Cash for Coops: Funding for Your Cooperative

There is lots of funding for cooperatives out there, but is your cooperative taking advantage of these opportunities? This update explains some of the funding available for cooperatives located in Central Texas, discovered through research done by members of the Austin Cooperative Business Association. Keep reading for a brief explanation of specific funds and how to find out more information about them.

What types of funding are out there?

Funding varies by type of funder (grant-giver) and type of cooperative eligible for funding. Keep in mind that some organizations may also be limited by geographic scope and may only fund cooperatives within a certain focus area (usually a state or region). In general, funding is much more available for charitable organizations with 501(c)(3) status. This may mean your cooperative will have to create and maintain an affiliated organization with this status to take advantage of these opportunities.

Funders: Some organizations, such as the Blooming Prairie Foundation [link] and the Cooperative Development Foundation [link], are specifically oriented around supporting the development of the cooperative economy and cooperative businesses. Other organizations, such as the CHS Foundation [link], give money to a variety of causes, including cooperatives. For the latter, if you are already in contact with or aware of a charitable organization that provides grants other nonprofits, you may wish to reach out and ask if they would also consider granting to cooperatives. In many cases, the mission of your cooperative may fall under the umbrella of the types of projects a grantor is interesting in funding, such as social justice, rural or urban economic development, or community development.

Types of coops and cooperative activity: Grants are available for many different aspects of developing cooperatives and the cooperative economy. On the one hand, some funds are specifically for cooperative education and leadership training, for example the Cooperative Development Foundation’s Shirley K. Sullivan Fund. Some organizations, such as the Cooperative Foundation, have funding for research in cooperatives, including development of educational materials, and for national or local events. When looking for a grant for your cooperative, make sure to read the fine print – not all organizations that are funding cooperatives are funding your particular type of cooperative or the type of work you are doing or looking to do in the future.

How do I apply? What will make my application more successful?

Funders are generally not interested in or able to providing grants for a cooperative or non-profit organization’s general operating costs or staff salaries. Instead, grants are usually tied to projects of a specific budget, scope and length, so that the funders are able to measure the success of their grant money. Keep this in mind when applying – the more specific the project and the more well-thought out the proposal seems, the better your chances of having a successfully funded grant, and a good relationship with the funder.

If you have a project in mind already and have a rough budget already created, it may be a good idea to send a Letter of Inquiry to various organizations right away, instead of waiting to submit a longer (and less personal) grant application. The Letter of Inquiry will allow you a chance to connect directly with a funder, and will allow them to hear from you in your own words. It is also easier and quicker to put together than a full length application. This means you can get a basic “yes” or “no” from the organization regarding the feasibility of funding your project before having to put in the effort to fill out a full application.

While each grantor has a different deadline and set of specific materials necessary for their applications, in general all applications will have common elements: an introduction to your organization and your project, a budget that details the money you are requesting and how it will be used, a plan for how you will measure the impact of your project and the funding, and information about the people (staff, volunteers, etc.) who will be carrying out the project. You should be prepared to provide, in detail, pertinent information about your organization to the grant-maker.

Grantspace has more information about how to successfully apply for grants.

A Sampling of Grantors and Funds

The categories are loose groupings of the types of cooperative activities the funders will give grants to. Some organizations give grants for a wide variety of activities.

Housing Cooperatives

·    The Cooperative Development Foundation

o   The Revolving Loan Fund “The Revolving Loan Fund of the Cooperative Development Foundation is interested in receiving proposals for predevelopment loans to support the development of cooperative housing and related services for older persons.”

o   The Kagawa Student Co-op Reinvestment Fund (Now administrated by the Campus Cooperative Development Corporation). “The Fund is governed by a board of advisors from the student cooperative housing community and makes loans to student cooperatives for the purchase and rehabilitation of property that is or will become student cooperative housing.”

Workers Cooperatives

·      Surdna Foundation “The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States -- communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.”

o   Strong Local Economies Program: Business Development and Acceleration. “Support the development and expansion of social enterprises, employee-owned cooperatives, and other alternative business models. We are seeking grantees that can help replicate and build successful models, shape best practices, and expand these models through incubators, technical assistance, networks, and capacity building.”

Food and Natural Products Cooperatives

·      The Blooming Prairie Foundation. Created by the members of the Blooming Prairie Warehouse Cooperative (now dissolved) with the purpose of educating and enlightening buying clubs, cooperatives and privately owned businesses. In addition the Blooming Prairie Foundation makes grants to non-profit, charitable organizations that conduct any of the following activities:

o   Developmental, research, and educational efforts in the organic industry and the cooperative community;

o   The development of organic and natural products; and

o   Cooperative development in the natural products industry.

·      The Ralph K. Morris Fund – Elroy Webster Cooperative Studies Fund.

o   “This Fund provides financial support to graduate students or law school students enrolled in an agricultural cooperative program or that can demonstrate how their field of study would relate to or benefit the agricultural cooperative industry.”

·      The Cooperative Development Foundation “The Cooperative Development Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 charitable family of funds that advances economic development through cooperative enterprise.”

o   The Howard Bowers Fund “strengthens the food co-op community through grants for training and education for members, staff and board members.”

Cooperative Education and Research

·      CHS Foundation The CHS Foundation is a network of farmers, cooperatives and ranchers that calls itself a “leading global agribusiness.” It provides funding for:

o   Innovative programs that make use of current cooperative education resources and technology

o   Programs that demonstrate collaboration with other organization involved in cooperative education

    o   Programs that employ participation fees, in kind donations, matching funds andother investment support from outside organizations

o   Projects targeting youth and college aged students, young producers or the general public

·      The Ralph K Morris Foundation.

o   Cooperative Leadership Fund and the Cooperative Leadership Fund Organizational Grant “The Ralph K. Morris Foundation Cooperative Leadership Fund provides financial support to help cover costs associated with training, professional development and educational programs for rural young leaders interested in the future of cooperatives and rural communities.”

·      The Cooperative Development Foundation “The Cooperative Development Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 charitable family of funds that advances economic development through cooperative enterprise.”

o   Shirley K. Sullivan Fund – “The purpose of the Fund is to promote the professional development of cooperative communicators. The Fund does this through educational grants to attend professional development seminars or classes and other leadership development activities.”

·      The Cooperative Foundation Focus is on certain states (not including TX) but they do offer grants to orgs outside of their regional focus area.

o   The Cooperative Foundation encourages grant applications that support the development of education materials serving the needs identified in the Cooperative Inventory Survey Summary. These are: Research in cooperatives; Development and distribution of cooperative education materials and programs; Attendance at cooperative education programs through support of the Ralph K. Morris Foundation; Sponsorships of events related to cooperatives; and National event sponsorship limited to $1000.

Social and Environmental Justice

·      Resist “Resist is a foundation that supports people's movements for justice and liberation. We redistribute resources back to frontline communities at the forefront of change while amplifying their stories of building a better world.”

o   General Support Grants (up to $4000)

o   Multi-Year Grants

o   Technical Assistance Grants ($500)

o   Emergency Grants (up to $1000)

o   Accessibility Grants (up to $4000)

·      The Cooperative Development Foundation

o   Co-op Disaster Recovery Fund “CDF’s Co-op Disaster Recovery Fund aids cooperatives and members impacted by disasters and promotes co-op enterprise in recovering areas.  This money is to help cooperators rebuild their lives, to help cooperatives re-open to serve their members, and to promote cooperatives as a tool for rebuilding and economic development. CDF works with the local cooperative leadership and cooperative development organizations with projects in the affected countries to be sure that funds are distributed to cooperators and cooperatives most in need.

·      New Economy Coalition

o   Youth and Frontline Regranting Program. “Supporting organizations, projects, and collaborations that advance visionary alternatives to the extractive economy (this includes but is not limited to cooperatives, land-trusts, participatory budgeting, community-owned renewable energy, liberatory culture, etc.). Supporting (new economy) organizers and organizations who have historically been significantly under-resourced, especially youth, students, and marginalized communities”

 Many other foundations and grant-giving organizations exist. One great resource for finding them is at the Texas Grants Resource Center at the University of Texas at Austin. There you will be able to access a database maintained by the Foundation Center, access other resources and attend workshops.