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“Concern for Community”, “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and “Cooperative Education” are three Cooperative Principles that cooperatives are paying more attention to and committing more resources for. Contributions to nonprofit and other cooperative organizations are growing as a part of our co-op’s role in the community. Contributions to community are an important part of your co-op’s image and an essential part of your future. Throughout the United States, there is a revival of “cooperation among cooperatives” among food cooperatives. The main reasons are; 1) the maturing of the natural foods sector; 2) the growth of cooperatives purchasing power in certain regions; 3) the competition for business among the natural foods wholesalers; 4) strengthening the economic value of cooperation; 5) and perhaps most importantly building our capacity to compete on many levels with While Foods and other natural foods chain stores. One of the strengths of our food cooperatives is that we are locally owned in every meaning of the word. Our co-ops are an integral part of and anchored forever in the communities we serve. That is something that Whole Foods and other chains can attempt to replicate but never emulate. How can your co-op make the commitment to “Cooperative Principles” stronger and more effective and share the success of your efforts with others? How do you also set yourself apart from the highly publicized and very effective community giving activities of Whole Foods who are often your major competition? Building a Cooperative Community Fund is the key way to set your co-op apart as the true leader in local giving. Here are some Q & A’s which will help food co-ops learn more about the potential of the Cooperative Community Fund program.

What is a Cooperative Community Fund?

A Cooperative Community Fund (CCF) is an endowment fund established for each participant co-op wherein the interest earned each year is donated by the sponsor co-op to nonprofits and cooperatives in their community. A CCF is sponsored by a local food co-op and administered by the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation.

Who can sponsor a Cooperative Community Fund?

At this time any food cooperative of any size within the USA can become a sponsor of a Cooperative Community Fund. At year end 2020 we have over forty sponsor food co-ops from many different states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin).

How much have the Cooperative Community Funds donated to nonprofits and other cooperatives at this time?

Answer: By 2020 our sponsor co-ops will have already donated over $1,000,000 to nonprofits and cooperatives in their local communities.

With the CCF being a national program how much of the income earned is donated to national groups?

Actually, none of the income earned is donated to any national groups. The CCF program is purposefully designated for local giving only. Except for the small administration fee, the entire income earned by each of the CCFs is donated to those local groups chosen only by you. We are national in strength but local in impact.

What is the dollar amount in the present CCF endowment?

By FYE 2020 there is almost $4 million in the combined endowment of our sponsor co-ops.

What are the advantages of doing this as an endowment?

There are many ways to give and the recipient obtaining funds is always grateful for whatever they get. An endowment fund is only one option among many. However, relative to the rest, an endowment fund long term is the most member driven, economically advantageous, tax beneficial and permanently sustainable vehicle.  Because your Cooperative Community Fund is held with the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation a donation by a member is tax deductible to them. A donation by the member directly to your co-op is not tax deductible. Therefore, your members will find this option of higher economic advantage than giving to the co-op. Your CCF can grow tax free year after year as an endowment whereas donations your co-op makes year after year come out of annual earnings. At a point in time a co-op could begin making all of its community donations from its CCF and no longer have to make contributions from net earnings. In difficult years for the co-op, donations would not need to be reduced as they would come from a stable source of earnings from the CCF endowment. The endowment is protected from the ups and downs of the co-op’s business and profitability. As co-ops go through various growth phases such as expansion or moving to another location there is a tendency to say we need to cut back on our donations for next year because we need all of our earnings to pay for the new store or the remodel. By building an endowment over time within a tax-exempt non-profit your co-op builds an annual cash capacity tax-free. In the long run the endowment fund is a more reliable and constant source for community giving.

What are the disadvantages of doing an endowment fund?

Every dollar available to be donated to the community can go to that purpose if you are not building an endowment fund. In that case, there is little need to plan how to increase your giving as it relates more to your co-op’s bottom line. For an endowment fund to be successful it does require long term planning and purpose. An endowment fund does require that you gather resources to achieve your long term objectives. 

What can members contribute to the Cooperative Community Fund?

Members of food cooperatives earn on average slightly higher income than the median income in their communities. Members of food cooperatives are also likely to donate more to local nonprofits than the average family in their communities. Our co-op members trust our cooperatives. Almost everything they buy from us they put in their mouths. Why would they not trust us to do just as well with the spare change they put in their pockets.

Can we expect our Co-op members to be givers?

At an earlier stage I did a breakdown of the Davis population to arrive at what giving they might do. You can obtain the same numbers for your community. Use this formula: There are 7,000 households who are members of the Davis Food Co-op. A household in the DFC is similar to a household in Davis. The annual median household income in YoloCounty (the county in which Davis is located) is $60,200. Therefore, the 7,000 households who are members of the DFC earn annually $421,400,000. If on average households donate 3% of their gross income (verified number from the foundation world) to charity then these DFC members are donating $14 million per year. Every food co-op therefore has an opportunity to attract some of that $14 million to its Cooperative Community Fund. If your CCF only obtained 1% of the giving of your members your CCF would receive $140,000 per year. Creating a program that would attract member giving allows you to approach a very attractive constituency - your thousands of members.

Could someone other than a food co-op be a co-sponsor of a Cooperative Community Fund?

While we wish a food co-op to be the main sponsor of a Cooperative Community Fund there may be good reasons for many co-ops to allow other co-op organizations to be named as co-sponsor of your Cooperative Community Fund. Perhaps your food co-op has a strong link to a local credit union, or be in the same town as a farmer co-op or electric co-op. How great if they wished to co-sponsor your CCF, co-sponsor CCF fundraising events, make annual contributions to it and mention the CCF in their newsletters. There is always strength in numbers and sharing a fund with other cooperatives in your area makes a lot of sense.

Who decides where the income earned by our Cooperative Community Fund goes?

Not us. Your co-op decides and sends that advice to TPCF. We recommend that each sponsor co-op appoint a committee from among the board, staff and members. That committee is entrusted with the task of deciding which nonprofits and co-ops to donate your funds to. We also suggest that the committee also have a role in raising funds from within your community through fund raising activities. TPCF does encourage the sponsor co-op to focus its giving on the four categories listed below.

Category & Examples of Donations


Environmental projects/Recycling/Eco Projects/Alternative Energy


Health Care/Social Service/Service Groups/Community Events

     Food & Hunger          

Alternative Agriculture/Organic Farming/Food/Banks/Hunger


Co-op Organizations, Development or Education

Do members respond to the idea of a Cooperative Community Fund?

Yes they do but only if you educate them about the CCF program. Of all the CCF sponsors, the Hanover Co-op has done the best in educating the members about the Hanover Cooperative Community Fund, what its goals are and what it intends to do. As a result, there is growing member awareness of the program. For example, the Hanover Co-op encouraged its members to donate their patronage refund checks to the HCCF. In 2002, over 300 members donated $8,000, in 2003, 455 members donated $10,749 and by 2006 members donated over $20,000 in patronage refund checks to their HCCF. Each year, more and more people become aware of the fund and each more people give their patronage to the fund. The increased response is based upon the co-op's successful effort’s to constantly educate members.

Do co-ops in other countries do anything similar?

Many cooperatives around the world make a strong contribution to their community. “Concern for Community” is in our Cooperative Principles and in our blood. Thousands of members, employees and vendors aligned with the Cooperative Group in Britain contributed $4 million dollars to their Cooperative Community Fund during 2002. A recent study of British corporations found that cooperatives far outperformed their competitors when it came to community giving. United Co-operatives has been recognized as one of the biggest givers to the community. According to a Business in the Community survey, the Rochdale-based society donated 6.7 per cent (£2.4 million) of its pre-tax profits to good causes during 2003/4. In contrast the two largest supermarket chains in Britain, Tesco (£17.2 million), Sainsbury’s (£6.1 million) all donated one per cent of pre-tax profits. United Co-operatives (serving my own home town of Blackpool) contributes annual profits to a cooperative endowment fund which now stands at $13 million dollars.

What is the best way to have members support a Cooperative Community Fund?

It takes a while to educate your membership about anything your co-op does. However, we believe that creating constant awareness of your CCF is the foundation for fostering regular member giving. Running articles and institutional ads in your newsletter, having handouts at the cash register, giving annual updates in your annual reports, adding materials to annual meeting mailings, sponsoring various events, donating money from wine tastings and raffles are some of the ways to raise and maintain awareness among members. Many of these ideas are covered in the CD TPCF has developed for the CCF program. I once counted the mention of the North Coast Cooperative Community Fund at least eight times within North Coast Co-op’s newsletter.

What is the best way to grow the Cooperative Community Fund?

Having goals and a plan to achieve those goals and being committed to those goals is the most successful way to grow a CCF. For example, the Hanover Co-op decided they wanted to build their HCCF to $250,000 by 2007. They decided on the different ways to achieve that goal in that time period and did.

Does having a Cooperative Community Fund mean that our co-op stops running the various existing community giving programs we have?

No. A Cooperative Community Fund is in addition to your existing community giving programs. It may mean over time that you reshape your existing programs so that you present a well defined consistency to your message about community giving. The Cooperative Community Fund program can help you be more purposeful and programmatic about your community giving. Many co-ops run successful programs at the cash register for specific community groups. Many of those programs have been in place for years and are a very important anticipated source of income for those nonprofit groups. However, some programs can be modified to benefit the growth of the Cooperative Community Fund. For example, a number of co-ops have a program of asking for donations at the cash register for a particular non profit each month. A CCF sponsor food co-op might arrange for its own CCF to be the beneficiary of three out of the twelve months. In the end you will be able to donate more funds to the groups you help by building the endowment of your CCF.  Or perhaps you donate 10% of the amount raised each month to your CCF. Certainly, denoting your CCF as the recipient of your Round Up program for Co-op Month (October) would be a great unifying action.  There are lots of ways to build your CCF program, without needing to eliminate all the existing programs you support.

How is the Cooperative Community Fun Program staffed?

Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation has agreed to staff the complete non profit activity, the accounting and reporting, the bank account and co-ordination among the local efforts.  TPCF will provide all the receipts required by eligible donations.  The Twin Pines Executive Director will be available to answer questions and guide each of the local co-ops in their strategies.  TPCF will generate printed materials, regular newsletter stories and leaflet copy to be modified by the local co-op.  None of this work will have to be done by the local co-op. From its own budget, TPCF is proudly contributing $25,000 a year to subsidize the cost of the CCF program.

Why use Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation rather than do it yourself?

In the long run it will be economically smarter and tax advantageous to run this activity through a tax-exempt non-profit organization rather than through your own books.  Using the North Coast Co-op example, if any existing sponsor co-op had started ten years ago and achieved the same results, we would be managing funds for that co-op of over $700,000. That co-op would be making contributions into the local communities of over $20,000 per co-op per year. We could likely have reduced cash and most other donations as a percentage of each co-op’s business expenses.  Every dollar we earn now which we give away we have already paid about 35% tax on. 

By working through TPCF you provide an attractive mechanism for encouraging members to donate to and participate in the program. In the present setting, there is minimal economic value gained by members making donations. If members did donate to local co-op programs that becomes part of your income on which you pay approximately 35% tax! This is not an efficient way to structure a donation program.

The IRS is not very keen to award tax exempt status to a nonprofit organization which is so closely linked to the marketing of a for profit corporation. The TPCF program gives you the type of organizational separation and arms length transaction that the IRS is more comfortable with.   

Our members, customers and other contributors are going to be more comfortable giving to a tax exempt non-profit than giving to the co-op. We make donations more attractive when we can give the donor a direct tax benefit. We make it even more effective when there is a two to one match gained by a dollar from a member.

What is the cost associated with running a Cooperative Community Fund?

At the end of TPCF’s fiscal year (December 31st) we deduct an administrative fee of one half of one per cent from all funds below $50,000 and one per cent for those funds above $50,000. That is the only fee charged to your CCF account. The TPCF administrative fee is one of the lowest administration fees of any nonprofit in the country. We then calculate the earnings of the fund and notify your co-op of the net income gained by the fund during the past fiscal year. By about April of each year you know how much your co-op can donate from your CCF to nonprofits and cooperatives in your community.

What is the advantage of food co-ops joining together to operate Cooperative Community Funds?

Acting together will always be more effective than operating separately. Each of our co-ops brings talent to the table. That talent through the CCF partner funds means that we all share the benefit of practicing good fundraising ideas. As the good ideas percolate they can be used by the other partner co-ops. As we grow there is also a sense of togetherness in developing opportunities. Some of this is slow to grow but over time it will be sure to happen.

 By building the CCF funds together we are in a better position to leverage funds from vendors, foundations and other groups. Many organizations pay more attention to you when you act as a group. A request for funds from one food co-op to a large manufacturer may obtain some funds. However, a request from a large group of cooperatives will likely gain more attention and therefore more funds.

How does the matching program work for new Co-ops?

Every year TPCF obtains matching funds from other cooperative organizations. TPCF makes available those matches to applicant food cooperatives. TPCF has been obtaining about $25,000 a year for matches.

 These matches are made available to food co-ops throughout the USA. The match provided through TPCF will be deposited in the Cooperative Community Fund of the co-ops invited to be sponsors of a CCF. The applicant sponsor co-op will be required to place a matching $5,000 of its own in that same fund. The CCF therefore starts off with $10,000.  From then on it is up to your co-op to use various programs to grow your CCF. A growing fund can play an important role in raising awareness of your co-op through the successful activities of your CCF.

Where are the Cooperative Community Funds invested?

We co-invest TPCF’s own funds and the CCF together. That way we can get the highest return on Jumbo CD’s and investments of $100,000 and above. TPCF/CCF is first committed to using up to 75% of the endowment funds to strengthen cooperative development. At the end of 2020, TPCF/CCF has invested about $800,000 in Shared Capital Cooperative, $400,000 in the ICA Leaf Fund, $150,000 in the Cooperative Fund of New England and over $1,000,000 in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund. We have also invested $600,000 in Organic Valley and invested $500,000 in Equal Exchange. The TPCF/CCF funds are available for developing cooperatives in all 50 states. Other TPCF/CCF funds are invested in NCB Savings, credit unions and local banks with a history of lending to cooperatives. TPCF/CCF is the largest equity investor in cooperative development organizations in the USA. The principal held by TPCF/CCF is all being used to lend to other food and housing cooperatives and land trusts. The return might be moderate but it is consistent. The CDFs have a high level of safety due to their loan loss reserves. In our 20 years of operation, none of the CDO’s we are invested in has ever lost a dollar of the money loaned to them.

Why invest in Cooperative Development Funds (CDFs) and Cooperatives when you can get a better return from stocks?

This is the one question where I wish I was there when you ask it. It is the one question that we are both pragmatic and passionate about. So take a deep breath and allow us to share our views. On the pragmatic side, we want these to be endowments and we want our members in particular to feel they are making a gift that keeps on giving. We want the endowment to grow because each last person helps the endowment become larger than it was before their gift. If the fund at any time is lower because of the market or bad trades etc, then in fact we have let that member down. Their donation is now proportionately less. Secondly, the market does go up and down and we’ll always sound pitiful when we have to say the investments have not done well lately and so the money you gave us has much less value today. 

 We want to invest in CDFs and Cooperatives because that fits our values and our vision. The CDFs are the midwives to our movement. Without them few of our co-ops could have survived. We want to encourage keeping our money rotating within the co-op movement. We want my money to build the vision we want see. The dollars TPCF/CCF invests might have a higher return if they are in the stock market but if they are there they are clearly not building cooperatives. Should we not do our best to put our money where our mouth is!

Why do the Cooperative Development Funds (CDFs) and Cooperatives want our money? 

Funny you should ask! Almost all of our food co-ops have at one time or another borrowed from a CDF. Almost all of us got our start, expanded our store, purchased additional equipment, moved to another store, built a new store, purchased another store and done it all through a CDF. Even when we all got bigger we still needed a loan from a CDF to strengthen the equity side of the balance sheet so the big banks would lend us more money. The CDFs took a lower interest rate, lower collateral, charged us less transaction cost and helped us with the big banks. Us Food Co-ops wanted to obtain the lowest cost of capital we could find and without the CDF’s we can’t get that. The CDFs give us the equity boost that is building the food cooperative movement. We grow bigger and stronger every day because we have more volume and we use that strength more effectively in the marketplace. The smaller co-ops become bigger co-ops and the bigger co-ops become stronger co-ops. By providing the CDFs with lower cost capital we are a major building block in creating greater volume which in the end translates into lower costs for each co-op. The CCF program is the largest source of capital coming from the food cooperative movement. If you look at where a vast majority of the capital comes from to fund the CDF’s it is actually not from food cooperatives. We are proud to fund the CDFs and hope you will join in investing in them.

 OrganicValley wants our money because they need capital to compete with giant factory farms like Horizon and Aurora. OrganicValley needs capital to show family farmers that they will benefit from joining OrganicValley and not buying into feed lot farming. We are the largest cooperative organization investing in OrganicValley. Our funds are helping OrganicValley recruit more farmers to go organic. We believe in the family farm because these are the values of food co-ops.

What other investment options are there for our CCF?

We have not done this yet. However, once an individual CCF gets above $200,000 in principal it can then choose to invest 25% of its principal in socially responsible investments. The sponsor co-op must pay the fees associated with the fund and must also agree that while it may keep the gains it must also shoulder the losses associated with choosing that investment. TPCF will offer a range of socially responsible funds for the sponsor co-op to choose from.

How hard does the money in Cooperative Community Funds work for cooperatives and their communities?

From our perspective we want our cooperative funds to sweat from how hard they work. Money is the root of all good as long as you put it in the right place. We consider the Cooperative Community Fund program to be a leader in a number of ways. First, the CCF program is the largest combined endowment dedicated to the local giving of our partner food co-ops. Secondly, in the spirit of cooperation among cooperatives we ask that wherever possible 25% of the donations go towards building and strengthening the other smaller co-ops in your community. Third, the policies of TPCF/CCF ensure that a majority of the principal of our endowment funds are invested in cooperative development organizations. We invest the cooperative’s principal in our cooperative principles.

Does everything have to be done the same way?

While there is often value to following certain programs, each co-op and each community is different and has different ways of approaching their community giving. Therefore, each co-op is given flexibility on how to run the program in their community. However, we encourage sponsor food co-ops to fit their giving into one of the four categories. A number of the foundations and cooperative organizations we approach have interests in specific areas of activity and it is advantageous to be able to point to our emphasis on the following four categories. For example, our Cooperative funders in particular are looking for evidence that other cooperatives in your communities might receive funding and that we invest in cooperative development organizations.

 Each co-op will choose at what level of activity they wish to have their staff support development of the local Cooperative Community Fund. We see much of the work being rote after the set up of the systems. For example if the co-op adopts a change in the paperwork of the share withdrawal form it then becomes a bookkeeping transaction. If the co-op conducts a Quarterly Community Roundup then that it does that at the cash register. We have designed the program to build upon existing co-op activities that provide a simple mechanism for the customer/member to make the contribution.

Who else supports the Cooperative Community Fund program?

On behalf of the CCF program TPCF has received grants from a number of generous sources. The MSI Fund awarded us our first grant to develop marketing material and our web site NCB/NCBDC awarded $10,000 to help us further develop the CCF program and materials and provided travel funds to participate in a number of conferences. The Blooming Prairie Foundation, the Cooperative Foundation, Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and NCB have provided matching funds to encourage food co-ops to join in the program. Recently, Organic Valley, Equal Exchange and Frontier Co-op have become our most steady match funders.

What if I have still more questions?

Call TPCF President David Thompson at 530-757-2233 or email him at [email protected]. Or contact Executive Director Cathy Murnighan, 530-753-2667, [email protected]