A monthly public dinner event and presentation series where attendees vote to fund small- to medium-sized arts and community projects.

Project Scope: 

The size of SOUP dinners are largely dependent upon the venue but can grow to over 100 participants with awards ranging from $700-$800.


In less than three years SOUP has grown from a small gathering of artists to a wide variety of community members that need a little money to start their projects. The Detroit dinners have granted over $15,000 to artists and neighbors to bring their ideas to reality. Five of these groups are forming their own nonprofits, and one has started a Michigan LC3 business. Parks have been cleaned, art has been created, and collaborations have formed.

The cost of hosting the event is usually quite minimal. With the goal to give as much to the winner as possible, it is desirable to arrange for venue and food donations.

SOUP regularly draws a wide array of participants, often from the fields of art, urban agriculture, small business, and education.


It was born out of desire by a small group of individuals looking to bring together individuals looking to make a difference in their community and trying to find a tool to financially support them in a modest way.

Actions Taken: 

BUILD A TEAM OF COLLABORATORS. You want a network of collaborators! Don’t do this alone! Think friends, partners, collaborators. Find people you trust to work with you to get this off the ground.

PICK A DATE. How often do you want to put on the dinner? Detroit SOUP has done it a number of different ways. There is no perfect day of the week. There is no perfect time. Just pick something and stick with it, people will slowly pay attention!

FIND A SPACE. Finding the space that will hold a large amount of people is key. Think about how many people you want at future dinners, not just the first one. Find a space where lots of diverse people can meet. Think outside of the box, and ideally find a space that is underutilized and new to people, a conversation-starter. It could be the basement of a church or synagogue. It could be the showroom of a car dealership. It could be an old warehouse. Maybe it’s a restaurant whose owner is willing to close down for the night. Each place offers its own opportunities and drawbacks. Think about the intentions behind the dinner and try to find a space that mimics that.

GATHER SUPPLIES. Ask people to donate old dishes and utensils. The clean-up is extra work but totally worth it to have the ceramic instead of disposable wares.

PLAN THE MEAL. Soup and bread can feed many people inexpensively and they cross cultures and dietary restrictions. More importantly, the meal acts as a gesture. Having a meal is an entry point to sharing. For smaller groups ask friends, local growers, people with garden in their backyards, local businesses, SOUP participants, and restaurant startups to donate their contribution. For 150 people at the dinner Detroit SOUP has relied on multiple preparers and regularly offers a $50-75 stipend to cover the cost of the soup, $20-25 for the salad.

ESTABLISH A COST THAT WORKS FOR YOUR SOUP. Establish a price that doesn’t alienate participants but still allows you to raise funds. Detroit SOUP costs $5. Many groups ask for $10.

SUBMITTING PROPOSALS. Detroit SOUP established the deadline as a week before the dinner to allow time to print off the materials and translate them into Spanish due to the population of the neighborhood. They looked to limit the proposals to four for each dinner.
Their entry form includes the following questions:

Applicant Name:
Applicant Email:
Project Name:
Project Summary:
How will you use SOUP grant funding ($700-$900) towards the realization of your project?
Why does this project matter to the Detroit community?
What is the time frame for your project, and how could you share about its progress/completion at an upcoming SOUP?
Detroit SOUP produces a program with each of the proposals with the help a graphic designer to share the ideas before people hear from the presenters.

VOTING: Detroit SOUP built a voting booth in the same fashion of something you would see on Election Day. This highlights the democratic nature of the event and the anonymity of the voting process.

SCHEDULE: Typical schedule:

 6:30  Doors Open, mingling and drinks.
 7:30  Welcome with short explanation of SOUP and how the process works and two minute synopses of each project.
 7:45  Each of the four projects gets a maximum of four minutes to present on their project.
          The floor is then opened for diners to ask questions of the presenters.
 8:15  Food is served and voting is allowed to commence.
 8:45  The voting booth is closed, tally the votes and announce the winner!

ACCOUNTABILITY: As a means of charting the progress of projects once they have been funded, invite back past winners to speak. This is a fun way for diners to hear about the positive impact that SOUP can have and potentially, lessons learned by past recipients.

Lessons Learned: 

Tax Structure
“Becoming a non-profit is A LOT of work and unnecessary to begin the project. Because the money is so little from each person we haven’t found a reason to become our own 501(c)3. The dinner acts as a connection between the diners and the winner. We provide the money for people to offer their cash to a creative or social project in the city.”
“Detroit SOUP can’t happen alone. You will want people to help you with this. You want people to help you set up and tear down the space. You will need to make sure that people are helping man the food line, the bar, and the door. Have someone that likes people and will make people feel safe when they walk into the dinner. Have people feel welcome.”
Similar Projects
This project was inspired by InCUBATE (“a research group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and arts funding” who started the idea in a neighborhood in Chicago.