Category Archives: Under the Hood

ioby’s journey towards racial justice: Anti-racist hiring practices

Racial equity is a core value to us at ioby. It shows up in our work in lots of different ways, both formal and informal, and we’re continuously learning, adapting, and adjusting our anti-racist practice. As we continue to grow, we want to invite you to join us—to keep us accountable, but also to take something away from our learnings, just as we’ve grown from learning from others.

Continue reading ioby’s journey towards racial justice: Anti-racist hiring practices

Our commitment to dismantling white supremacy

To our ioby community: 

The 400-year story of anti-Black oppression is central to American history. It’s a story of the theft and enslavement of human beings, of repeated cycles of racist policies like Jim Crow laws, redlining and voter suppression, of the weaponizing of the criminal justice and food systems, and of informal racism that white Americans are complicit in allowing to this day. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are a part of that story and are four among far too many Black deaths at the hands of violent law enforcement. 

On May 25th, the death of George Floyd doused fuel on the embers of four centuries of inequality. Anti-Black racism is morally reprehensible, and it is not new. Racism and inequality show up in all aspects of our lives. We see it in our neighborhoods, housing, schools, businesses, food, health and transportation access. We see it in our ability to participate in civic life. 

At ioby, we know that residents know what’s best for their neighborhoods. We know that low-income residents, communities of color, and especially Black residents have been intentionally excluded from decision-making in their communities. And we know that when Black entrepreneurs dream up positive change to serve the public good, they will get less than 10% of all philanthropic funding. We know this because when leaders work with ioby to raise funds for their important work, they tell us all the places that have denied them funding. 

It takes powerful creativity to imagine a liberated society, and to fight for it. Black people have been doing this for 400 years. That’s why it’s important to not only fund racial justice work, but also to fund Black-led ideas. So I invite you to learn from these Black-led groups, many of whom have crowdfunded with ioby in the past and have been doing the work:

  • Tamir Rice Foundation is an Afro-centric center for youth in Cleveland to celebrate and learn about Black history and culture.
  • BlackSpace is an interdisciplinary collective who practices new ways of protecting and creating Black spaces in the built environment.
  • Kelly Street Garden is growing organic produce to share with residents of the Bronx, free of charge.
  • ATNSC is an urban retreat space in Cleveland for healing and creativity.
  • We Run Brownsville is a women’s running group in Brownsville, Brooklyn that promotes health and wellbeing, and encourages civic participation. 
  • Bank Black USA is a movement to encourage all citizens to transfer their funds from mainstream banking institutions to Black banks.
  • Detroit Hives built Detroit’s first-ever Motor City garden where they continue to promote wellness, community engagement, and justice through organic dope honey. 
  • Youth Design Center (formerly Made in Brownsville) is a creative agency that teaches young people in Brownsville, Brooklyn innovation, design, STEAM, and more. 
  • Shooting Without Bullets engages Cleveland youth through photography and artistic activism to shift policy, perspective, and culture.
  • Grow Brownsville has built an aquaponics farm to grow fresh organic produce for Brownsville, Brooklyn residents.  
  • 400 Years of Inequality is an educational initiative that amplifies the history of inequality in America.

ioby must be committed to the work of anti-racism to fully honor the fact that Black Lives Matter. As a white-led, multi-racial organization, we don’t have all the answers but we’re committed to doing the work. As of June 2020, we recognize that ioby is not a fully realized antiracist organization and that the journey of becoming antiracist is a never-ending one. We have made meaningful steps toward diversity, equity, and inclusion over the years, but we all recognized that it wasn’t enough. So, last November, we began a process of creating a Racial Equity framework with our board member Nadia Owusu. We invite you to hold us accountable to our commitments here. 

We stand in solidarity with the movement for Black lives. Each of us has a critically important role to play in dismantling the foundation of racism that our many institutions are built upon, and rebuilding our society together with equity at the center. Together, we can change our systems of education, health, environment, policing, city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block.  

In solidarity,

Erin Barnes
Co-Founder and CEO

Meet our Fellows! Kicking off our Phase 0 in the South

In August, we looked under the ioby hood to share our Phase 0 process with you. It’s a powerful listening and trusting tool, and we’ve found that it is one of the best ways to see how ioby can best serve residents, including the possibility of opening new city offices.

This month we’re excited to announce our latest Phase 0 research project! It’s designed to help us take the next step in our journey, and understand how ioby can best support grassroots leaders as they bring their great ideas to life in towns, neighborhoods, and whole cities across the South.

Continue reading Meet our Fellows! Kicking off our Phase 0 in the South

That Wonky Stuff: Getting to know Cincinnati

We take our commitment to trust and to neighborhood leadership seriously; it’s a core part of why we’re in the world of crowdfunding for communities. At ioby, honoring that commitment starts before we even hire someone to open an ioby office in a new city or region through a process we call Phase 0

Phase 0 is sort of like a check in. It’s a chance for us to do our homework with meaningful research and to listen carefully to neighbors before we make the decision to open an office somewhere. We know that the alternative, coming into a community without knowledge, can often do more harm than good–it might cause us to compete with local organizations for limited resources while simply duplicating efforts, not productive for building a movement of positive change. By doing lots of listening and lots of research before making a decision, we can ensure that we develop a strategy that supports neighbors and makes a meaningful difference in a community.

Recently, David Weinberger, our Director of City Partnerships, wrapped up Phase 0 research in one of our favorite cities, Cincinnati, and we wanted to share what he learned with you.

Continue reading That Wonky Stuff: Getting to know Cincinnati

What is fiscal sponsorship? Everything you need to know

Curious about fiscal sponsorship? Heard the term but not sure how it might apply to your community project? Interested in finding a fiscal sponsor, but not sure where to start?

Friend, you’ve come to the right place! Here’s a practical FAQ about nonprofit fiscal sponsorship in general, and an introduction to ioby’s own fiscal sponsorship services. Continue reading What is fiscal sponsorship? Everything you need to know

Miriam Parson: Building a movement in Pittsburgh

We talk a lot about building a movement of positive civic change here at ioby, but how do you do that? The thing is, organizing your community around a project that strengthens the neighborhood is no easy task. But it gets a little easier when you realize many of our neighbors are already doing this work, and already have great ideas to strengthen their communities; our movement is about the tools and support leaders need, connecting neighbors with one another, and working to make getting good done a natural response for even more people.

Here in Pittsburgh, our movement is already starting to catch fire thanks to leaders like you, and 6,000 other neighbors who have played a part in an ioby project in Pittsburgh. That’s 2% of the entire city! Continue reading Miriam Parson: Building a movement in Pittsburgh

That Wonky Stuff: What is Phase 0?

ioby Cleveland and ioby Detroit are about to launch!

Before they do, we wanted to shed a little light on what happens in preparation for our work in a new city, what we call our “Phase 0.”

We believe there is no off-the-shelf solution for building neighbor-led change in a given community; each neighborhood has its own unique history, opportunities, challenges, and civic landscape. The research and conversations in Phase 0, which can last a few months to over a year, help us better understand whether and how our platform and services can best contribute to the citizen-led work already taking place in a given community. That way we can make sure we are  adding to, rather than duplicating  or competing with local groups.


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What Phase 0 looks like

Initial Research

We begin our research by examining a variety of materials, including existing and recent reports from the local civic landscape from all sectors, and macro-level demographic and philanthropic  data from the US  Census and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Synthesizing all of this  helps clarify our understanding of the social and economic structures  at work, and prepares us for an in-depth series of conversations.


We conduct  up to 70 interviews with resident leaders in and around our target neighborhoods. Interview subjects include nonprofit leaders, grassroots funders and grantmakers, longtime residents, neighborhood organizers, and many others. These conversations are crucial in helping ioby to identify the context, opportunities and challenges involved in working in the city.

Potential partner identification

Informed by what we learn through research and conversations – and by what we’ve learned from  early experiences  in New York, Miami, and Memphis – we then identify potential partners who have a strong reputation of meaningfully engaging with community,  experience working with asset-based community development, and a number of other areas of alignment with  ioby’s mission and work.


How can we tell our services will be helpful?

Although anyone from any neighborhood across the US can use ioby’s platform and services, we are looking to grow our presence deliberately in  cities, like Cleveland and Detroit, which  meet these initial criteria:

  • There has been a history of disinvestment;
  • People of color make up more than a third of the population;
  • Civic leaders are interested in taking an innovative approach to supporting community-led and place-based projects;
  • Civic leaders value authentic civic engagement, and are interested in building leadership capacity within communities;
  • Civic leaders are interested in achieving and measuring social, economic and public health outcomes as components of a long-term vision for sustainability.

Beyond these criteria, we look at a few factors to help  us understand the opportunities and challenges in a neighborhood. This understanding will give us a more nuanced  sense of the civic landscape and help us strategize our approach. We ask:

  • Is there a strong attachment to place among residents? Do residents demonstrate a sense of ownership of and belonging to their city, including  knowledge of history and services; social ties; and a sense of security, hope and pride?
  • Is there a cooperative environment that encourages  collaboration among organizations, where  collaboration is born out of a mutually enforced creative or strategic ethos rather than from an external force like a funder?
  • Does the  local government have strong ties to  the social sector, either through interpersonal relationships or formal partnerships?
  • Is there a high  demand for services, including unincorporated or informal networks of leaders who could benefit from  ioby’s fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building support?
  • Is there project area alignment, meaning leaders in the social sector who are engaging in areas of work that  ioby supports (e.g. placemaking, tactical urbanism, food, safer streets, etc.)?
  • Are there  strong community development intermediaries that act as intermediaries for directing funds from city government to the neighborhoods?
  • Is there a higher than average participation in charitable giving?
  • Is there a  citywide sustainability plan with which ioby can help align citizen-led projects?

These questions form the framework for  our research and conversations with civic leaders and potential partners. While we don’t require a strong “Yes!” in every category, in general the more positive the findings, the more likely our platform and services will be seen as a valuable asset to citizen leaders. These questions are also designed to identify areas of particular challenge, such as low charitable giving or a city administration with little interest in citizen engagement, that might mean significant barriers to our model working in a given city.

We’ve completed Phase 0 in Both Detroit and Cleveland, and have found that both provide key opportunities for our platform and services to work in tandem with, and support, ongoing citizen leadership.

We’re thrilled to take the next steps in both of these amazing cities!

More on ioby Cleveland

More on ioby Detroit

What is gratuity? Or what it means to be a community-sustained nonprofit

You may have read our recent post “ioby: More than a crowdfunding platform” that outlined all the other ways we help bring neighborhood projects to life. We educate local leaders about grassroots organizing, promote projects on our website and social media, maintain a dedicated staff that reviews and provides feedback on every project idea submitted to ioby… and lots more.

So that’s what we do. Now, how do we do it?

Well, it takes a lot of passion, dedication, positivity… and, well, money!

NJ and Khara Woods

[Khara and NJ Woods’ Headshots Mural Project in Memphis. Photo by David Leonard]

ioby was founded to be a community-sustained nonprofit. Our formative work was funded in large part by philanthropic foundations and individuals who believed in what we were doing. We’re beyond grateful for their support in helping to get us off the ground.

But now, as we grow and scale up, we want to phase out our reliance on these one-time philanthropic gifts and move toward a revenue model we think is more sustainable, and more aligned with our philosophy of community-supported positive change.

That’s where gratuity comes in.

Every time you support a project on ioby, you’re given  the  option of adding gratuity to your total – this is similar to the successful model used by Donors Choose.   Gratuity is a totally voluntary—but crucial—piece of your support. Your initial donation (all of it) still funds the project you choose, but your gratuity is what keeps us going and allows us to provide  a high level of hands-on support for our network of neighborhood leaders.  Gratuity  pays our hardworking   and dedicated staff, and funds the development of the custom-built website technology that’s our leaders rely on. Just as the neighborhood projects we support rely on your generosity, ioby relies on these small gratuity donations to keep us thriving.  

We suggest that you add 20% (like a restaurant gratuity) to your total when you make a donation, but you can always change that to any amount you’d like, including $0. It’s entirely up to you.

ioby does also receive a small amount of revenue from platform fees: the $35 project fee we ask for from leaders raising more than $1,000. We intentionally set this fee very low—much lower than other crowdfunding sites—so that leaders are able to keep more of their money and make a bigger impact with their projects. Ultimately, it’s the revenue generated from gratuity that supports the one-on-one work we do with our leaders to help them reach their goals.

Did you know that ioby projects have a  higher success rate than projects on other major crowdfunding sites? Ours is 87%! A big reason for this great rate is our ability to offer personalized training and resources to neighborhood leaders. Project donors who include gratuity are directly responsible for our ability to maintain this high level of service, and therefore for leaders’ greatly increased chances of success. Beautiful, eh?

So, while gratuity isn’t required, it is a powerful vote of confidence in the neighbor-led, neighbor-funded model of positive localized change we keep working to promote. We hope you’ll feel inspired to include it the next time you donate. You’ll be helping us in a real, tangible way to continue creating grassroots change in our own backyards.

ioby: More than a crowdfunding platform

ioby is…

A) An online fundraising platform for neighborhood projects

B) A boundless hub of community organizing education and resources for local leaders, including: project strategy mentorship, budgeting assistance, detailed introductions to crowdfunding and resource organizing, marketing campaign coaching, and leadership guidance—just to name a few

C) A growing team of dedicated staffers who love their work, a growing community of ioby Leaders and volunteers who are driving tangible change in their neighborhoods, and a growing list of generous donors who believe in what we’re doing and want to actualize their support

D) Awesome

E) All of the above

Of course you’re right—it’s E!


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While ioby is often associated with our crowdfunding platform, we’re much more than just that.

In the past five years, ioby has helped neighborhood leaders raise over $2 million for almost 800 local projects. Crowdfunding money doesn’t just fall from the sky (unfortunately), so we’ve accomplished these numbers using a multi-pronged approach that involves:

  • Dedicated staff members who individually review and provide feedback on each and every project idea submitted to ioby
  • A Prospect Chart process that helps Leaders arrive at an appropriate fundraising target
  • A series of webinars about the ins and outs of grassroots fundraising tailored to different kinds of projects: green schools, food justice, community gardens, and more
  • Individualized help from our staff in creating and maintaining a stellar campaign page, designing live events, and producing marketing materials to create buzz for projects
  • Promotion through ioby’s blog, social media, and press outreach
  • Introductions to other grassroots leaders and an ongoing relationship with the ioby community

To put it another way, we’re much more than the sum of our parts. Together our platform, staff, Leaders, volunteers and donors are growing a movement of individuals who are ever more knowledgeable, more connected, and more able to make positive change happen, right in our own backyards. That’s a lot more than just a website!

Related: Read our draft list of Principles and Actions

Announcing seven SUPER new additions to our Board of Directors!

We are beyond   excited to announce that our amazing Board of Directors is expanding.

Expanding, that is, by LEAPS AND BOUNDS!

At ioby, we’ve always  been incredibly lucky to be able to surround ourselves with brilliant, savvy, action-oriented and kindhearted people.  SUPER people, in fact.

We already have an amazing Board of Directors, and they’re not going anywhere! Instead,  our dedicated board has helped us grow our dream team     so that we can  build  our  expertise in the many fields of work ioby supports:  placemaking, transit and biking, public health,  and philanthropy. 

(We’ve also recently  grown our staff, as you may recall.  You can  read more about our entire team   here.)

And now, without further ado….. hey, what’s that rumbling sound?

{Click on each superhero to read more}

Justin_Garrett_Moore Shin-Pei Tsay Naomi_doerner Projjal Dutta Jamie_Hand Nadia-Owusu Adam_free

[Big thanks the the talented Nicolas Sienty for the illustrations!]