hipster generosity


I have loved my two years as a trustee of the Melbourne Chapter of the Awesome Foundation. The Awesome Foundation is based on a simple but effective model; 10 people put in $100 each month. We then meet (over dinner) to debate and decide which of the applicants (typically 20-30 for Melbourne, who apply online via the global Awesome Foundation portal) will receive the $1000, no strings attached grant for that month.

Firstly, and most importantly, it has been wonderful to have offered some assistance to awesome people setting out to do awesome things. But for me, being part of the Awesome Foundation has been more than an outlet for giving.

Over the years, Derek and I have allocated 5% of our operating profit before dividends and tax etc to what we have called our Make the World Better Fund. We have funded projects too numerous to mention here, including a scholarship for the university residential college we both attended to support others who think similarly – called the Ergo Make the World Better Scholarship. But the Awesome Foundation is giving in a different way.

Although collective giving is not a new thing, the internet has created a step change in connectivity between giver and receiver. It’s a great thing. Generalisations are dangerous, but I can safely characterise Awesome Foundation Trustees as smart and generous hipsters.  (Although some old farts such as yours truly are made to feel welcome.) I have loved the passion, energy and simplicity of the forum. This cohort of funders are recruited to the giving cause, not just because of the project, but because of the medium. It is agile and social and is on the digital platforms through which they communicate. I am a huge fan.

However, based on my involvement in funding and giving for a few decades now, in my opinion, there are some aspects of the hipster giving trend that have ushered in challenges for civil society. Of course it is true that traditional, larger NFPs must change with the times. But sustainable funding and the backbone revenue of many outstanding organisations come from donor loyalty expressed through long term giving commitments. These days the proliferation of organisations vying for our dollars and the overlay of crowd funding mechanisms that encourage ad hoc giving mean the competition for donations is spreading the money more thinly. Established organisations still rely on regular support. We would be hassled less on CBD street corners by backpacker fundraisers for large organisations if those same organisations could rely on recurring, loyal support from those that believe in their cause.

I have a suspicion that crowd funding platforms such as Pozible (the founder of which incidentally has taken over my spot on the Melb Awesome Foundation) have likely increased the number of people who are giving to interesting and innovative start up projects. But I think the challenge is to translate that new pool of funds into supporting those organisations that are in later stages of their contribution.

What do you think? How do you decide what to give to, and what mechanisms are working for you?

(To the fabulous Leslie and the Melbourne crew, ‘thanks a thousand’.)