OVERVIEW: The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the philanthropic arm of its ice cream company namesake, is devoted to supporting grassroots efforts for activism and change—with environmental problem-solving and protections at the forefront of its devotion.
IP TAKE: Fitting with the public perception of the ice cream company’s two founders, this foundation seeks to put power in the hands of the people. So while the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is unquestionably dedicated to the protections of animals and wildlife, any programmatic work surrounding these issues must flow from an overt, strategic, constituent-led approach.
PROFILE: 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. It's a post he still holds; he says he was appointed because he missed the first meeting when positions were decided. Jerry’s claim is light-hearted, of course, but speaks to the way the foundation has evolved over the years.
In 1991, the foundation began a transition into an employee-led group, fully realized today. The work of foundation “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.”
Indeed, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation mission statement is “to engage Ben & Jerry's employees in philanthropy and social change work; to give back to our Vermont communities; and to support grassroots activism and community organizing for social and environmental justice around the country.”
In that statement, “environmental justice” is listed last, but in terms of the foundation’s giving, it’s a focus that is unquestionably first among equals. Support of organizations and projects that protect animals and wildlife are included in this arena of the foundation’s giving.
This support occurs through its Grassroots Organizing Through Social Change program, which is 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, for both general operating and project support.
While we’re on the financials: The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation only funds nonprofits with annual operating budgets of $500,000 or less. Related to those operating budgets, 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 animals and wildife grantees, which include $10,000 to the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project (Flagstaff, AZ), which, through constituent advocacy, works to reintroduce the endangered Mexican wolf into the Grand Canyon region, as well as $14,000 to the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (Gloucester, MA), a group of community-based fishermen, fishworkers, and allies who seek to "protect marine environment while strengthening communities that depend on fishing."
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.
Rebecca Golden, Director of Programs