February 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

Detroit Soup: Fundraising by, for the people

Check out Detroit Soup
Check out Detroit Soup: Detroit Soup is a micro-granting Sunday dinner where five bucks gets you soup, bread, salad and the opportunity to vote for your favorite of four projects--artistic, educational, profit, not-for-profit, as long as it benefits Detroit.

When you hear the word "philanthropy" what do you picture? A dot com billionaire? The (insert old-wealth family name) Foundation?

These days philanthropy is being fueled by regular folks funding local projects they feel a passion for. And their modest contributions really add up for projects that may need only a few hundred (or thousand) dollars to get off the ground.

Doing this online via sites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter is easy enough, but what if you'd like to feel more personally involved or would like to meet face to face with the artist/educator/entrepreneur who will use your money?

Detroiter Amy Kaherl has an answer: Check out Detroit Soup.

Detroit Soup is a micro-granting gathering where attendees pay $5 at the door for a simple meal of soup, bread and salad. They listen to pitches from four presenters, get to ask them questions, then vote for the project they feel is most deserving. The winner gets the pot.

Since Soup's food and labor are all volunteered, that means grantees get the "door" plus what diners spend on beverages and any amount they may kick in for good measure.

Rent and general operating expenses come out of an $80,000 grant the Knight Foundation awarded Detroit Soup in September.

Detroiters give to Detroiters

The first Detroit Soup raised $110.

This month, 31 dinners later, Soup celebrated its third anniversary with its largest grant yet. The crowd of 325 diners gave the winning project $2,147.15.

"We started Soup with 40 people," says Kaherl, 31, Detroit Soup's current director. "Now we're averaging 300 people." They come from all over, but a recent show of hands revealed 60 percent to 70 percent were Detroit residents.

"If I do the math ... we've probably had between three and four thousand people experience the dinners," she says. "That's really beautiful to me."

February's grant went to Chica Chat Workshops, a program to empower girls to form positive relationships and combat teasing and bullying.

Soup gets seven to 18 proposals each month that Kaherl and her cohorts narrow down to the four who will go before the diners.

People like to support projects that go beyond the individual and have an impact on the larger community.

In the past Soup awarded funds to Fresh Corner Cafe, a for-profit business putting fresh, prepared foods into neighborhood groceries, liquor stores and gas stations. The fifth-graders of Plymouth Educational Center ChangeMakers used their grant to revitalize the park and playground next to their school.

"Our business (DCH Apparel, a student silk screening enterprise) won Soup back in December," says Justin Williamson, 16, of Detroit Community High School. "It gave us money to buy the screens and the shirts. It really helped us out."

"I'm proud that we've made a platform for Detroiters to give back to Detroiters," says Kaherl who lives in the city's Woodbridge neighborhood. "It's by the people and for the people."

Humble beginning

Detroit Soup started in Feb., 2010, when artist Kate Daughdrill teamed with musician Jessica Hernandez to bring an idea she'd seen work in Chicago back to her own town. According to sundaysoup.org there are 173 soup groups operating worldwide from Portland, Ore., to Kyoto, Japan.

Here in Detroit, Soup began with 40 diners in the loft space above Hernandez's family's Mexicantown Bakery. That first Soup dinner was a brain storming session. A few months later Soup awarded its first grant.

Kaherl has worked with Soup from the start, and when the two founders needed to move on in 2011 she was a natural to take over. She's seen Soup outgrow two locations and moved it a few months ago to Detroit's Jam Handy Building on E. Grand near Brush. The huge open space of the former automotive film studio easily accommodated February's 325 diners.

"That's what's so beautiful about this city," says Kaherl. "We might look dirty and gritty and beat up and abandoned, but this city is full of so many wonderful people."

Detroit Soup is a micro-granting Sunday dinner where five bucks gets you soup, bread, salad and the opportunity to vote for your favorite of four projects. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
The gathering, which started with 40 diners in a loft over the Mexicantown ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
“We started Soup with 40 people,” says Amy Kaherl, 31, Detroit Soup’s ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)