On any given night in 2019, more than 568,000 people in the U.S. are sleeping in their cars, in shelters and on the streets of our communities. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession continue to cause disproportionate harm to people experiencing or at risk of falling into homelessness. During this challenging time, one organization is leveraging its unique giving circle model and funding grassroots initiatives to address homelessness in communities across the U.S. and beyond.

The Awesome Foundation is a worldwide community dedicated to making the world more fun, interesting, and kind through collective giving. Fully-autonomous foundation “chapters” comprised of friends, family members, or complete strangers support awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter's "trustees" and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects that resonate with that chapter. While most chapters are based on supporting projects in a particular city or geographic region, several global chapters are focused on particular issues, such as disability or homelessness.

Formed by Jacob Kaufman in 2019 and based in San Francisco, the Awesome Foundation’s 11-person homelessness chapter awards micro-grants to individuals and groups all over the world with ideas that will benefit, aid or otherwise bring joy to people experiencing homelessness. Each month, the chapter specifically selects a grantee for whom $1000 would make a significant impact on their operations. To ensure the projects it funds receive community buy-in, the chapter asks applicants whether their idea has been reviewed by people experiencing homelessness prior to submission.

Recent grant recipients include a woman in Oakland who distributes healthy food to people experiencing homelessness in the Bay Area through her initiative Food For The People. Another is Tiny House Community Development, Inc., which sought funding to cover construction costs for its second tiny house community in High Point, North Carolina. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter funded masks for people experiencing homelessness, food distribution and coronavirus response work.

The Awesome Foundation’s collective giving model is flexible and fast, enabling chapters to distribute funds beyond established, well-resourced organizations and provide critical support to those that have seen their funding dry up in response to the economic recession. For example, when COVID-19 prevented The STEM Educational Fund (a Delaware-based organization that provides educational opportunities to girls experiencing homelessness or at risk) from its usual hands-on approach, a grant from the Awesome Foundation allowed them to switch to online robotics and computer coding classes for their participants.

The application is designed so that anyone can apply for funding — including individuals and small groups that lack the resources to submit detailed, itemized grant proposals. The Foundation’s no-strings-attached model means grant recipients are not required to submit onerous reporting or spending receipts, freeing up time and resources for these individuals and small groups to instead continue moving the needle on community issues.

“The Awesome Foundation's particular flavor of community-based, grassroots micro-giving enables more individuals and organizations to provide key services and opportunities to people experiencing homelessness,” said Kaufman. “This kind of outside-the-box funding model is crucial during this difficult time.”

As communities continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, the Awesome Foundation presents a collective giving a model that can meaningfully address crises like homelessness and housing insecurity by enabling more people to become donors and engage with issues they care about on an ongoing basis. It also provides an infrastructure to distribute funds beyond big, well-known organizations to ensure small, lesser-known people, projects and organizations are able to continue addressing the same issues.

Interested in joining The Awesome Foundation and awarding micro-grants focused on homelessness? Email homelessness@awesomefoundation.org.

The Awesome Foundation is a member of Philanthropy Together's Braintrust, a committee of representatives from more than a dozen giving circle networks across the country who inform program development and strategy for the giving circle field at-large.