Idea File: "Awesome" way to fund your innovation

If your New Year’s resolution was to make the everyday a little more awesome, check out today’s idea incubating model. Browse more Idea File posts here.

The idea

Every month, a group of 10 volunteer “micro-trustees” from a chapter of the Awesome Foundation each shell out $100 to fund an innovative idea in their city. While the criteria is vague and guidelines are generous to say the least, the overall goal is to fund new projects that make the world more fun and happy to live in. Who doesn’t want that?


Though this is just one street in Cary, NC, the folks from the foundation are dedicated to “forwarding the interest of Awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.” Photo by moonlightbulb (Flickr/Creative Commons).

So far, they’ve helped support everything from an Indiana Jones simulator in Washington, D.C. to a rooftop beekeeping venture in Melbourne to birdhouse-sized free libraries in Chicago. Anyone with a catchy idea and the gusto to see it through can apply.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Philanthropy for the people. This crowdsourced model makes philanthropy accessible to anyone, and enables you to sidestep the complex bureaucracy of foundations when seeking funding.
  • Enticing and easy application process. Their lighthearted spin on submitting an idea is a welcome break from the usual dry, jargon-heavy grant applications.
  • Local ideas, local (free!) money. Here’s your chance to revisit those seemingly crazy ideas jotted on a napkin in your drawer, and make an impact where you live.
  • Community building. Being a micro-trustee gives you the opportunity to meet others, not to mention a direct connection to innovators in your area. Besides, imagine how good you’ll feel when you’re walking down the block and see your money put to good use?

How you can replicate it

Currently, there are 29 chapters from Berlin to NYC to Zurich. But they’d love to see more; email to get one going where you live.

If you don’t think being part of the Awesome Foundation is for you, try browsing their blog. You’ll find no shortage of inspiring ideas (like aMoment’s adorable art) to bring to your community.

Like this idea? You might also want to check out the One Percent Foundation and the Sunday Soup Network, or read our post about a secret society that tests the boundaries of philanthropy.

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Headlines: Crowdfunding; a party bus for volunteers; and more

Just a few articles that caught our attention recently:

Crowdsourcing a Better World and On the Web, a Revolution in Giving (New York Times Opinionator blog):

In the first piece, Tina Rosenberg explores “what crowdsourcing can do to help civilians contribute to social change in a way that is both useful and emotionally satisfying.” In the latter, she breaks down the strengths and drawbacks of crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose and Kickstarter.

Next Stop, Volunteering! The Do Good Bus Makes Community Service Easy and Fun (GOOD):

From the article:

For her birthday, [co-founder Rebecca] Pontius organized a party bus and noticed the camaraderie created amongst her friends just by traveling to a new location together. Teaming up with two of her friends, Hannah Halliwell and Stephen Snedden, the trio decided to combine the fun of a party bus with a service trip as a way to make volunteering easy and accessible.

Why Sting Operations Cheapen Public Policy Discourse (Nonprofit Quarterly):

NPR. ACORN. Planned Parenthood. Sting operations, writes Rick Cohen, “have reduced public discourse to the level of ‘Candid Camera.'” Cohen argues that in this era it is important for nonprofits to stay transparent; stand firm in their beliefs; keep egos in check; and correct misguided staff, improve management, and train employees carefully.


Serious stuff. Image via makelessnoise (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Send us a headline for our never-ever-exhaustive news roundup! If you read something that moved you to action or gave you hope, leave a comment below or tweet it to us @idealist.

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Groupon's G-Team: Support Causes, Cause a Scene


Illustration via the G-team site

If you haven’t heard of Groupon, it’s a pretty simple concept. It’s difficult to bargain a deal with a major retailer on your own, but if you were to team up with a couple of thousand of your closest friends, your collective consumer power would go way up. Groupon steps in to harness the power of its ever growing community (since most of us don’t have a few thousand close friends) to get businesses to offer exclusive deals in exchange for a guaranteed number of sales. In essence, Groupon is crowdsourcing a bargain.

Groupon’s new project, G-Team, will apply the crowdsourced bargain model to help connect local causes and movements to people that “want to do good, have fun, and make a real impact.” G-Team campaigns can help community organizations, fundraisers, and initiatives for social change reach a wider audience, hopefully letting you, the changemaker, “achieve something awesome that you couldn’t have done alone.”

For fundraising, nonprofits could ask the Groupon community for enough small donations to get over a programmatic financial hurdle. Host events or other programs open to the public? Consider adding a deal for registration that also has a volunteer service commitment attached.

G-Team campaigns are local, run for a short amount of time, and support causes that the Groupon community cares about. In addition, they’re only for specific projects and only succeed if they reach a ”tipping point” (just like the Groupon bargain of the day).

The pilot G-Team project is up and running in Chicago. To stay updated on its progress or to find out how G-Team could partner with your organization or cause, click here.

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Crowdsourcing in Good Times and Bad

Crowdsourcing is in the news with the recent efforts of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to create a visual representation of the widening effects of the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Using Ushahidi open source software, Tulane University students hope to empower members of the Gulf Coast community to create a real time document of oil sightings, affected animals, odors, and health effects seen from the rapidly widening consequences of the spill. Other examples of crisis management crowdsourcing popped up after the earthquakes in both Haiti and Chile, where the affected communities were called on to track the progress of relief efforts.

From the Marine Photobank (Creative Commons)

Crowdsourcing isn’t just for times of crisis though. You know those sometimes pesky “captchas” (series of letters and numbers) you have to submit when signing up on a new website or posting a comment on a blog? Many are actually an attempt by ReCAPTCHA, a project that originated at Carnegie Mellon University, to digitize old books and newspapers that computers are unable to read. Every time you submit one, you’re helping to preserve a piece of history that would have been impossible without the collective work of the crowd.

When was looking for a logo for a new community website they launched, they crowdsourced the decision making process. In this case, crowdsourcing was used as a form of engagement and a way to give the site’s users a voice in the look and feel of their future platform.

Many nonprofits have turned to crowdsourcing tools to harness the collective knowledge of their communities. A few months ago, we used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to make it easy for our community members to help us find updated contact information for organizations whose listings were out of date. This project would have taken us years to finish alone and been next to impossible without this sort of tool to manage the work of large crowds.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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