Traditionally, big money in politics bought you a big voice and big power, but small donors are becoming increasingly impossible to ignore as a force. How can movements and campaigns dependent on small donors be accountable to them while remaining cohesive and effective?
In July 2009, I helped start an organization called The Awesome Foundation in Boston. The basic idea is 10 “trustees” get together every month to pick the most awesome project submitted. That project then receives $100 from each trustee to create a $1,000 grant with no strings attached. We see this as filling a gap in philanthropy in which it’s nearly impossible to find small amounts of money for inspiring ideas that fail to fit into established categories of social good.
While we deliberately maintain no specific criteria for awesome projects, we have come to appreciate certain qualities that recur in the projects we fund. The following are five key qualities of awesome that I rely on, and how they are reflected in one of our earliest grants to Lee Altman’s “Eco-pod Armada” project involving easy-to-assemble aquatic phytoremediation devices to clean New York City’s East River.