Ben & Jerry's Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

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 youth as a central focus. Education is key, but the foundation does not give money directly to schools or school-based programs.

IP TAKE: Fitting with the populist image 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 K-12 education, 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, a post he 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 light-hearted, of course, but it speaks volumes to the way the foundation has evolved over the years.

In 1991, the foundation began a transition to 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.”

Before we go any further, the foundation explicitly states that it does not give money to "schools or programs for schools."

Rather, within its K-12 education giving, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is keenly aware of the relationships between economic justice, social justice, immigration, housing, neighborhood development and the quality of educational opportunities for youth. The foundation is therefore especially focused on supporting organizations and program work that bridges these issues and protections for local citizens—and put the power in the hands of those same local citizens to create change.

It's no surprise that support for K-12 education 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 says it will award grants up to $25,000; in reality the vast majority fall within $10,000 - $20,000. 

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

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 K-12 education grantees, including:

  • $20,000 in general operating support to Blocks Together (Chicago, IL), which works to build a grassroots infrastructure with an emphasis "developing parent leadership to work for improvements in neighborhood schools";
  • $20,000 in general operating support to Teachers Unite (New York, NY), "a movement of educators who collaborate with young people and parents in the struggle for social and economic justice;"
  • $20,000 in general operating support to Juntos (Philadelphia, PA), a Latino immigrant community-led human rights organization that focuses on education reform, college access, youth organizing, immigration, and public safety;"
  • $10,000 in general operating suport to New Settlement Apartments (Bronx, NY), a "multicultural organization of families fighting for educational justice in the Bronx;"
  • $10,000 in general operating support to Hearing Youth Voices (New London, CT), a new, "youth-led action research group dedicated to youth building collective power to fight for a better quality education."

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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