When Smaller is Better: A Look at the "Awesomeness" of Microgrants

We venture to guess that when arts organizations read articles about huge foundations doling out tens of thousands of dollars, they think to themselves, "What about us?"

And we can't blame them. They hired a grant writer, spent thousand of dollars and countless hours perfecting their application, and despite all that work, still came up short. That mammoth $200,000 check went elsewhere.

Therein lies an intrinsic problem in vying for large grants. The goal is so large (and appealing) that failure is irrationally magnified ten-fold. It's like what Sean Parker said to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network: "When you go fishing, you can catch a lot of fish, or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy's den and see a picture of him standing next to fourteen trout?"

It's human nature to want big stuff.

But encouraging news out of Boston will hopefully change this "go big or go home" mindset. In other words, there's nothing wrong with catching fourteen trout.

The distributor of small-but-nonetheless-valuable trout (metaphorically speaking) is the Awesome Foundation. Founded in Boston in 2009, the foundation's 10 trustees contribute $100 apiece to distribute a $1,000 grant to a different community-oriented project every month.

Not surprisingly, the idea caught fire, spawning 75 chapters around the world. After all, from a trustee perspective, there's no board to answer to. Proposals are evaluated not on formal criteria but by the project's, inherentand oftentimes ambiguous"awesomeness."

It's even better for arts organizations. Much like the stripped-down application process for Knight's Art Challenge grants, applicants simply answer three questions: Describe yourself, describe the project, and what you'll do with the money in 3,000 characters or less. 

Ultimately, the process opens up a whole new world of funding for organizations that lack the resources to hire a grant writer, as evidenced in Michigan, where the Awesome Foundation established a chapter in Ann Arbor in 2011 and Detroit in 2012. (Ironically enough, the Detroit chapter was initially funded by a Knight News Challenge Grant.)

One recent recipient was Detroit native Samantha Szeszulski, who was looking to expand her "Walk Detroit" project to encourage walking. She applied for, and received, funding in September of 2014.

One last thing. We're not arguing that 100 percent of arts organizations wouldn't happily accept a $1,000 grantevery little bit helps, of course. Instead, the success of organizations like the Awesome Foundation shows that communities and organizations alike are looking for an alternative to the grueling and frequently thankless all-or-nothing approach of "big fish" fundraising and grant writing.

After all, what's wrong a cool $1,000or fourteen trout for that matter?