Jesse Chan-Norris and Lee-Sean Huang

Now, the founder is a Trustee at Awesome Foundation New York. That’s a really great feeling to know that he was committed to our investment in him that he wanted to give back to others….

Awesome Foundation New York

Twitter: @awesomenyc

On a rainy, wintry mix filled Saturday afternoon, I spent time with Lee-Sean Huang (L) and Jesse Chan-Norris (J) at a tea shop in NYC.  Both were integral to launching the Awesome Foundation Chapter five years ago in New York City. It has flourished under their leadership. Here’s what we discussed about their ordinary philanthropy:

What inspired you to get involved with The Awesome Foundation?

L: At first, it was an interesting social experience. I’m not on a board of a nonprofit so the draw was about more than just sending in a check to a nonprofit. It was a part of being involved and hands on with something meaningful each month.

J: For me, it was social as well. I moved to NYC in 1999 and it was a different city than it was today. There was more serendipity. You would stumble upon a pillow fight. Now, there more people taking photos of it than actually participating. We’re trying to inject more moments of a-ha back into NYC life! We’re a group of people doing interesting things, experimenting with funding awesome projects.

The Awesome Foundation is a broad network. Can you tell me more about how it’s organized and its reach?

J: We’re in nearly every major city and each chapter is autonomous, with approximately 10 trustees per chapter who each give $100 per month. That pooled $1000 is given to a grantee each month based on the chapter’s decision. We’re part of a global network – there’s even an Awesome without Borders which takes applications from everywhere. We have global summits which address micro philanthropy and giving overall.  They have taken place in Boston and Ottawa. It’s amazing to see how far people have traveled for them from Australia and Liverpool! Through these conversations, we’re exploring micro-philanthropy and models for community.

L: Every Foundation takes the shape that makes the most sense for them. So for example, in Connecticut, there are 5 couples who have started one and it’s like their version of a Tupperware party. It’s great to learn from chapters across the world. We find our Trustees from these connections and introductions. When fellow Awesome Foundation NYC trustee Christina Xu and I were in Rio, we hosted a dinner for local friends and acquaintances, many of whom formed the Rio chapter which is still active.

Can you tell me about the decision making process once someone has applied.

J:  It varies per month. We could get a dozen applications some months, other times, it’s 100 applications each month. We decide as a group who to fund.

L: Sometimes, we would call the applicant in the middle of reviewing their applications. But, no one ever picks up their phones these days. So we review their documents in advance and send questions now. If we’re uncertain about an application, the Trustee who is the most passionate about the idea is tasked with finding out more and making the case for it.

What is a memorable project you have funded?

J: There are so many to choose from. They are all incredibly unique. I really can’t pick just one. Subway Sets which brings music from the NYC underground to rooftops around the city stands out though. We just founded a project with mobile showers for Homeless – Showered with Hope.

L: I have so many favorites that we’ve funded. That’s what I love about getting to pick each month. There was a retreat for couples which was unique -it was a guided adventure through an abandoned honeymoon resort a short distance outside of  New York. I love the Acoustic Guitar Project which set out for a guitar to have a physical and musical journey. There are now instruments in New York,  Helsinki, Haiti, and Latin America.

J: Yes, we believed in him and thought he could take it to scale. That’s all he needed was for someone to believe in him.

L: Now, the founder is a Trustee at Awesome Foundation New York. That’s a really great feeling to know that he was committed to our investment in him that he wanted to give back to others.

Do you keep in touch with others recipients who you fund?

J: It’s no strings attached. We ask for updates, they stay on our email list, but it really depends on the project. That being said, there really are many who we are in touch with.

L: We have happy hours and events for the grantees, Trustees, and others interested in The Awesome Foundation – sometimes people participate in that.

New York City is a big place. Have you ever thought of expanding – what’s next for the Awesome Foundation Chapter here?

L: Yes, we’ve thought about should there be a Brooklyn or Queens chapter, but we like the fact that what’s unique is we are bringing all people together from the boroughs – that doesn’t always happen here. If we do have another chapter, it would be a new community that we haven’t tapped into yet – perhaps kids and philanthropy?

J: I’ve always wanted to do a Podcast. There’s so much we want to do, it’s just making the time to do it, we do this as volunteers.


Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.

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