Next gen philanthropy case study: Awesome Foundation

Philanthropy is changing, especially for the young, hip (and often with cash to spend) who aren’t interested in the traditional ways of gala events and golf tournaments.

Awesome Foundation

Forwarding the interest of Awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.

I first heard about Awesome Foundation when a member of the Toronto chapter was interviewed on Q on CBC (Jan 31).

The basic premise is that 10 people (in one city, or around one idea) commit to giving $100 a month. People/organizations with awesome ideas apply online for a $1,000 grant, using possibly the shortest and simplest grant application in the history of the world. The members of the foundation pick one, and give the $1,000, no strings attached.

This project first started in Boston, but has since spread to many other cities, including Ottawa and Toronto in Canada. I’ve submitted a pitch for a Vancouver chapter. Contact me if you’re interested in being a Vancouver chapter donor.

Why this is awesome

Low barrier for grant applicants

No requirements for charitable status or registration as a nonprofit. Super short application. Not a huge waste of resources if the application doesn’t pan out.

Direct impact by donors

The chapter members get to see what awesome ideas are being cultivated in community, and directly support them. While there is no expectation of reporting back by grantees, smart grantees will follow up and invite granters to connect with the awesome project further.

Growth of social capital

Not only are chapter members giving directly, they are being exposed to and potentially connecting with a broad range of awesome within their communities. And the resulting relationships may go beyond financial. Some chapters try to help runners-up with connecting them with in-kind donations instead of money. Money is not the only philanthropic commodity with value – connections can be just as important.

The n0t-as-awesome side

Not just for community

This isn’t really a bad thing, but it’s important to note this isn’t just about warm fuzzy community stuff. It’s about awesome stuff. This might mean an idea from a band, a researcher, a business. Which, on the awesome side, encourages innovation and awesomeness from the community sector. The bar gets raised for everyone.

Pooh-poohing operating costs

While not disallowed, “maintenance fees for established charities and foundations” are said not to generally be chosen. I see how these sorts of things aren’t sexy and awesome, but they are most important in order to strategically and sustainably move social change forward. But that’s not the focus of this foundation, awesome is. Other donors and foundations play the operational funding role.

No charitable status

While tax benefits aren’t the only reason people donate, it is one of them. Currently the Awesome Foundation isn’t actually a registered charity, and therefore cannot provide tax receipts for donors. However, if the chapter members did choose a project proposed by registered charity, I suppose they could arrange a tax receipt through the organization directly.

Diverting money from other organizations

One could argue that members of the Awesome Foundation may be shifting money to this project from somewhere they are already donating, thus leaving their former recipients that much worse off. This could very much be likely. I would also argue that members likely give when they weren’t already giving, or giving more than they had before.

Next Gen Philanthropy

Younger donors have expressed interest in generating ideas and strategy, being connected to organization leadership including board members, and being generally more engaged. Gala events and golf tournaments aren’t going to cut it for much longer when it comes to cultivating donors.

While many young people have more time to give than money, there are also many young professionals with less time, but more money. What a great way to engage money and minds for good, with little time commitment.

I think the Awesome Foundation presents an example of how currently existing organizations could act as incubators for innovative giving. I’d love to see community organizations have their own next gen philanthropic circles. No more stuffy catered events. More genuine engagement with ideas and leadership. The fact that the Awesome Foundation was even founded points to the fact that there are people with money to give who aren’t satisfactorily being engaged.

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