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Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul

Jeni Ruisch

Inside all of us lies a philanthropist, yearning to fund projects to better our fair city, and the people in it. But rent and bills and even the nights out on the town eat away at your paycheck, until all you have to give is pocket change to a bell-ringing Santa at the supermarket.

There’s always a voice in your head that will spot areas of need, or hear of a struggling non-profit, and think ‘If I ran this place…”

But many hands make light work, and many wallets make small donations from individuals go far. Columbus SOUP is a non-profit for non-profits. They give activists a platform to speak to groups for the chance to win a micro-grant to help them on their journey. Holding dinners around the city where people can come, eat, and give, Columbus SOUP can help you put your money where your mouth is.

(614) caught up with SOUP volunteer Bryant Miller to get an idea of the important work being done by non-profits, for nonprofits:

Give us the nutshell version of what SOUP is.

As Columbus SOUP, we host quarterly crowdfunding events where everyone gives a $7 minimum donation, which creates a collective micro-grant. Then we eat, drink, and enjoy fellowship before listening to different projects pitch how they’d use the grant to make a positive impact on Columbus. At the end of the night, everyone gets an equal vote, and we give away all the money.

How did it go the first time you hosted one of these events?

We did so much legwork in the beginning! Brothers Drake was super gracious to take a chance on us by being the host venue. We cooked all our own food and practically pleaded with all our friends to show up. We had 100 folks show up and completely packed the space! We learned everything on the fly. Despite how scrappy our first event was, we loved it. The magic was there, and we could feel so much love and support from everyone.

How have your events evolved since then?

We can’t help but laugh at the contrast between our first and most recent events… We still like to be scrappy, but now it’s much more purposeful. We never want to come across so professional and polished that some people are intimidated to come or think they won’t fit in. The big difference is that each of us has found own role and focuses on our strengths. We have incredible partners, too, like Columbus Gives Back, for volunteers and a rotating group of local businesses who give us food and raffle items.

How do you decide on your themes?

We are all about crowdsourcing—right down to the themes! We take input from our attendees, from our sponsors, and from our host venue. For example, when High Line [Car House] hosted us, they have strong connections to The Women’s Fund, so we focused on women and girls.
Our next event [focused] on teen-led projects, an idea sparked by an attendee at a past event who has since partnered with the Upper Arlington school district and the city of Upper Arlington to get a venue and connect us with schools across the city.

Does SOUP happen in any other places? Or is this a uniquely Columbus thing?

The idea of SOUP started in Chicago. Seeing that there was a lack of funding for local art projects, a group of people organCharized an event that evolved into the SOUP model that has since spread around the world. We take our inspiration from Detroit SOUP, which took the Chicago model and transformed it to encompass social justice, as well as art. However, while we are inspired by other SOUP projects, Columbus SOUP is uniquely a Columbus invention and we’re not aware of another project that operates quite like we do.

How does SOUP help build Columbus?

Our city is home to amazing people, with amazing ideas. However, anyone in the nonprofit world will tell you the biggest challenge is actually getting the money you need to get a project off the ground. That’s where we come in. Say you have an idea for a teen girl’s summer fitness camp that you’ve never put on before. Most organizations would be hesitant to give funding for something that is untested. We help those organization by giving them a chance to get the funds—the seed money—they need to get started. We’ve seen it happen several times before that once a project wins at SOUP, the can go on to gain grants from traditional sources of nonprofit funding. This is why we have a sprout in our logo—from our seed money a project can get started and grow into something amazing.

For more on how to get involved, visit

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