Howard Bowers Day Dollars Target Startup Co-ops

I think it’s safe to say that cooperators are pretty stoked about the blooming “third wave” of new food co-ops organizing and opening now. With Co-op Month coming up in October, it’s a great time to join with your members and help grow the movement with donations to the Howard Bowers Fund for Cooperatives. Every October since 1998, food co-ops nationwide have pledged to promote the Bowers Fund to their members and shoppers as a way of giving back. It’s easy! Just pick any day in the month you’d like to designate as Howard Bowers Day—then donate up to 3 percent of that day’s sales to the Howard Bowers Fund. Alternately, make a donation of any size from your co-op during the month of October.

The number of co-ops participating is different every year, the lowest in past years being 10 and the highest 49. With startups and newly opened co-ops on the rise, the Bowers Fund advisors in 2007 decided to support those efforts by dedicating the funds raised through Howard Bowers Day to grants for new and about-to-open co-ops. Over these past seven years, it has become increasingly important for each of our co-ops to make a contribution toward this growth. After all, co-ops build a better world, and food co-ops feed that world better food!

You may be interested to know about how startups qualify for Bowers grants. We basically fulfill the 5th Cooperative Principle— education, training, and information—by helping fund events and programming that are essential to the board and management of new co-op startups. Bowers advisors evaluate grant requests to see if they meet our criteria.

There are three main filters we use, and I’ll pose them as questions: Does the project promote and develop consumer-owned food cooperatives and consumer cooperative education in the United States? Does it encourage and train people to pursue careers as managers of consumer-owned food co-ops? Will education programs be offered to staff, board, and managers of the co-op?

Affirmative answers to these questions and solid proposals have allowed the Bowers Fund to award $42,235 to emerging food co-ops. The deadline for 2015 grants for startups is Jan. 15.

I personally know the impact of these funds, because, as an advisor since 2003, I talk about the Bowers Fund at Consumer Co-ops Managers Association (CCMA) conference events. That visibility means I get to hear all the deeply grateful comments about how a new co-op used its grant funds. Or, I receive happy hugs from first-time CCMA attendees who also work at a brand new co-op that got both a grant and one of the 20 Bowers scholarships. That is the highlight for me at CCMA. The enthusiasm and fresh perspective from the startup sector is totally awesome and should serve to inspire you to commit to a Howard Bowers Day promotion at your co-op this October. Let’s shoot for participation from more than 50 co-ops this year!

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