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Rather Awesome

From “Easy Money” in City Arts Magazine of Seattle, WA:

The Awesome Foundation was founded in 2009 in Boston by a guy named Tim Hwang. He came up with the simple formula of 10 people giving $100 each that is handed out as grants on a monthly basis. It went from the one chapter in Boston to four chapters to 12 chapters. Two years later, it’s at 30 chapters.

The Awesome Foundation does high-frequency, low-stakes grant-making. Most grant-making institutions do high-stakes, low-frequency grantmaking. They often think big about initiatives and form multiyear commitments with their grantees. [...] The foundation’s success has to do with the simple formula. [...] Our trustees know where the money goes. They’re really invested in the success of these small projects.

Needless to say, grant-making of both stripes is key to the success of the philanthropic community. But as an interesting thought exercise, what makes the Awesome Foundation both awesome and appealing? As we discussed on Monday, philanthropy becomes more compelling when the results of it are very clear. “Clear” can of course mean measurable, but it can also mean immediate or tangible. In the case of the oral history project and light festival funded by the Seattle chapter, the 10 funders can understand (and see) the precise results of their commitment; as appealing as the frequency, perhaps, is the extra-direct nature of the support.

But the phrase “low-stakes” might be a bit misleading. True, $1000 is not a large grant by the standards of most foundations. But it can have an awesome effect when an organization’s budget is scarcely more than $100,000. As this model smartly demonstrates, a small group or a small foundation can accomplish a great deal when teaming up with a small, high-impact non-profit. For some good examples, look at the wish lists of our non-profits. Quite often, $1000 is a mid to higher-priced item. Say, a full training session on dating violence for the DC police with Break the Cycle or a month’s worth of art supplies for the young artists of Life Pieces To Masterpieces. It’s rather awesome.

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