Restaurants, grocery stores, bodegas, discount stores, and lots of other retail stores are reopening now that most folks have been vaccinated (although vaccination numbers in BIPOC and rural communities are dreadfully below those in White urban communities).

In honor of our reunification with our old companions, the shopping carts, this month we’re talking about philanthropy from Big Box retailers (Target, etc.) and Big Bag grocers (Hy-Vee, etc.).

Big Box Funders: Grant Applications Are With Soap and Detergents

Three “Big Box” retailers –Target, Wal-Mart, and Big Lots – have all recently announced big changes in their corporate and foundation giving programs. All of these affect you.


Walmart has several new processes, such as an online application process through CyberGrants, and new definitions of its four giving areas: Creating Opportunity, Advancing Sustainability, Strengthening Community, and Center for Racial Equity.

Two big new interests are Retail Opportunities (how to use retail work as job training, economic development, and entrepreneurship partnerships), and Healthier Food for All.

Walmart is keeping the local store grants, but organizations may only submit a total of 25 applications and/or receive up to 25 grants within the 2021 grant cycle (what am I going to do with this 26th application?), but they’ve done away with the state-by-state giving deadlines. Rolling deadlines begin February 1 and end on December 31.


These are LOCAL grants, awarded only to Minnesota groups (with a focus on the Twin Cities). According to the Foundation’s press release, “The Foundation will prioritize support for organizations which:

Strengthen networks, coalitions, and movements: Driven by the understanding that social change is complex and is not solely in the purview of the nonprofit sector or the mission of a single organization, collaborative networks of organizations within a field, as well as across sectors that are aligned around a common agenda, are an important condition of success

Pursue systems change through advocacy, policy, and communications: Given the scale of challenges relative to any foundation’s resources, efforts to effect social change need to address policies at the local, state, and federal levels that will inevitably affect the region. This requires reliable data, effective messaging, engaged and empowered residents and strong advocates.”

TRANSLATION: We have four interest areas:

  • Entrepreneurship and Small Business – training, financial services, and network building
  • Workforce Development – career pathways and job training
  • Housing – affordable,, fair and just housing, and sustainable home ownership
  • Asset Building – financial education, financial supports, and services.

Hometown grants will range from $25,000-$200,000. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the Target changes, you’ll have to wait until late fall, or early winter to apply, as the current round ended on June 2nd.


Big Lots has stores in the metro area, but no offices or regional distribution centers, so we aren’t a big funding focus.

Big Lots is a new and relatively struggling corporate giving program. You can tell they’re struggling by the fact that there is no actual foundation, just a corporate giving program that uses the foundation name. Most corporate giving newbies also don’t announce their past recipients and don’t give their grant range. We think it’s better for a corporation (or any funder) to provide this type of information which tends to limit requests. You can also tell they’re new because they have twice as many “ineligible” criteria as “eligible” criteria.

Nevertheless, they are making grants and if the Google search for “Big Lots grants” is any indication, most are in the $2,500 to $7,500 range. The next grant round ends July 1. It helps to have a Big Lots associate involved as a board member. (When Walmart had a similar preference, one of our clients walked into a store and signed up the woman in charge of the pet section as a temporary board member). These are Big Lots funding priorities:

  • Healthcare • Improving healthcare through research and education • Providing preventative education and care • Providing affordable, critical medical care
  • Housing • Preventing families or individuals from losing their housing • Providing affordable, stable housing • Providing emergency shelter for families and individuals
  • Hunger • Providing nutritious food or meals • Providing emergency food assistance • Educating families or individuals about the importance of healthy eating
  • Education • Providing service-learning curriculum that aligns with education standards • Promoting servant leadership through academic and experiential learning • Improving classroom learning outcomes through innovation.

Big Bag Funders: Clean Up on the Philanthropy Aisle

The “big bag” picture of mega grocery chains in Minnesota has changed in the last couple years:

  • Rhode Island-based United Natural Foods Inc (UNFI) ate up two of Minnesota’s favorites grocery stores: SUPERVALU and Cub Foods
  • SpartanNash merged with Minnesota’s largest and oldest wholesale food company, Nash Foods, making SpartanNash the fifth largest food distributor in the U.S.
  • Des Moines-based Hy-Vee projects that the Twin Cities will now be its largest market
  • Meantime, Aldi, Fresh Thyme, Target, Costco, and Trader Joe’s and other chains have all made inroads in the Minnesota retail grocery market.

Let’s face it, grocery stores work on the slimmest of profit margins, so we don’t see a lot of cash philanthropy from this sector. But here’s a quick view down their philanthropy aisles.

  • SpartanNash awarded 58 grants worth $750,000 since 2018 to Minnesota groups
  • UNFI Foundation just 3 reported Minnesota grants worth $20,000 in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to Farmers Legal Action Group and the Minnesota Food Association. Like nearly every other grocery store, UNFI also has a big food donations program. We expect to see a much bigger giving program in the next year or so
  • Hy-Vee has no published grants in Minnesota, but they have a food give-away program, charitable store programs, and a big scholarship program in Des Moines and other markets. Expect MN students to get part of that action soon
  • Aldi has more than 70 stores in Minnesota (second only to Cub Foods). Like many European owned companies, Aldi isn’t big on corporate giving, but they do have the Aldi Smart Kids program, with a focus on kids’ health and well-being: food insecurity: and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs
  • Costco has Warehouse (aka stores) Donations for smaller local groups and grant applications for larger groups. The Costco Foundation is all about personal care for employees and their families. No cash there for your group.