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

The Cooperative Development Foundation was created in 1944 in the wake of World War II. First known as The Freedom Fund, the organization helped in the reconstruction and development of overseas cooperatives in Europe in the post-war era. The following year, CDF wrote the check that created the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE), which provided economic relief to war-torn Europe. Nationwide Insurance Vice-President Murray Lincoln was CARE’s first president, now known and recognized worldwide.

In the 1980′s the Freedom Fund was renamed the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) and with that new name came a focus on domestic cooperative development. Our mission is to promote community, economic, and social development through cooperative enterprises.

CDF’s Mission: To promote self-help and mutual aid in community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprise.

The following list describes the nature of that grant and loan activity, as well as some of the other program initiatives in which CDF engages on a regular basis:


Howard Bowers Fund for the food cooperative community:

  • Scholarships for food co-op staff and board of directors training

Jacob Kaplan Revolving Loan Fund for senior housing cooperatives:

  • Pre-development financing from a revolving loan fund for affordable senior housing cooperative projects, in both urban and rural settings

Kagawa Fund Revolving Loan Fund for student housing cooperatives:

  • Gap financing from a revolving loan fund for acquisition of, or repair of student housing cooperatives

MSC Fund for cooperative solutions for rural seniors:

  • Grant awards for feasibility studies and technical assistance for innovative cooperative development initiatives that address the needs of seniors in rural America

Sullivan Fund for cooperative communicators:

  • Provides funds to support the participation of cooperative communicators in education programs such as the Cooperative Communicators Association Institute, Graduate Institute of Cooperative Leadership and other cooperative programs.

Disaster Relief Fund for cooperatives

  • In response to natural disasters, CDF raises fund to be used for economic and community recovery, repairs to cooperative businesses, cooperative education, and the creation of new cooperative businesses as part of the total recovery from these disasters

Programs and Services

Cooperative Hall of Fame:

  • Annual recognition of outstanding cooperative leaders through the Cooperative Hall of Fame ( );

Educational Programming and Outreach:

  • Educational programming that both enables networking among co-op development practitioners and raises awareness about cooperatives in the public policy arena

Fiscal Agent

  • Serves as a fiscal agent for organizations engaged in cooperative development

Grant Management for independent cooperative foundations

  • The Cooperative Development Foundation provides grant management for The Cooperative Foundation ( ), a private foundation, providing support for cooperative education, research and development.


  • The Cooperative Hall of Fame is the major fundraiser for CDF.
  • CDF also raises money for their efforts in cooperative development with their annual 5k race held during Co-op month (October).


Leslie Mead

Leslie Mead

Executive Director
Mead has 30 years of experience with cooperative organizations, most recently serving as president of The Cooperative Foundation, a private foundation based in St. Paul, MN. Through her leadership, The Cooperative Foundation was an early supporter in the emerging worker cooperative field. The Cooperative Foundation is also the primary funder of the National Cooperative Education Inventory and Needs Assessment being conducted by Southern New Hampshire University. Mead began her career with the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, raising from assistant general counsel to the positions of vice president for legal, tax and accounting policy and vice president for education. She also served as the executive administrator of the Association of Cooperative Educators, an international organization of cooperative educators and developers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Drake University in Des Moines, IA and a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University School of Law — Bloomington. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband and two sons.

Ellen Quinn

Ellen Quinn

Grants and Funds Manager
Ellen Quinn taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire, now again the Congo. In Washington she worked for the National Geographic Society, trade associations, and the SUSTAIN project housed at the National Cooperative Business Association, before joining CDF in 1996.

Cassandra Durand

Cassandra Durand

Events Coordinator & New Media
Cassie is a graduate from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in American Studies and a concentration in Media Studies. She has been working in the events industry for over 12 years, and has recently entered the fundraising and non-profit sector.

History of the Cooperative Development Foundation

Created in 1944, CDF was first known as the Freedom Fund.  It focused on the reconstruction and development of European cooperatives in the post-war era, an initiative that engaged the entire U.S. cooperative community.  One of CDF’s most significant investments was a $30,000 grant to help launch Cooperatives for American Relief to Europe.  Today this organization is Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere, better known as CARE.


In the 1950’s, CDF turned its attention to the development needs of Third World nations.  In partnership with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, CDF established a permanent office in New Delhi.  Founded on the concepts of self-help and mutual aid at the grass roots level, the programs developed by the India office became the blueprint for cooperative development in Latin America, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and Africa.  Over the years, CDF invested over $1.5 million in India and, in partnership with U.S. fertilizer, dairy, and oilseed cooperatives and the leading Indian cooperative organizations, helped create three of the largest cooperatives in Asia at the time.


CDF began to shift its focus to domestic cooperative development.  It established the Worldwide Co-op Partners program to capture the human and financial resources in the U.S. co-op community and matched them with specific cooperative projects in the U.S. and Third World countries.  This program was the predecessor of the VOCA (Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) part of today’s ACDI/VOCA.  CDF helped launch the University Center for Cooperatives at the University of Wisconsin, which has trained thousands and performed valuable research about the cooperative business model.


In the 1970s CDF consolidated its programs.  It launched a project that started five cooperative organizations to serve Native Americans in Arizona and New Mexico.  CDF assisted in the creation of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which brings cooperative development to some of the country’s poorest counties.  CDF partnered with the Ford Foundation to launch a cooperative housing training institute that was run by the Cooperative Housing Foundation to train co-op housing organizers, managers, and directors.


Housing for seniors was a CDF priority in the 1980s and 1990s.  CDF created two funds to provide pre-development financing for cooperative housing for seniors in rural areas:  the $700,000 Parkin Fund and the $1 million Kaplan Fund.  The Parkin Fund was a $350,000 grant from the Retirement Research Foundation plus a $350,000 revolving line of capital from NCBDC and the Kaplan Fund was a $500,000 grant from the Joel Kaplan Fund plus a $500,000 line of credit from NCB.  The Parkin Fund made 34 pre-development loans totaling $2,219,383 and created 149 units of senior cooperative housing.  The Kaplan Fund made 48 pre-development loans totaling $279,991 and created 632 units of senior cooperative housing.  While not all projects went to construction and some loans were converted to grants, valuable lessons about senior co-op housing in rural areas were learned.


CDF was instrumental in the creation of the Homestead Housing Center, a national effort that led to the development of 334 units of senior cooperative housing in 16 rural communities.  CDF received a grant from USDA that resulted in a report and a how-to manual on senior cooperative housing.  CDF was heavily involved in the National Rural Cooperative Development Task Force that recommended to Congress that it fund the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program to create a national network of cooperative development centers.  This network is now CooperationWorks!. For several years, CDF provided CW with assistance in networking, administrative support services, publications, and visibility.  United Co-op Appeal (UCA), the Kagawa, Kagawa Student Cooperative Reinvestment, NCBA, Frank Sollars, Howard Bowers, and Shirley K. Sullivan Funds were all established in this decade.


The Mutual Insurance Foundation donated its assets of over $2 million, which now comprise CDF’s MSC Fund, to CDF during this decade.  This dramatically reshaped the organization and brought about a new focus on cooperative solutions for rural seniors.  The MSC Fund made 12 grants totaling $251,055 for various aspects of senior cooperative housing in rural areas from education of member/owners to conversion of mobile home parks to the feasibility of a purchasing co-op of senior housing co-ops.  The Kaplan Fund made three loans totaling $313,600 for 125 units of senior co-op housing in CA and MI.

CDF hosted a public forum affiliated with the White House Conference on Aging in December 2005 and commissioned a report, which was submitted to the Policy Committee of the White House Conference on Aging.  The Committee added it to the official record of the Conference and a number of the forum’s recommendations are in the Conference report that was sent to the Administration and Congress.

CDF made its Disaster Recovery Fund permanent so it would be ready to aid U.S. and overseas cooperators rebuild after natural disasters.  The Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund gave their disaster fund to CDF’s Disaster Recovery Fund.  A bequest from a Chicago cooperator became CDF’s CDF Fund, which is for innovative projects that do not fall under CDF’s other funds.  The Jim Jones Fund was started in honor of the 2009 Cooperative Hall of Fame inductee.

2010 - Present

In the fall of 2010 CDF received its first of three Rural Cooperative Development Grants from USDA.  These grants have enabled CDF to greatly expand its work for rural seniors, especially in the areas of housing and home care.  With these grants CDF has educated cooperative developers, economic developers, public officials, and others in the cooperative model; helped convert senior rural manufactured home parks to cooperative ownership; established a website section for senior cooperative information; produced studies of the multi-stakeholder model in Quebec and Cooperative Care in Wisconsin; and begun work on feasibility studies on multi-stakeholder home care cooperatives in Wisconsin and “housing with services” home care cooperatives in Florida.

The NCBA and Sollars Funds were combined to create the Co-op Innovation Fund.