Ben & Jerry's Foundation: Grants for Marine Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation supports grassroots efforts for activism and change—with environmental problem-solving and protections at the forefront of its devotion.

IP TAKE: Fitting with the populist perception of the ice cream company’s two founders, this foundation seeks to return power to the hands of the people. So while the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is unquestionably dedicated to conservation (including that of marine environments, rivers, and other bodies of water), any programmatic work surrounding these issues must flow from an overt, strategic, constituent-led approach that also relates to their health and wellness.

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 namesake Ben Cohen. The other founder, Jerry Greenfield, was named president of the foundation. Today the foundation is led by employees, or “committee members” whose foundation activity is considered part of their overall job. The foundation seeks 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." It invests in community action, economic justice, capacity building, grassroots organizing for social change, and the environment in both Vermont and across the United States

While the foundation does not have a program dedicated specifically to the environment or marine conservation, it conducts grantmaking towards both across its grantmaking. The foundation's Grassroots Organizing Through Social Change program remains its key program for distributing U.S.-wide support. Within its environmental giving, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is also keenly aware of how environmental protections (or erosions) greatly affect the health of local residents. It is therefore especially keen to support organizations and program work that bridges marine protections with health and welfare protections for local citizens.

The foundation one-year grants up to $25,000; in reality, the vast majority fall within $10,000 - $20,000, for both general operating and project support. 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.” Past marine conservation grantees include Communities for Clean Water (Santa Fe, NM) for its "Toxic Cleanup Campaign," a public relations and community engagement campaign to "pressure policymakers" and "expose threats" to regional waters, as well as "propose positive missions"; and the AGUA Coalition (Visalia, CA), a "grassroots coalition of low-income and people of color communities, dedicated to improving water quality in the San Joaquin Valley," among many others.

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation maintains 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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