October 10, 2011; Source: Boston Globe | Behind all the chatter about philanthropic strategy is a quietly growing movement to simply fund “awesome ideas.” But there’s more to it than that. By crowdsourcing funding, the folks driving this approach are showing that ordinary people can be philanthropists too, and they can do it in ways that are simple, inexpensive, and, yes, effective.
Similar to crowdsourced private sector venture capital efforts, the Awesome Foundation began in Cambridge, in 2009, with a group of tech-savvy twenty-somethings who came together, expressing frustration over the slow-moving, bureaucratic tendencies of traditional philanthropic institutions. They decided to try something radical: give money to people who had an “awesome idea.”
The model works by having ten trustees each contribute $100 a month. Together, the group reviews submissions, and the winner is given $1,000 for their project. “The idea is so simple and devoid of moving parts,” The Boston Globe reports, “it has multiplied organically, a new nonprofit model for the crowd-sourcing generation.” Currently, there are 23 chapters globally. Moreover, “anyone can start one, and the only real rule is that there is no definition for awesome.”
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The Awesome Foundation founders aren’t completely unschooled in traditional philanthropy however, likening their donations to a “MacArthur grant for micro-flashes of brilliance.” And the group has also attracted a very traditional funding source, the Knight Foundation, which this past summer gave $244,000 to the Awesome Foundation News Taskforce, an initiative to provide microgrants to citizen journalism projects in Detroit.
As the Globe reports, “The relationship with the Knight Foundation is part of a move that appears to be taking the larger Awesome concept from cute toward serious.” One of the original trustees, for example, serves as the point person for the relationship with the Knight Foundation, and spoke at a TEDx conference, during which she outlined many of the mistakes made by traditional nonprofits working in Haiti. “The more I thought about these things and why they frustrated me,’’ she said, “the more I realized maybe the Awesome Foundation was an answer to this.’’
That may be a stretch, the Globe acknowledges, “but it’s indicative of the sort of thought that attracts people to the Awesome Foundation—the simple belief that ordinary people can create positive change outside of the establishment.” How awesome is that? Totally.—CMG