If somebody handed you a paper bag filled with a thousand dollars in cash and told you to go make your pet project a reality, “awesome” is probably the first word you’d say.
Thanks to the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation, that’s exactly what happens once a month in the D.C. area.
“Basically we give a thousand dollar no-strings grant to something awesome that benefits our city,” said Shana Glickfield, the current dean of the D.C. Awesome Foundation chapter.
There are more than 60 chapters of the Awesome Foundation around the world, all independent but derived from the first chapter in Boston, which began in 2009. The D.C. chapter began two years later, with Glickfield, one of the founding trustees, taking over as dean about a year ago.
“We all meet up once a year for the Awesome Summit,” Glickfield said.
The local projects have been all over the map in terms of style. Among those funded by the group are a political tumblr of all the charts used on the floor of Congress, a project to record D.C. stories by residents and even giving locals the chance to act out the leading role in a re-creation of the boulder scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
“We’ve probably given out about $30,000 so far,” Glickfield said.
The “micro-philanthropists,” as Glickfield refers to the group, meet once a month to decide on the latest winner, each of them bringing $100 to the table. Membership changes are pretty common, especially in cities with more transient residents like D.C. Glickfield explained.
“It’s sort of a living board,” she said. “We sometimes even have guest trustees who come for just one meeting.”
As for what they’re looking for, Glickfield said there’s no rigid limit to the ideas they get and like.
“Criteria number one is that it’s awesome,” Glickfield said. “Number two is does it benefit the D.C. area? Three is will it make an impact, and four, is it immediately actionable?”
Rarely do they lack for good ideas. More often, there are good-natured arguments about which of several finalists to pick.
“People have to be passionate about their choice,” Glickfield said. “Sometimes we don’t pick any but usually we fight over a couple finalists.”
Afterward, the money is sent to the chosen project creator by someone in contact with them.
“We put the cash in a paper bag and then hand them a bag,” Glickfield said. “Really.”
Even if a project doesn’t get funded the first time they apply, if the group likes the idea, they will often encourage an applicant to try again later.
There are no tax benefits to the group, which is part of why they work in cash. Glickfield said the projects and making a good impact on the community is what makes them all excited to fork over their hundred bucks every month.
“It’s all about forwarding awesomeness,” she said.
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