Credit unions currently serve over 110 million members in the United States. This is surprising, given the challenges associated with forming cooperatives. This paper explains how grants were used to overcome these challenges and create the modern credit union sector. Edward Filene, a wealthy 20th-century department store owner, provided philanthropic funding and technical expertise to early credit unions, resulting directly in the creation of 26,000 American credit unions over a 45-year period. Filene's leadership helped overcome the various social dilemmas associated with creating cooperatives, reforming institutions, and establishing an institutional framework that enables and supports cooperatives.