Ben Cohen. The other namesake, Jerry Greenfield, was named president of the foundation (a post he still holds to this day; he has joked that he was appointed because he missed the first meeting when positions were decided.) Jerry’s claim is a light-hearted one, of course, but it speaks volumes to the way the foundation has evolved over the years.

In 1991, the foundation began a transition into an employee-led group, one that's fully realized today. The work of “committee members” (Ben & Jerry’s employees who are on the grant selection teams) is considered part of their job at the company. As the foundation’s Director of Programs, Rebecca Golden, put it: “Our internal decision-making structure reflects our core commitment to empowering and elevating the voices of those traditionally without power.”

The foundation's giving history shows that it views women, especially those who are low-income, immigrant, and minority, fitting within the definition of "traditionally without power."

Given the ethos of this company, it's not surprising that the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is keenly aware of the relationships among economic justice, social justice, immigration, public safety and incarceration. Therefore, when it comes to women, the foundation is especially focused on supporting organizations and programs that empower and give authentic voice to women, to help them lead efforts to bridge these issues and create protections for themselves and their communities.

This occurs through a grant program the Ben & Jerry's Foundation calls Grassroots Organizing Through Social Change, the foundation’s key program for distributing U.S.-wide support. Grants come in good-sized chunks. The foundation states it will award grants up to $25,000; in reality the vast majority fall within $10,000 - $20,000. 

The foundation only funds programs that are unquestionably grassroots-driven, focusing “on the types of activities and strategies an organization uses for creating social change rather than on the specific issues the organization is addressing” with a Theory of Change that “people most affected by a problem are in the best position to determine the solutions.”

These guiding principles are evident in the foundation’s recent women-focused grantees, including:

  • $20,000 in general operating support to Families for Justice as Healing (Roxbury, MA), which "speaks from the perspective of incarerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children, advocating for community wellness alternatives";
  • $15,000 to Citizens for Safety (Jamaica Plain, MA) for its LIPSTICK program, which "organizes women to prevent their daughters, friends, neighbors, etc. from buying, smuggling and storing guns for people who can't get guns legally";
  • $10,000 to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (San Francisco, CA) for its Across the Walls initiative, which "involves regular visits by teams to the California women's prisons tolink prisoners to the development of campaigns to challenge abusive conditions" and "support positive reentry strategies."

To learn more about the organizations supported by the foundation, explore its Grantees list.

Not surprisingly, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation has an open grant application process, with two LOI deadlines each year (typically April and October) for its Grassroots Organizing for Social Change program.


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