Kofi Thomas Fundraises an Ecosystem of Change

When Kofi Thomas was volunteering at The Peoples Garden in Bushwick, an elder told him about a nearby piece of land that was being used as a trash dump. That space, now called the Good Life Garden, has grown into a green space, a hub for community gathering, and a place for celebration and joy. “When the project started, I just thought we were gonna grow some food. It’s been a lot more than that,” says Kofi. 

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News from ioby’s CEO Erin Barnes

I’m excited to share some news with everyone in the ioby community:  Next year, I plan to step down from my role as CEO and into a founder-in-residence role. When I shared my decision with the Board and the Senior Management Team a few months ago, I made a commitment to support a process and a timeline that centers equity and inclusion. Together we decided that the best time for me to transition into my new role at ioby would be late summer of 2023, about a year from now. 

Erin Barnes ioby CEO
Courtesy of The Obama Foundation

I’m deeply proud of what we’ve built together over the past 15 years. ioby began as a small idea to build political will for climate action by engaging real people in real places. The core concept was to center residents, who are often overlooked and underfunded despite their deep understanding of their own neighborhoods. And listening to and trusting residents has remained our main guiding principle as we’ve grown.

Little by little, step by step, one person at a time, deep listening has allowed our little idea to grow and evolve. An NYC pilot. A funding platform. Fiscal sponsorship. An expansion from a focus on just “environmental” projects to all positive change projects at the neighborhood level. City partnerships. National expansion. Researching civic capacity of places for deeper partnerships. Match programs. Flexing our services to be responsive to community needs during the overlapping crises of the past few years. 

I’m proud that these years of listening has allowed us, as an organization, to understand deeply and build our services around the unique needs of small, grassroots, movement-building organizations that often struggle to find funding and support elsewhere. 

Today, what ioby is and what ioby can do is far more powerful than my co-founders and I ever dreamed possible. We imagined ioby could help make positive change on a block level, like the community gardens and murals that are a bright point in so many of our neighborhoods. But the ripples from these individual projects are—I believe—fostering something bigger. We’ve seen an ioby-funded community composting pilot get adopted by city government; resident-led street improvements have become safer road redesigns; public health projects have resulted in real outcomes at the population scale; racial justice projects have tipped the scales (and monuments), and on and on. 

As I prepare for my next role, I feel confident in, and comforted by, my belief that this movement of resident-led change will continue to grow. Because at the soul of ioby are the people who lead positive change in their neighborhoods. These are an impressive, tireless group of nearly 4,000 and growing, who have decided to step into civic life, and whose passion and talent inspires and fuels me every day. Their work is critical to creating a healthy multiracial democracy, and they are critical to creating joyful communities for us all. I can’t wait to watch this movement grow.

I’m not going anywhere for awhile, so you’ll still be hearing from me and from our fantastic Board leadership and staff throughout this transition. And I’ll continue to be close to the organization in my founder-in-residence role. 

None of this would be possible without all of you, and the love and support that you give to ioby in so many ways. I am so grateful to all of you for this. Thank you for helping us create this beautiful community together. You’ve been an important part of ioby’s history, and I am so grateful to you for being a part of our future.

With immense gratitude, 

Erin Barnes

CEO & Co-Founder, ioby

ioby Announces Four New Members to Board of Directors

ioby’s Board is composed of many standout individuals. Each member brings a unique background and perspective to the table as they guide ioby forward.  Together, the Board members and their specialties form one of ioby’s greatest strengths. “Every nonprofit’s Board is a critical part of the governance structure,” says ioby CEO and co-founder Erin Barnes. “At ioby, we’re lucky that our Board of Directors are enthusiastic ambassadors of our work. They are expert advisors in everything ranging from community development to the arts, technology, and finance. They additionally work as trusted partners with our staff in co-creating our ongoing Racial Equity and Inclusion work.”

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What’s NEXT at ioby: A Conversation with ioby Product Owner Helen Poon

ioby’s Product is an essential part of our work serving project leaders across the country. The Product consists of our online crowdfunding platform and all other digital services which are tailored to meet the needs of ioby Leaders, ioby project donors, and the ioby staff who support them. 

Both ioby’s online Product and offline services are built around our principles of equity and inclusion. These principles, based on 6+ years of feedback from ioby project leaders, exist to keep our work grounded as we grow our organization and our work. 

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Announcing ioby’s Digital Inclusion Policy

Our new Digital Inclusion Policy is the latest component of ioby’s larger Racial Equity & Inclusion (REI) framework, which is currently under development in a co-creation process with our staff and Board. We see ioby’s Digital Inclusion Policy as a guiding tool so that we can hold ourselves accountable to make just, equitable product and marketing decisions in both long-term and daily work. The policy was created based on formal and informal feedback from ioby Leaders throughout the years, and drafted with input from our entire staff.

The new policy is rooted in ioby’s five Principles

  1. Local is Best
  2. Small is Big
  3. Inclusivity is Key
  4. We’re Whole People
  5. Learn, Experiment, Share 

In order to apply these principles into our product and marketing work, here are the actions we will take as part of the Digital Inclusion Policy:

  • We center the people we serve—ioby project Leaders and their teams, project donors, projects volunteers, and those who are learning with us—in our decisions about our products and marketing. We use feedback from the people we serve to inform the product roadmap. We use research recruitment guidelines to ensure the feedback we receive comes from a diverse pool of users. We use insights from ioby staff to prioritize our roadmap.
  • We meet people where they’re at. We create a user experience that is simple, easy to follow, and grounds the resident leader in their place in the experience. We do this with clear communication and stages, from ideation to disbursement and project implementation, with smooth transitions between teams and third-party apps. We make it clear that each resident leader is assigned a strategist, with a photo, a name, and list of responsibilities throughout the process.
  • We recognize that the people we serve are whole people with different abilities. We strive to make ioby.org and resources available in an appropriate language when we have the capacity to do so. We use videos, graphics, short-form content, and text that is accessible to the communities we serve. We use ASL interpreters or auto captioning for online events. We conform with Level AA Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure we’re including anyone experiencing any permanent, temporary, or situational disability. We have a design system to ensure functionality of User Interface elements are consistent across different devices.
  • We know that deep participation at the local level is meaningful and so we strive to provide the most relevant and location specific information. 
  • We value contributions and generosity of all kinds and so strive to make the most inclusive giving platform possible by accepting cash, check, credit / debit cards, digital wallets, employer-matched gifts, donor-advised funds, text to give, as well as sweat equity and volunteer time. We will continue to evaluate the ways that people contribute and give.
  • We serve as a bridge to give resident leaders more access to institutional funding through match programs. We communicate availability, and approach distribution based on eligibility.
  • We strive to simplify, streamline, and consolidate any tools to be as inclusive of all the people we serve (all ages, comfort levels with technology, and device capabilities). We strive to support any browser or device used by 1% or more of the people we serve.
  • We follow the best practices of privacy protection. We publicly disclose our methods of data management and analysis as well as how they are used by ioby staff. When conducting user research related to ioby’s online services, we provide a consent and authorization form detailing types of information ioby collects and how it will be used and shared internally.
  • We share learnings from our data and sometimes share raw anonymized data. Non-aggregated data is only shared when a non-disclosure agreement is in place with the third party.

To be truly effective, digital inclusion must go beyond ADA-compliant screen layouts, and must be rooted deeply in equity and inclusion. At the same time, it must be actionable enough to make a difference in the everyday user experience of ioby Leaders when they work with our staff and our digital products. 

By adopting this new Digital Inclusion Policy, ioby aims for full transparency in the principles with which we measure the success of our work together. At the same time, we want to share the actionable, concrete steps we pledge to take every day. We hope you will join us in holding us accountable as we communicate with and serve our neighbors.

Questions? Reach out! hello@ioby.org.

Awesome Project: Plena Cangrejera

Plena, an Afro-Puerto Rican musical genre, is in many ways part of the beating heart of the barrio of Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

“After [Hurricane Maria] passed,” Mariana Reyes Angleró said, “the first community meeting that we had was to try to figure out how to do an inventory of houses that were destroyed and people that needed help. That meeting ended with plena music. It is not only for celebration, it is for life in general. You can hear it at a funeral, or every baseball game or Christmas parties or whatever. So it is a kind of soundtrack for this community’s activism.”

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Awesome Project: WHIN Food Council

New York City resident Danielle Bagley absolutely loves living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights and Inwood (WHIN) in Uptown Manhattan. “I like to describe it as ‘lively,’” she says, and that’s why she feels connected to it. “You always have folks out on the sidewalk, chatting or listening to music; in the summertime, people are out playing games. It’s quite beautiful. There are lots of great community art projects. There’s an Audubon bird mural project. You can walk around and see murals [of different birds] that people have created.”

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Awesome Project: Easy Activism, Fundraising for Black Mental Health

New York City resident Dominique recalls the early days after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, when she and her friends Hannah and Stephanie were looking for ways to help the Black community. Like much of the nation, they were grappling with feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration that arose in response to the murder of Floyd, as well as the countless others who came before him. 

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Awesome Project: Service Workers’ Coalition: Grocery Stipends

From serving up hot meals to writing cookbooks and everything in between, Brooklyn resident AD knows the ins and outs of their local restaurant community. As a former barista, bartender, and server, and a current activist and hospitality consultant, their roots run deep in the industry. “I’m pretty entrenched in the restaurant community here in Brooklyn,” they say. 

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Awesome Project: Bloomfield Saturday Market

On Saturday mornings, Abi Gildea makes her way to 50 50 Liberty Avenue in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood. Any other day of the week, her route would lead her to an empty parking lot. But on Saturdays, the area transforms into a bustling market filled with dozens and dozens of local vendors. From vegetables to prepared foods to home goods and everything in between, Bloomfield Saturday Market is a place for people to enjoy a taste of Pittsburgh. And Abi is the woman behind the market’s magic. 

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