A Giving Network Makes Weekly Grants to Encourage Worldwide Awesomeness

Foundations come in all shapes, sizes, and missions, and the grants process for many is often similar. The foundation requests proposals, applicants submit them, and the foundation announces winners a few months later. And with many funders, that process may happen only a few times a year. So if you don’t win, you have to wait quite a while before you apply again.

Unless, that is, you’re applying to the Awesome Foundation. This one gives out new awards every single month. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The Harnisch Foundation thought so and decided to step it up: It formed an Awesome Foundation chapter that gives out a new grant every single week.

A few words about the Awesome Foundation first. This “foundation” is a network of 106 local and regional chapters worldwide. Each one gives out a $1,000 grant each month to a new project that addresses a social problem of some kind. And new chapters join the fold from time to time. All it takes is 10 or more people banding together, committing some funds, and filling out the prerequisite paperwork with Awesome headquarters. 

Okay, so maybe this isn't the most strategic model of philanthropy we've seen, but it's pretty cool in its own way. And it speaks to a trend we're watching these days: the rise of giving networks that mobilize money from lots of modest donors. This is a different model than crowdfunding, in which many more donors give smaller amounts, and often as a one-off response to a particular call to action. The new giving networks are often composed of individuals who stay in touch with each other and are involved for the long haul, giving at a level commensurate with their resources as people of mostly ordinary means (as opposed to rich people). 

This particular network has funded a combined 1,585 projects as of July 2015. Some projects involve women's and girls' issues. The Ann Arbor, Michigan, chapter gave a grant to Females Excelling More in (STEM) (FEMMES), a University of Michigan initiative that mentors elementary- and middle-school girls—with a focus on students of color and underserved communities—on the value of studying and seeking a career in the STEM fields. And the Armenia chapter gave a grant to a school trainer in Nerkin Karmiragbhbyur, Armenia, to start a community basketball league for girls.

This is by no means a central Awesome Foundation focus, though. Projects can be about pretty much anything, as long as they achieve a social good. Chapters have issued awards to endeavors supporting persons with disabilities, feeding the hungry, and creating enrichment activities for foster children, just to name a few.

The Harnisch Foundation—which, as we’ve described in another post, does focus squarely on creating more opportunities for women and girls—decided to get in on the action. In 2013, it created a chapter of its own and named it Awesome Without Borders (AWB).

And it’s a very different kind of Awesome Foundation chapter, in a few key ways. First is geographic scope. Most chapters fund projects that are happening in their communities. Chicago’s chapter tends to Chicago projects, London’s chapter funds projects in London, etc.

Not AWB. While its home base is New York City, its grantees span the globe from New York and every other state in the union to Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, and pretty much anywhere else where somebody is organizing something awesome. It’s got “without borders” in its name for a reason.

AWB’s second mark of uniqueness is its frequency of giving. Whereas the typical Awesome Foundation chapter funds one project a month, Harnisch’s chapter doles out a new award every week.

Now two years old, AWB has funded more than 120 projects in 29 countries, leaning heavily toward initiatives for women and girls. For example, it gave a grant to Rock Camp for Girls Montreal, a summer camp where girls and transgender and non-gender-conforming youth compose music and go to feminist-themed workshops.

The chapter likewise gave New York-based feminist author Amy Richards a grant to start up Feminist Camp, a thrice-yearly, week-long immersion course in feminist theory and activism. And it gave Washington, D.C., public-relations executive Meredith Fineman a grant to organize Celebrating Women In Tech 2015, a one-time event that brought together female tech professionals for networking and discussions.

AWB funds non-gender-related projects, too. Three U.S. researchers got an AWB grant once to study air pollution in China. And Step By Step Haiti received a grant to improve hospital care for diabetes patients who had to undergo amputations due to disease-related complications.

So if you have an idea to create new opportunities for girls and women, or address a challenge that girls and women face, Harnisch’s Awesome Without Borders just might give you some help to bring it to fruition. And you can apply for it any week of the year and get a response in very short order. That’s pretty “awesome,” wouldn’t you say?

With edits and contributions from Kiersten Marek