How to give, awesomely

Jennifer 8. Lee Dec 7, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Our series on philanthropy continues today. The whys and hows behind our giving. Coming up, we’re going to hear how daily deal companies — think Groupon and Living Social — are getting into the charity business.

First, though, we’re going to go small. Really small. The philantrhopic buzzword you hear a lot right now is micro grants, turning a tiny amount of giving into something big.

Commentator Jennifer 8 Lee has some experience.

Jennifer Lee: What could be more awesome than spreading awesomeness? The Awesome Foundation‘s mission is to increase awesomeness in the universe one microgrant at a time. It’s ordinary people giving ordinary amounts of money to make extraordinary things happen.

Here’s how it works. Every month, each group of 10 or so people get together and give $100 each to create a $1,000 grant that they give out to something that they think is an awesome idea.

This kind of microphilanthropy has helped fund giant hammock in Boston Commons, swings in Los Angeles, rooftop bees in Melbourne and a map of kisses in Toronto.

The Awesome Foundation started in 2009 in Boston, but has now grown to 29 chapters on four continents in cities like Calgary, Melbourne, and Berlin. When Awesome Pittsburgh was launched, the city of Pittsburgh declared Oct. 18th “Awesome Pittsburgh Day,” how awesome is that?

I helped start Awesome Food, which funds Awesome food-related ideas around the world. So far one of the projects we funded is Concrete Jungle, a group in Atlanta that picks fruit from trees in abandoned lots, washes them, and gives them to homeless shelters.

Now ask yourself, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…” — and fill in that blank. That is your Awesome Foundation proposal. Or if the answer is, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were an Awesome Foundation chapter where I live?” Find nine or so friends. You too can further awesomeness in the universe.

Ryssdal: Jennifer Lee is a journalist and the author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.” Send us your comments.

Ryssdal: Here’s another view of charity, from the repeat giver’s point of view.

Chara Gafford: My name is Chara Gafford. I’m a chef and culinary instructor. We do give every year. I do try to choose organizations that are in our community, because I think that that’s one of those things that ties us back to our communities. Obviously, in a down economy, we can’t rely on the people who don’t have work to give back, so the people who do have work have some sort of responsibility. Our giving tends to be percentage-based, so if you have less, then you have less of a responsibility. I don’t turn to somebody who has very little and say, ‘Why aren’t you giving more?’

That was Chara Gafford from Houston, Texas. She came to us through our Public Insight Network.

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