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Charitable Opportunities & Decision Making

It's no secret that we work a lot with our community, and it’s one of the most enjoyable and heartwarming aspects of belonging to the Co-op. It’s not always easy to make decisions about which causes to support. The resources of the Co-op do not belong to a limited few; there are over 34,000 people who make our ability to give possible, and there are probably just as many causes that are important to all of you. Funds are limited, so it’s important that we are good stewards of the resources you collectively provide. That means we have to apply some strict criteria. If you are curious about all the different ways we support the community or how your organization can find support, here’s a round-up of the many avenues we offer and some insights into our decision making. 


Let’s start with the program you hear about every time you check out: Community CHIP, our flagship register campaign. The Community CHIP program is a partnership between our Co-op and Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW), a membership nonprofit addressing social, economic, and environmental problems through grassroots activities, advocacy, research, and public education. When you say “yes” to CHIP, the cashier adds a 1% donation, or a value of your choosing to your purchase. The Co-op collects the money and sends 100 percent of the contributions to CSW to support their member nonprofits. Because the Community CHIP program is a part of CSW, all CHIP contributions are tax deductible. Last fiscal year, we donated almost $250,000 to CSW thanks to your contributions. 

There are about 60 to 70 501(c)3 nonprofits in CSW, and CSW is responsible for accepting member organizations. The Co-op takes no part in selecting participants. We occasionally receive feedback from our customers regarding specific organizations who are members of CSW, and we redirect that feedback to CSW. The majority of your feedback has been positive, and your continued strong support through the registers demonstrates the Community CHIP program remains worthy of our support. If you are uncomfortable supporting CSW due to a particular organization’s participation, you may contact CSW directly at csw@communityshares. com, and if you would like to make a larger donation to a specific CSW member, CSW makes it really easy to do via their website, where you can make either general contributions to CSW or contributions to individual or multiple CSW members. Find out more at 


Occasionally we provide opportunities to make additional contributions at the checkout line. We do not offer additional register campaigns often, and we limit the types of causes that are eligible for register support. Causes for additional register campaigns are limited to natural disasters, and very specific campaigns that focus on efforts of a local 501(c)3 nonprofit, 170(c)(1) government entity or a Wis. Chapter 185 cooperative that relate directly to our mission or ends. 


All requests or suggestions for these types of register campaigns are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and we do not fundraise for individuals; only the types of groups listed in the paragraph above are eligible. Sometimes requests are denied purely due to timing. For example, we made a decision this past summer to support the efforts of Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank when Louisiana was recovering from severe flooding that left many food insecure. Your generosity raised $30,000 for that cause within six weeks, which was simply amazing. Unfortunately, while we were raising money for Louisiana, other events occurred around the world: earthquakes in Italy, and Hurricane Matthew, for example. We were unable to support these causes at the registers because we didn’t want to further dilute the commitments we had already made by offering too many causes at the registers for support. We’ve learned from experience that too many choices at the registers creates confusion, and sometimes that leads to providing less or no support. We are always more than happy to help you find resources for personally giving to whatever cause matters most for you, regardless of whether it’s a campaign we can feasibly organize in our facilities. 


Since 1992, the Willy Street Co-op has contributed $367,000 to local nonprofits and cooperatives to support developmental and educational projects for our community. The fund is seeded when Owners who have become inactive and have not claimed their equity after three years either abandon or donate their Fair Share equity to our Co-op. Community Reinvestment Funds (CRF) are allocated annually by the Board of Directors in accordance with our bylaws that stipulate unclaimed or donated equity that has been abandoned be dedicated to educational and charitable purposes. Grants are awarded to 501(c)3 and/or cooperative organizations working on projects benefiting Dane County with priority given to projects benefiting the Madison and Middleton metropolitan areas, organizations with limited access to funding, and projects that have not been funded by CRF previously. 

The Board of Directors has allocated $35,000 total funding for Fiscal Year 2017. Grants are competitive, and we typically fund about half of the applying organizations. Over the last three years, the average award provided to each organization has been $2,175. Decisions are made by a committee that includes one to two Board Directors, two employees, and three Owners-at-large. Applications are available on our website and the deadline to apply is February 28th. For more information, visit www. 


We also offer small donations to 501(c)3 nonprofits, 170(c)(1) government entities, and cooperatives. We receive an average of 400-500 requests for small donations such as gift giveaways and cateringeach year. All organizations seeking donations for events are required to submit requests through our online donation form with at least three weeks’ notice to process each request. While that sounds like a long time, there are a few things that we need to consider for each request: which departments and staff are involved in providing what was requested; when those departments have staff available to complete the request; and if, or when, we will have enough product available to make the donation without depleting the supply we have available for our customers. 

All organizations are strongly encouraged to read our Donations Policy prior to applying. We give directly to organizations and we refrain from contributing to third-party fundraisers, teams, ad hoc groups and individuals. Since we budget a specific amount for donations each year, it is possible that donations may be turned down due to the number of times one organization has asked for funding in the budget cycle. The average small donation we make each year per organization is $200. Visit for more information. 


Each store supports two neighborhood food pantries: East supports the Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry and Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, North supports Bread of Life Food Pantry and The River Food Pantry, and West supports Lussier Community Education Center and Middleton Outreach Ministry. As we reported in November, in the last fiscal year, your nonperishable food donations provided just over 9,000 pounds of food to the community. 

Occasionally, 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations request to collect other non-food-related items for community members, and we support offering those opportunities in our foyers (for example, just recently, Autonomous Solidarity Organization collected presents for children through their Santas Without Chimneys drive). Interested organizations are encouraged to contact us in advance, as we only allow for one collection drive at a time. During certain times of year there may not be enough room in our foyers to accommodate requests. 


Many 501(c)3 nonprofits take advantage of the opportunity to greet customers outside the stores and talk abouttheir causes. Interested organizations may table any day for up to four hours between 11:00am and 7:00pm, and we require at least one week’s advance notice to make the reservation and notify staff. Reservations are first come, first served and may be denied or restricted due to scheduling priorities or other reasons. Some organizations choose to collect items or food for their causes while tabling, or choose to table in conjunction with other efforts for their organization at the Co-op (to raise awareness about Community CHIP, or the Pantries of Plenty Campaign, for example). Some organizations also ask to sell items. When approved to sell product, we ensure the organization is fundraising for themselves. When approved to sell food, we ask that the food is produced in a commercial facility and in accordance with preparation and packaging standards for public sale. 


Street Pulse is Madison’s Homeless Cooperative Newspaper. We are proud to partner with Street Pulse and provide space for their vendors to sell their paper to our community. Vendors who are cooperators in Street Pulse sell the paper as a means of professional development. The face-to-face time they spend talking with you about the paper and selling the paper directly to you is part of their business model. As it says on their website, “A Vendor is a person that have [sic] chosen to help themselves. They are homeless or marginalized and are trying to work their way up into a better position in their life.” Vendors sign an agreement at the location of their choosing, and select a shift from 10am-12pm one day a week per location. If you see a vendor outside the store, make sure to say hello, and if you have questions about Street Pulse, you are welcome to contact Executive Director Robert Huffar at exdirecter@gmail. com. 


Our third annual holiday Pantries of Plenty Campaign just came to a close. At the time of writing, we raised $7,885 for the six neighborhood food pantries we support all year through our food donation shelves. These pantries will each receive one-sixth of the total funds raised in Co-op gift cards to purchase products that are hard to come by during the winter season. Thanks for your support! We look forward to sharing with you the final total from the campaign in February. 


A few weeks ago, we began selling $10 yard signs that say “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” in English, Spanish, and Arabic. The signs originated from a Mennonite Church in Virginia, and with their permission Geneva Campus Church (GCC) has been reproducing the signs in Madison. The $10 fee covers the cost for the sign, plus 50¢-$1 extra to cover any additional cost (shipping, etc.) so that the church does not take a loss on producing the signs. Any additional monies raised will support FairShare CSA Coalition, a local nonprofit that promotes community supported agriculture. The Co-op will be sending all money to FairShare CSA, who will then disburse money to the church as they need it to produce more signs. We opted to sell these signs on GCC’s behalf because they had a message that is in line with the Cooperative Principles, benefits the entire community, and is not politically partisan. If you are part of an organization producing yard signs, post-cards, stickers, buttons, or something else to support your cause and space allows, we would gladly entertain your proposal. All proposals are reviewed case-by-case. 


We are currently investigating even more creative opportunities for our Co-op to give, either through purchases, at the registers or via our annual budget, and we are excited to be close to having some new opportunities to share with you soon. We look forward to providing you with new avenues to support yourcommunity. Thank you so much for supporting your Co-op and for providing us these many wonderful opportunities to give to important causes. Have a charitable new year, everyone! 

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