Dr. Dionne Mahaffey leads ‘Awesome Atlanta,’ a funding source for creative and compelling ideas

Photo courtesy: Dionne Mahaffey

The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences is an organization that seeks to empower the community on the local scale by awarding a monthly $1,000 grant to support awesome ideas. But despite its smaller budget, it still manages a wide impact. Awesome Foundations have been popping up around the globe since the idea was conceived in Boston in 2009. There are now nearly 115 chapters in 26 countries worldwide. Atlanta was the 88th chapter and is fondly called “Awesome Atlanta”.

Nearly 1,500 projects have been funded worldwide. This wide spectrum of grants have aided the creation of public artwork, mobile applications, scientific experiments and more.

Since its launch in April 2014, Awesome Atlanta has helped strengthen the city’s entrepreneurial and creative community by supporting compelling ideas that need seed funding to progress. From chess clubs for troubled teens to literacy programs for the English language learner community to STEM and technology projects, the group feels like they have only just begun to tap into creative ideas that make Atlanta more awesome.

The founding trustee of the Atlanta chapter of the Awesome Foundation is Dr. Dionne Mahaffey. Here, she sits with rolling out to answer a few questions about Awesome Atlanta.

Why did you start the Atlanta Chapter of The Awesome Foundation?

I’ve always been a civically engaged person since moving to Atlanta 23 years ago. I was encouraged by the Boston chapter to start a local group here and felt that this giving-model was a natural fit for me and my altruistic spirit.

What is the secret to raising funds?

The concept is simple — 10 or so trustees each put in $100, the money is pooled and a $1000 grant is given to an idea that will “inspire, innovate and improve the community.” It is self-funded by us. We don’t seek grants or raise funds. We give money out of our own coffers and spread the love to others. What is interesting is that The Awesome Foundation is not a formal “foundation” — a more accurate description would be a “giving circle.”

What sets your organization apart from other foundations or funding orgs?

We award our grants to individuals or groups. What’s even more amazing is that 501c3 status has no bearing on an applicant’s “awesome quotient.” Organized channels sometimes neglect the folks with the greatest need. Red tape and bureaucracy often prevent small artistic, creative, innovative, educational, environmental and other notable projects to go without sponsorship because they are not part of an organized charity or large non-profit organization. Anyone can apply for an awesome grant by submitting a simple 300 – 1200 word application. We don’t grant money to large established non-profit organizations but small nonprofits are considered. We also don’t award money for personal usage.

How are the funds disbursed?

Well after we select our grant for the month we announce the winner. We then schedule our monthly “Awesome Hour” where we invite not only the current winner but interested applicants and other doers of good in the community to network with our trustees and one another. This event is usually held the second or third week of the month and has proven to be a premier networking opportunity for the socially conscious and philanthropic community.

How did the organization grow so quickly and broadly?

I think that the Awesome Foundation, in general is an idea whose time had come. When the organization was founded in 2009 that was same year that KickStarter launched and there was an emergence of social enterprise, social good and civic engagement. Awesome, and many other similar social-good organizations were initiated by Generation Yers. Their age group seems to be more focused on these types of projects more than those of us who came before them. My generation’s focus was a securing a nice corporate job. By contrast, the Gen Y group of “millennials” grew up with the Internet, large access to affordable travel, the urge of climate change and social disparities-disappearance-ambition. Social-good projects have started all over the world by Gen Y.

Are you looking for trustees?

Yes. We actually have a couple of openings for trustees and would love to have anyone that is willing to contribute their portion of the grant and to vote on a winner monthly join us.

How do people know about AF; how do you market?

Our website is www.AwesomeFoundation.org. We encourage local citizens in Metro Atlanta to apply for a grant if they are working on a project that needs a small cash infusion. We also do a copious amount of social networking. We are engaged across all of the channels. We are on Twitter and InstaGram as @AwesomeAtlanta. Our Facebook page is Facebook.com/AwesomeAtlanta

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