Activism is at our core: The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation

In addition to our efforts as a company, Ben & Jerry’s created a foundation in 1985 to support grassroots organizations across the country making positive change in their communities.

December 10, 2014


Employees voting thumbs up or down around a table.

The Employee Grantmaking Committee voting “thumbs up/thumbs down” on a grant proposal.


At Ben & Jerry’s we believe the biggest impact we can make on the issues that matter most to us is how we conduct our business every single day. This belief is behind our decision to use ingredients that are Fairtrade Certified and non-GMO sourced, and is at the heart of our campaigns supporting issues like marriage equality and GMO labeling. In addition to our efforts as a company, Ben & Jerry’s created a foundation in 1985 to support grassroots organizations across the country making positive change in their communities. The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation operates as a separate organization, but Ben & Jerry’s employees from all corners of the company vote on which initiatives receive grants from the organization.

The Foundation got its start nearly 30 years ago when, in 1985, Ben & Jerry’s had a public stock offering to support its ongoing growth. The seed was planted with an initial gift of 50,000 shares by co-founder Ben Cohen and an unprecedented decision by the company’s Board of Directors to commit 7.5% of annual pre-tax profits to the foundation, much to the eye rolling of many on Wall Street. Today, the Foundation receives an annual allocation adjusted upward annually based on volume of ice cream sold. So the more Ben & Jerry’s ice cream you buy, the more the Foundation has to give away!  In 2014, the Foundation received approximately, $2,600,000. These funds are distributed in the form of grants to support grassroots organizations and initiatives both here in Vermont and throughout the U.S.

Almost immediately after its establishment, the Foundation’s first trustees were overwhelmed with all sorts of requests, many involving programs offering direct services to individuals. It became obvious that the greatest impact would be felt by using the Foundation’s small grants to support organizations enacting change at the root of the problem rather than by trying to mitigate symptoms. The Foundation supports grassroots groups using common principles of social and environmental justice and human rights, that are led by those that are most impacted by the problems they are trying to address.

In 1991, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation transitioned into the employee-led structure that continues today. The shift reflected Ben & Jerry’s core commitment to putting power in the hands of the people, and that the Foundation should be grassroots and community-powered just like the organizations it supports. The Foundation runs several different grant programs, and each program has a committee of 12-15 Ben & Jerry’s employee volunteers that make the funding decisions for that program. We can’t thank our employees enough for their dedication to the philanthropic mission of Ben & Jerry’s. Their hard work was recently recognized with the 2014 Impact Award from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

Chances are your community has grassroots organizations established or in their inception that could benefit from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. Maybe you’re even an active member of an applicable organization. The Foundation’s grant application page outlines all grant guidelines to help potential applicants determine if their organization is a good fit.

For Vermont-based organizations, the Foundation has several grant program choices. If your organization is based outside of Vermont, but within the United States, you may be eligible to apply through our national program, the Grassroots Organizing for Social Change grant program. The list of all recent Foundation grantees is also a great resource to learn about grassroots organizations in your community who could use volunteers and support.