What can Mozilla Drumbeat learn from the Awesome Foundation?

Spreading love and rapid innovation through
“micro-genius grants”

What can Mozilla Drumbeat learn from “the Awesome Foundation” and its awesome mission to “forward the interest of Awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time?”

Given that Drumbeat is considering a new mini-grants program for inspiring up-and-coming Drumbeat projects, we recently put that question to the Awesome Foundation’s Tim Hwang and Elizabeth Stark. Their $1K “micro genius grants” are helping to fund everything from post-disaster communication applications to putting stars back in London’s night sky with kites and LED lights. So what can Drumbeat learn from their experience?

A recent London chapter Awesome Foundation grant winner with his £1,000 cheque

Tim and Elizabeth’s presentation was indeed awesome — you can listen to the full audio version here. Here are some of the major takeaways for Drumbeat to chew on:

Mini-grants fill a great “small dollar” niche — especially for project testing and prototyping.

“There’s lots of opportunity to get a lot of money — from the Knight Foundations of the world, etc.,” Tim explained. “But it’s actually fairly difficult to get a modest sum of money, like $1,000.  Not every project needs $100,000 — a lot of things can get done with a fairly small amount of resources.”

Sometimes you don’t need a whole donut — you just need a timbit (forgive the  Canadian-ism.) Mini-grants help fill this need, especially for projects focused on early testing and prototyping. Which feels very agile and Mozilla-ish.

Sometimes great projects don't need a whole donut -- just a timbit.

Keep it lightweight and minimize bureaucracy.

Small projects often struggle to meet the infrastructure and reporting requirements of large funders. Awesome Foundation applicants only have to fill out an extremely lightweight online application form. It’s dead simple. And there’s no strings attached.

The deliberation process can be the most interesting and exciting part.

“Everyone really does have a say in what gets funded,” Elizabeth told us. “And often the deliberation process is the most interesting and exciting part.” This seems like one of the most important takeaways for Drumbeat — in some ways, using the process of deciding who should receive the award to build participation and community is the real meat of the entire effort. AF uses the deliberation process to build face-to-face community and participation in their local chapters.  They’ve found that contacting and talking directly to the people who have proposed a project is the best way to decide who should get funded. And they’ve also learned that it’s best, where possible, for the selection committee to deliberate in person. “Hashing out a long list over email can be a nightmare.”

The money is just one small part of the larger value to projects.

The actual dollar amount is small. But winning provides more than just money — it provides promotion, connection and opens additional opportunities as well. The award is often the starting point of a larger relationship, as the Foundation connects projects to past winners and other useful contacts. They also often help projects gain traction for larger funding efforts from sources like Kickstarter.

There may be opportunities for Drumbeat and AF to collaborate more directly in the future.

The Awesome Foundation is thinking about creating funds that are more topic-specific — like “the Awesome Foundation for Research” or “the Awesome Foundation for Flamethrowers,” etc. Mozilla Drumbeat could potentially partner or play a role here, for awards specifically geared toward technology and the open web?

Ok. So what does all this mean for Drumbeat’s own potential mini-grants program?

How do we boil this down into next steps for Drumbeat’s own version of micro-genius grants? Here’s some early questions and rough ideas:

  • How ’bout we call it: “the Mozilla Drumbeat Awesome Awards.” “Awesome” is a playful word that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And gives an explicit nod to the “Awesome Foundation” grants people are already familiar with.
  • It’s not just a “grant” — it’s an “award.” And a badge. And some hands-on help. Winning a Drumbeat Awesome Award could include:
    a) a thousand bucks for your project, PLUS
    a cool community-designed award-winner badge you can attach to your project and show off on your web site or blog. (“e.g., Mozilla Drumbeat Awesome Award Winner — September 2010”)
    c) some hands-on help and coaching from the Mozilla Drumbeat team. (Which is something we should be doing for promising up-and-coming projects anyway.) Let’s learn from the Awesome Foundation’s example that the value of the award is greater than just the money.

    Drumbeat Awesome Award winners could get a cool Drumbeat-y badge to display on their project.
  • Use the selection process to build community participation and fun. This is probably the most challenging part to figure out, in terms of the precise process and mechanics. But here’s what I think we do know so far:
    a) We want to make the deliberation process as participatory and community-led as possible. It’s an opportunity to strengthen the community and refine what it means to be an awesome Drumbeat project, together. This is ultimately more important than just giving away a few thousand bucks.
    b) I think we should tie the process into our weekly community calls. We’ve been wanting to build more emerging projects and diverse voices into those calls, anyway. Having Awesome Award candidates do occasional lightning talks on their project, and then using the last Monday of every month to pick a winner would be a great way to add drama, excitement and participation.
  • c) The ultimate winners could be decided by a small jury. We can make the process of considering and short-listing projects for the award fairly ad hoc and organic. And make the discussion around who should win open to anyone. But then leave the ultimate decision up to a small jury to minimize complexity and make an executive decision?
  • We could invite Awesome Foundation members (like Tim and Elizabeth) to be on the initial jury. As a great way to help build buzz, signal collaboration between the two projects, and kick things off?
  • Past “Awesome Award” winners could then be added to the jury as we go. This could be a great way to maintain and strengthen relationships with past winners — by having them select the future winners. Over time, the jury becomes a kind of esteemed collection of Drumbeat project veterans that can share knowledge and offer guidance. And a great way to recognize and celebrate some of our most important customers and community members.
  • Look for opportunities to tie in local events? I thought it was interesting that the Awesome Foundation’s process of selecting winners ties in local chapters, and builds the idea of local community generally. Is there a way for Drumbeat to similarly tie in local events? At a project speed geek session, for example, event participants could discuss and vote on the most promising project afterward. With the winner receiving a check and Awesome Award right at the event.
  • Keep it lightweight. We need to minimize the transaction cost on us and on projects. If we create a bureaucratic or unweildy process, it’ll be too hard to do every month.
  • Let’s give it a geographic flavor. Mark has proposed that we start with a $1,000 award monthly — and include a second $1,000 award specifically for projects from Brazil. Given the importance of making Drumbeat a truly global project, this seems like a great idea to me.

What do you think? Post your feedback as comments here, or on the Drumbeat community list. Or join the next Drumbeat community call to help us move the awesome forward!

(Thanks again to Tim and Elizabeth from the Awesome Foundation for sharing their insight with us.)


  • Look for opportunities to tie in local events? I thought it was interesting that the Awesome Foundation’s process of selecting winners ties in local chapters, and builds the idea of local community generally. Is there a way for Drumbeat to similarly tie in local events? At a project speed geek session, for example, event participants could discuss and vote on the most promising project afterward. With the winner receiving a check and Awesome Award right at the event.

    I think this is probably the most important piece. Without the local, face-to-face, component — as they describe — it’s difficult to really have a community discussion about the applications. Trying to do it via e-mail or what-have-you is much less fun than meeting in person. 😉

    Three cents,


  • I’m not so certain that the symbol used for the Official Seal of Awesomeness is a good one. I’m pretty sure that hand gesture means “up yours” or “fuck off” in Brazil. Perhaps a thumbs up gesture would be a better bet.

  • I totally agree with the concept of small awards and taking a light weight approach to applying. It also sounds like the deliberation process sounds inclusive and fair, with both community and official committee participation. To be cheesy sometimes a little does really go a long way!

  • Great comments all!
    @Phillip: agreed. And could be a great way to energize local chapters! we may not be able to involve local events ~every~ month, but as much as possible seems like a good idea.
    @Jim: Totally agreed. The “seal of awesome” image in the post is really just a bad placeholder I grabbed from a quick random search. The actual badge would of course have to be community-designed to be genuinely awesome! (anyone want to have a go at early design ideas?)
    @Ekua: Great feedback on deliberation process. And keep us posted on how we can help your own project.

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