Give Where You Live: Impact of a Cooperative Community Fund

175 November-December 2014

When cooperatives work together to set aside funds to benefit groups in their local communities, the impact is multiplied. That’s what food cooperatives have discovered when they have established their own cooperative community fund through the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation’s “Give Where You Live” campaign.

The funds typically start with a food co-op investing $5,000, and its investment is matched by the foundation or its cooperative partners. Currently, 30 food co-ops in the U.S. have established their own cooperative community fund (CCF).

One of those cooperative partners is Organic Valley, a national farmer-owned co-op with headquarters in LaFarge, Wis. They’ve made $30,000 in matching grants to Twin Pines for food co-ops wishing to create their own community funds. “This is cooperation among co-ops,” said Jerry McGeorge, vice president of cooperative affairs at Organic Valley, describing the program. “We have a rich history ourselves of trying to be responsible community members. We saw this as an opportunity to extend our reach and help other co-ops fulfill something important to them in their community,” he said.
With an initial fund of $10,000, those food co-ops have the opportunity to build their fund and the capacity to donate the interest earned to local community groups. It’s a win-win-win for cultivating co-op capital, for bringing people together at communal fundraising events, and for serving the needs of a wide range of people.

The Hanover Consumer Co-op in Hanover, N. H., established its fund in 2001 with a matching grant, and currently its endowment is over $300,000. Their goal is to grow to it to $1 million, so that the annual interest earned for distribution has even more impact. “The Hanover Cooperative Community Fund (HCCF) does double-duty,” said Terry Appleby, the co-op’s general manager. “It helps co-ops, and it allows us to give a portion back to our community.” The HCCF is grown and sustained through a number of cooperative events, including a walk-a-thon, a golf tournament, and proceeds from a wine sale; during Co-op Month in October, all of the earnings from the co-op’s Community Partners Program go to the HCCF. The HCCF donations support free medical and dental services as well as senior and food programs in Hanover.

On the West Coast, the BriarPatch Co-op Community Market in Grass Valley, Ca., has seen its CCF grow to $90,000 in over a decade since its launch. Their fundraising activities have included raffles, bring-a-bag donations, silent auctions, benefit concerts, asking co-op members to donate their patronage dividends, and partnering with fair trade distributor Equal Exchange to donate 2% of specified product sales to the co-op community fund. Their fund has supported 45 organizations in their community that are working to protect the environment, create farm-to-school programs, offer social services and food assistance, sponsor garden projects, teach English as a second language, and much more. There is virtually no part of the co-op’s community that has not been assisted by its fund.
Stephanie Mandel, the marketing director at BriarPatch, said, “People at our co-op feel good about it and like being part of something bigger than themselves by helping others through the fund.” She said that all of the efforts, big and small, on behalf of the community fund have contributed to promoting a community spirit and caring for others. Mandel also noted that because of the way the community fund is structured, the money will continue doing good in the future.

The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation is celebrating 50 years as the longest serving foundation for consumer cooperatives in the United States. Mandel said that BriarPatch is a direct beneficiary of the foundation’s long-term vision. “It was the determination of people 50 years ago that we are benefiting from today. You should know that your efforts today to establish a cooperative community fund through Twin Pines do matter,” she said. Appleby concurred, “It’s an inspiring organization.”

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