The concept is simple: Every month, 10 ordinary people meet up and donate $100 each. Then they give out a $1,000 grant to fund an idea they think is awesome. There’s no bureaucracy. No administrative overhead. No strings attached. No delusions of saving the world. Founded in Boston in 2009, the Awesome Foundation’s mission is simply to “conserve, sustain, and support the worldwide ecosystem of awesomeness.”
So far, they have done much to fulfill that mission. Projects they have funded include a “laser space heater” that targets a specific part of the room, a guy who throws unexpected “guerrilla” music parties using a sound system strapped to his bike, and a former sculptor who travels around with a portable welding machine, fixing what is broken in the city. Skeptics who say these tiny acts of awesomeness can’t possibly add up to much should consider this: More than 45 autonomous “Awesome Foundation” chapters have cropped up around the world. In Calgary, a man got a grant to show classic movies at a mattress factory. In Melbourne, Awesome trustees funded “Poo Power!” which turns discarded dog feces from parks into renewable fuel. Awesome has even bloomed in Mongolia, where trustees reward inventors who harness wind power.
This weekend, these dispersed groups are converging for the first time at an Awesome Summit in Cambridge to brainstorm about how to support the creation of even more awesomeness in the world. Along with groups like Kickstarter.com and DonorsChoose.org, Awesome trustees are part of a larger movement of “citizen philanthropy,” which is driven by decentralized organizers and grass-roots giving rather than the familiar roster of wealthy philanthropic institutions.
On Monday, Awesome trustees will meet like-minded organizations at MIT to discuss how to improve this new style of giving. With all the excitement over these wacky innovations, it is important to remember that these new, Internet-savvy groups don’t replace the old-fashioned charities that shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. Nor do they pretend to. Indeed, that just might be the most awesome thing about them. They have no overhead, no payroll to meet, and no stress if a particular idea doesn’t work out. They do what they do out of the sheer joy of doing it. That turns out to be the most awesome motivation of all.