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Mini-Granting Is Awesome

It may just be serendipity (or you know, Google controlling my every life experience) but I keep hearing about this group called the Awesome Foundation. First it was a story about the Seattle chapter and then a few days later, while listening to the radio I discovered a new chapter was opening right here in my city.

The Awesome Foundation concept is sort of a mix between micro-granting and investment clubs. Ten people get together and commit to donating $100 every month. Then they distribute $1000 monthly grants. There isn’t a lengthy application process and you don’t have to be an established charity. If you have an idea and $1000 will help you get to the next step, they want to hear about it.

They draw a distinction between themselves and most granting organizations.

“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. They give quarterly, twice a year, or only once a year. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone involved, from the applicant to the grant winner to the institution’s program officer to the board of directors.

The foundation’s success has to do with the simple formula. It’s not like big charity where the experience of being a donor is that you give money and aren’t sure where it goes. Our trustees know where the money goes. They’re really invested in the success of these small projects.”

This resonated a little with a post Diane Ragsdale recently made about funding decisions on her Jumper blog.

It’s time to start asking ourselves the disruptive questions. Does it make sense to subsidize large resident theatres and not commercial theatres? Does it make sense to subsidize professional theatres and not amateur theatres performing in churches or high school gymnasiums? Does it make sense to subsidize those that are most able to garner patronage from wealthy, culturally elite audiences? […]

We’re rather protectionist in the U.S. nonprofit arts sector because we know, or at least suspect in our gut, that if we start measuring intrinsic impact—testing our assumptions about the impact of the art we make— we might find out that there is greater intrinsic impact from watching an episode of The Wire than going to any kind of live theatre. Or we may find that small-scale productions in churches or coffee shops are just as impactful (or more so) than large-scale professional productions in traditional theatre spaces. Are we prepared, if we find this sort of evidence, to change the way we behave in light of it?

It made me think that programs like Awesome Foundation might contribute to the prototype for a new funding model where funding is directed to more of these smaller scale efforts. This is the sort of thing existing funders probably know they ought to start to do but haven’t found the will and the way to do it. Once small scale funding models like Kickstarter, Kiva and Awesome Foundation reach a critical mass, then it becomes easier for everyone to say that clearly their practices should be shifted in this general direction.

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