Nov. 11, 2020 2:00 pm

Awesome Foundation Philly: A peek into our selection process

"We believe no-strings-attached microgrants fill a unique gap for creative and community projects," says guest columnist Michelle Lee.


(Photo courtesy of MuralJawns Team)

Our name is quirky, but what we do at the Awesome Foundation is simple: $1,000 microgrants for any project that makes Philadelphia more awesome — no strings attached. Past grantees include art festivals, youth bike programs, anti-litter campaigns, chess clubs, and urban farms.

In this unprecedented year of 2020, some of our grant winners have adapted their projects to fulfill their missions while being COVID-safe. Our Mother’s Kitchens originally planned a summer workshop for Black girls on food and language as a means of liberation, expression and cultural preservation; they’ve doubled down on the literary side by sending books by Black women authors instead. DeclarASIAN, an arts initiative for underprivileged Asian youth, mailed curated art supply kits to teens, then hosted a virtual gallery filled with 20 incredible pieces of artwork. Embrace Family Camp pivoted from hosting a summer camp for individuals with disabilities and their entire families, to hosting virtual gatherings and creating a lending library of sensory supports.

Other projects, inherently outdoors, tap into a collective desire to connect while staying COVID-safe. The Warm Up is a series of community fitness classes in historically significant Malcolm X. Park. MuralJawns is covering the city’s walls and community fridges with murals celebrating Black lives. And that’s just a small sampler of the dozens of projects we’ve backed over the past five years.

Instagram post about Mural Jawns’s Germantown fridge. (Photo courtesy of the MuralJawns Team)

Awesome Foundation’s worldwide community includes 94 chapters in 13 countries. Within each chapter, trustees pool contributions and meet regularly to review applications and choose grantees. Although each chapter runs completely independently, we share a common belief. We believe no-strings-attached microgrants fill a unique gap for creative and community projects. Too small for institutional philanthropy but too big for individuals to pay out of pocket, a lot of awesome can slip through the cracks.

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In the Philadelphia chapter’s first six years, we’ve evaluated hundreds of applications. We wanted to share a guide for applicants to help understand what makes the best ones stand out:

1. Is this awesome for Philadelphia? Even better, is this a multiplier of awesome?

We particularly value ideas that serve the community, creating awesome for other Philadelphians. This could be an experience open to the public, such as an event or workshop. Or it could focus on a particular community, program, or school. It could be a one-time event, a multi-week series, or a permanent resource. Formats vary widely.

2. Is your plan clear and achievable?

While it’s not mandatory to submit a formal budget or timeline, we want to be confident that your vision become a reality. The more concrete your project plan is on aspects other than funding, the more likely it is that the Awesome Foundation will be inspired to award a grant to take it over the finish line.

Here are a few examples:

  • Not specific enough: “I will host an event in South Philly where students can record their music.”
  • Better: “Our recording series will be part of the 10th grade summer program hosted by High School X. At the end of the summer, the twelve public high school students participating in our program will have produced and professionally mastered their own music album.”
  • Not specific enough: “We want to help kids in our community.”
  • Better: “In 3 years, over 600 students have learned history, geography, and sportspersonship in our district-wide geography bee. This year, our all-star team qualified for the state championship in Harrisburg. $1,000 would pay for a bus ($700) and hotel rooms ($45/night x 6 rooms = $270) to get our team there.”

3. Finally, will the $1,000 grant complete the project?

We occasionally award grants to larger projects. But we believe our microgrants fill a unique gap in the local funding landscape. Therefore, we usually prefer to fund projects where $1,000 fully funds the project or significantly moves the needle, rather than contributing to a much larger budget.

Does this spark your imagination, or sound like a great match for a project you already have underway? Apply for a grant at!

Applications are reviewed every two months on a rolling basis, so you can submit an application any time. Our next wave will consider applications submitted through January 8, 2021.


Currently, our Philadelphia trustees are Megan Rybak, Grant Hartman, Michelle Lee, Lauren Lockwood, Scott Swickard, and Todd Worsham. Interested in becoming a trustee? Please reach out to


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