$5,000, no strings attached

Nadia Asparouhova
4 min readApr 3, 2017

When I was in college, I faced a pile of unappealing job opportunities, things that required polishing my résumé to a pyrite gleam and praying for the thrill of being rewarded with a title like “Junior Analyst”.

In addition to the job slog, I’d made two Hail Mary bets. One was for a Fulbright research scholarship, to study microfinance institutions in Indonesia (my mother’s home). The other was for a Compton Foundation fellowship, designing a project around climate change investing.

I didn’t get the Fulbright. But I did get an interview with the Compton Foundation.

The Compton Foundation is a modest family foundation, based in San Francisco. They flew me out on the morning of my 21st birthday. I’d never been to the West Coast before.

Standing in front of the Ferry Building on a sunny day, my first thought was “holy shit, this a real place”, followed by “I need to move here”.

I was awarded a $36,000 grant to design a project of my choosing. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was all mine.

My grant came in two payments of $18,000 apiece. The process was simple: they mailed me checks, and I cashed them.

I’ll never forget standing in the bank deposit line, staring at the check in my hand for $18,000. I was a college student with less than $1,000 in my bank account. I had never held a check like this before. And somebody had mailed it to me because they thought I had a good idea.

It’s been nearly a decade, and that feeling hasn’t left me. So today, I’d like to pay it forward. I’d like to offer three $5,000 grants* to someone else out there, no strings attached.

It’s not a ton of money, but I’m hoping it might give someone out there the push they need to make an interesting contribution to the world.

*Thanks to a donor for matching my $5K gift and making it possible to offer two grants initially. After publishing this post, Eric Ries generously offered to sponsor another grant, so now we have three grants!

****NOTE: Applications for this are now closed. See http://www.heliumgrant.org/ for next year’s application. Thanks for your interest!****

The Q&A

What type of project are you looking for?

Whatever you can’t stop thinking about.

I’d like to fund something that’s personally meaningful to you, whether that’s moving to the city of your dreams, building a better mousetrap, or bringing strangers together.

I’ll also prioritize projects where:

  • Funding isn’t readily available for this kind of project
  • You have a unique take on the project, or your backstory is interesting
  • Impact extends beyond the life of your project (ex. new program vs. one-time event)
  • Timeline is shorter (ex. 2 months) vs. longer (ex. one year)

Get creative! I’m open to suggestions. While your project should have a sense of beginning and end, I’ll gladly fund exploratory periods like sabbaticals or research.

I’m also happy to consider proposals like an extracurricular class or moving expenses, if they’re a major obstacle standing in between you and your dreams.

When you say “no strings attached”, what does that mean?

I’ll give you 50% up front. I’ll check in with you before sending the second half. Then I’ll do a followup phone call and/or email at the end to hear how it went. That’s it!

Can anybody apply?

Yes: any age, country (see caveats below), industry, job title, philosophy, or stage of life.

How will you send the money?

I can send money via PayPal (you need a PayPal/bank account), Venmo, or mail a check.

I’m outside of the U.S., can I apply?

Yes, as long as you accept PayPal. I’ll also ask that you pay the international fees, which seem to range between 0.5–2%.

I’m not an expert on international payments, so there may be other issues I’m unaware of. If I follow up on your application, I’ll do extra research to make sure we’re all on the same page about fees and legal rigmarole.

How do I apply?

***********NOTE: Applications for this are now closed. I’ve removed my contact info below.************

Please include:

  • What your project is
  • Why you’re doing it: I’m most interested in this part. Give me your story!
  • An estimated project timeline: Broken down by month (or week, if it’s a shorter project)
  • A few links to anything that will make me feel like you’re a legit thoughtful person: Your online presence, your favorite YouTube video, whatever — just give me some context on who you are.

Please follow instructions! As a first-pass filter, if you don’t do all of the above (including using only the exact email address above), I will automatically archive your email.

When’s the application deadline?

****I’ve announced the recipients here: https://medium.com/@nayafia/how-to-give-away-5-000-on-the-internet-66cae906ab7e Everybody who responded before the deadline should have received an email response.****

  • April 12 (noon PST): applications close. Please honor this deadline: if you send an application after this time, I will automatically delete it.
  • May 15: Everyone will probably be notified by this date (this is not an exact date! I will post here when everybody has been notified. Unfortunately I cannot respond to individual inquiries about application status.)

How many projects can I apply with?

I’ll accept up to 3 proposals, but please (for my own sanity, as I’m reviewing these applications by myself) use your best judgment. 1 great application is more likely to catch my eye than 3 random ideas.

Is this an ongoing program? Are you doing this through a foundation?

No. I am a mere mortal with a penchant for weird funding experiments. I’m not receiving a tax deduction. If it’s fun, and people like it, I may do it again next year.

I have another question that’s not listed here.

Comment below and I’ll get to it.