We’re so excited to welcome Brooke Harris to the ioby team as our new Detroit Action Strategist alongside Joe! Brooke is a lifelong doer, and has been making waves in a host of different ways.Continue reading Meet Brooke, our new Detroit Action Strategist!
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
As our beloved colleague Indigo moves on from her role at ioby, we’re excited to welcome Dawn Arrington as our new Cleveland Action Strategist! She brings her own big shoes to the role, and has no shortage of big ideas for her city. Service is in Dawn’s DNA and she’s ready to get to work.
“My mom, my step dad, my father, his twin brother, my uncle, and several cousins all served in the military in one capacity or another,” she says. “I don’t think everyone needs to serve that way, but I do believe that we all have a duty as residents of a place to maintain and contribute to it. That was instilled in me at an early age.” It’s an ethic that she’s stuck to throughout her life. Continue reading Meet Dawn, our new Cleveland Action Strategist!
All the buzz surrounding crowdfunding can make it seem like some kind of magical cash machine: put your idea online, tweet a few times, and watch the money roll in. What could be so hard about that? Everyone’s doing it!
It’s true that there are many thousands of active crowdfunding campaigns online at any given time, but plenty of them will fail to reach their goal. The last time we checked, Kickstarter’s full-funding success rate was about 40 percent; Indiegogo’s was about 12 percent. ioby’s? We’re sitting pretty at 80 percent!
We think our project leaders are so successful because with ioby, you won’t be tempted to just set up a page and let the money roll in (because trust us, it won’t). We provide the coaching and support for you to plan, build, and market your own campaign both on and offline to build donor interest and trust. Then (and only then) you’ll see the Benjamins.
Of course, any crowdfunding campaign can fall short of its target. In the past decade, we’ve supported over 1,600 local leaders in raising over $5 million to improve their neighborhoods. But between those many awesome successes, we’ve noticed some common missteps made by campaigns that don’t hit their mark. Fortunately, these gaffes are all avoidable. Continue reading Why do crowdfunding campaigns fail?
That’s right: Our 2014 Giving Report is now out! (We promise you, it was worth the wait.)
In it, you’ll find:
• Stories from our 2014 ioby Heroes, awesome ioby Leaders who worked to improve their neighborhoods from Denver to Livonia, GA;
• A look at 2014 by the numbers (Wondering how many new projects were launched? How many BBQ restaurants our staff tried in Memphis?);
• Why we’re excited to look beyond the grassroots to the “Deep Roots”;
• A one-stop shop for ioby resources, with how-to guides covering everything from Green Infrastructure to Throwing Killer Galas!
…And much more!
Last year, we started cooking up a video series designed to feature some of the real heroes of the ioby community – projects and leaders we wanted to set squarely in the limelight, and hold up as role models and as inspiration. Among those we featured was SWAG of Newark: a thriving urban community farm that today educates around 700 local students per year, sells wonderful fresh produce at its own market, and has become a source of great pride and pleasure in the South Ward of Newark. The farm has even served as a wonderful resource for the unemployed or underemployed who seek a creative, confidence-building, social outlet while they search for new work.
In fact, so much has happened at SWAG since the video went into production – not least of all their latest ioby campaign, to which you can still donate here – that we wanted to accompany the video’s release with a little update. Here’s where they are now:
The last year has seen SWAG delve deeper than ever into an analysis of what sustainability means for the farm, and for the South Ward community. Becoming sustainable with a capital “S” will mean closing loops on environmental impact, on financial self-reliance, and in terms of community leadership. SWAG co-founder Alexandra Payne is thrilled about the developments on all three.
“In a lot of smaller communities that are poor communities,” says Payne, “you see these big ups and downs in how well projects work based on funding or based on how well things are going in the city or based on these small pots of money that are available. What this sustainability project is partially about doing is making it possible for the farm to continue its basic operations without having to worry about that. So without having to worry about where is our seed money from every year, or can we afford to buy seedlings, or can we afford that outside fertilizer, or can we afford to pay the neighbor for water? Can we afford local interns?”
How will SWAG close those loops? Well, first, they’ll make their own soil, for free. Plans are in the works for two huge new compost bins will turn organic farm waste into fresh soil for next year. “For a quarter-acre farm,” says Payne, “you do need a decent amount of soil additives, and we prefer not to buy those, not have them all be purchased cow manure or mushroom compost. We prefer to make them because you get a better mix of components, and because it means that we can do it right on farm and have more of a closed loop.” Second, a hoop-house for germinating seedlings will go up in the fall, so that SWAG won’t have to look to expensive nurseries at the start of each growing season. Taken together, these two new initiatives will mean greater security through the unpredictable ebbs and flows of external funding.
Another hugely important part of SWAG’s vision for its sustainable future is that they be able to afford to pay local interns. Some of the interns they’ve had have come back year after year, both shaping the project and being shaped by it – even choosing college majors according to new passions they discovered on the farm. “It’s really great for us to have interns who can really run small pieces of the project,” says Payne, “and who feel comfortable leading the classes and who when they’re at the market can talk to people about ‘this is why we’re doing this and these are our goals’ and who can really start to internalize that and see the project as their own.”
But Payne doesn’t want those dedicated interns to have to choose between the farm and earning money. Starting with their current ioby campaign and moving forward, she plans to offer interns a stipend, as well as lunches and travel reimbursements. “We really want to invest in interns from the local community,” she says.
As part of that transition toward even stronger community-directed leadership, Payne would like to see volunteer numbers going up, so that each person takes on fewer hours. “Like a co-op,” she says, so that the joy of the work spreads further, but the burden for each person is lighter, reducing burnout.
Meanwhile, an exciting transition is afoot at the farm. Payne and her team are readying the farm for a passing of the baton, in terms of leadership. SWAG belongs, she says, to the South Ward community, and that is where its future leaders will be found. “We’re there to give some direction and help raise funds and help people dream about what the farm could be, and in the future I’d love to step back and have a group of residents and students who’ve been there really take the day to day reigns of the project,” Payne says.
She and her team plan to step back a bit, starting this spring – very slowly and consciously, of course – and she’s excited to start talking about where the first satellite projects might pop up. They already have small satellites in Baltimore and outside of Philly, and want to continue to expand in the model of SWAG. “I don’t think we ever see ourselves not being a part of those projects; I just think it’s important at a community level to have them be very community directed. So once it’s stable and on its feet, that’s what I see happening.”
To support SWAG during this time of innovation and transition, and to learn more about the farm’s new initiatives, click here.
Today ioby is pleased to announce the national expansion of our fiscal sponsorship program.
Effective immediately, ioby will offer fiscal sponsorship to informal and unincorporated groups in any community in the United States. To take advantage of ioby’s fiscal sponsorship service, you must have a live ioby campaign. See the details of our fiscal sponsorship policy here. To be eligible to use ioby, leaders must live in the neighborhood where the project is taking place, have explicit goals to make their neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable, make no profit and benefit the public, and have tangible, measurable and measured results.
Why are we doing this?
Since ioby’s beta launch in April 2009, we knew we wanted to serve those who many people call “the grassroots.” During our two-year NYC pilot phase, this meant serving the approximately 3,000 groups that steward green spaces across the five boroughs. According to research by the U.S. Forest Service NYC Urban Field Station, we know that more than half of these groups have annual budgets of less than $1,000 and nearly 70% are led by volunteers. The majority of these groups are informal; that is, they aren’t incorporated and certainly don’t have IRS recognition as a 501(c)3 non profit.
These groups, in NYC and in many other places, are critical managers of green space, open space and public spaces. They’re the unrecognized maintenance partners of plazas who run annual or seasonal cleanups. They start beautification projects. They run programs that activate public spaces and bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods. Most are powered by sweat equity, in-kind donations, small cash donations and small grants. And frankly, there is little incentive for these groups to incorporate and become 501(c)3s themselves.
We also found that ioby is a critical source of startup capital for new social enterprises and civic organizations. About 1/3 of ioby campaigns are explicitly startups and go on to raise additional funding from major gifts and grants.
Since our launch, ioby has provided a limited type of fiscal sponsorship to informal groups of neighbors and unincorporated groups in New York City’s five boroughs and Jersey City. In partnerships with the Miami-Dade County Office of Sustainability and the Memphis Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, ioby extended this service to the metropolitan areas of Miami, Florida in 2012 and Memphis, Tennessee in 2013. In these communities, ioby acts as a fiscal sponsor for approximately 60% of these citizen-led, neighbor-funded projects.
We surveyed ioby Leaders in New York, Miami and Memphis. Among other things, we found that providing tax deductions for donations was especially important in the lowest income neighborhoods where we work. (It wasn’t as important an issue for neighborhood leaders from wealthier families and neighborhoods, except when those groups were expecting to receive donations of $500 or more.) We’re serious about our mission to support leaders in low-income communities who are working to make positive change, and we believe that being responsive to about the services that matter to them and to their donors.
Why is it so important to fund these small groups at the hyper local level?
Well, for starters, we know that lack of non-profit status is a barrier to receiving philanthropic dollars, especially grants and large donations, but it may also be a barrier to effectively solving complex problems. In “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” by Sarah Hansen, we learn that environmental organizations with budgets higher than $5 million consistently receive more than half of all philanthropic dollars, leaving just half the pie for more than 80% of organizations. Hansen’s paper smartly argues that allocating funding explicitly for grassroots organizing in front line communities can effectively support national policies by mobilizing demand for change. But this citation from the Urban Institute only includes groups that have filed a 990 or 990-EZ with gross receipts of $25,000 or more, groups that are in many cases 5 to 25 times larger than a typical ioby Leader’s.
If this expert article assessing the landscape of the grassroots is looking to groups 25 times larger than who ioby typically works with, is anyone studying social change at the block level? What about the important work at an even more grassroots level?
Maybe more importantly, we believe that neighborhood leaders are not just underfunded and untracked, but that they’re an overlooked source of innovation to solve local problems that we believe can and already have demonstrably contributed to climate mitigation and resilience at the local level. To the ioby cofounders, this is worth underscoring. In this crisis, we can’t turn away from this important fountain of radical innovation.
Finally, resilience depends on the strength of community fabric. We believe more funding made available to these groups builds capacity and the strength of local networks. You can read more about ioby’s approach to neighborhood resilience here and here.
In today’s world of smart phones and hyper connectedness, text messaging is emerging as a new communications frontier in financial inclusion, in health, in social services – in so many of the threads that strengthen our social fabric. Text campaigns can get people to the polls, to the doctor, to a hot meal at a homeless shelter, to volunteer opportunities, even to the support kids need to help them stand up to bullies, and more and more organizations are starting to tap into that power.
Which is why we’re thrilled to announce that our November 13th ioby benefit (tickets here) is being sponsored by Mobile Commons, a Brooklyn-based firm that offers a self-service solution for managing mobile and text messaging campaigns. Mobile Commons is the big leagues: it was the lead mobile strategist for the Obama 2012 campaign. It managed to get New Yorkers out to the polls even in the chaotic aftermath of hurricane Sandy, when no one knew where to go queue up. Along with dozens of for-profit organizations, Planned Parenthood, the MTA, The Ad Council, and the New York City Health Department have all been clients. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
We’re particularly excited about a few of the campaigns being run right now by Mobile Commons’ clients. There’s The Ad Council’s oral hygiene program, which uses text messaging to engage parents in fun brushing challenges, ultimately aiming to ensure that kids brush for a full two minutes, twice a day. Best of all, parents don’t text into the void; they correspond directly with “Joy,” a carefully crafted persona and oral hygiene helper.
There’s also The Ad Council’s financial literacy program, developed in partnership with the American Association of CPAs. The campaign’s finance persona, “Ben,” texts tips, quizzes, and resources to young adults aged 25-34, nudging and empowering them to save money and to plan for their financial futures.
And then there’s the National Cancer Institute’s fascinating SmokeFreeTxt program, which uses text messaging to connect smokers with the support, resources, encouragement, and timeline management they need to help them quit. Amazingly, the quit rate among teens who used SmokeFreeTxt was double the average teen quit rate of about 2-3%.
Mobile Commons’ CTO and Co-founder Benjamin Stein sits on ioby’s board, and advises nonprofits on how to best use technology. We’re so grateful that he and the Mobile Commons team continue to have our back, and look forward to watching the partnership grow.
The leadership team at ioby wants to take this opportunity to commend Rodrigo Davies on his excellent, recently published research on the emerging field of civic crowdfunding. We’re grateful to have had the chance to work with him and share our work in his research process over the last two years. He’s taken the field a huge step forward, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Thanks also to Salon.com, Rockefeller Foundation, FastCompany and Next City, for contributing recent stories on the topic (by the way, to those Next City readers who decide to crowdfund your urban chicken farm, here’s a video, on how to start your urban chicken farm once you’ve crowdfunded it on ioby).
As the first U.S.-based civic crowdfunding platform and the civic platform that has supported the largest number of projects to date, we wanted to take this opportunity to share our opinions on a few of the challenges that Rodrigo has raised, and respond with a few case studies of our own.
In his blog announcing his report, Rodrigo raises two important questions that ioby leadership has some pretty strong opinions about. They are “Will civic crowdfunding deter public investment or encourage it?” and “Will civic crowdfunding widen wealth gaps?”
To the first question, thus far, ioby’s crowd-resourcing platform only suggests that our successful campaigns encourage public investment, and greater investment of all kinds. ioby campaigns, because they are funded by neighbors, implicitly demonstrate community buy-in, support and long-term stewardship. Supporting an ioby campaign is akin to a petition, where instead of signing your name, you give $35. It’s a powerful reminder to decision makers in public investment how difficult it is to assess whether communities truly support new projects.
Rodrigo’s second question is a little more complicated. Crowdfunding, even all $6B worldwide, is a relatively small portion of overall financial transactions, so it’s hard for us to assess a claim about wealth gaps at this time. But, taken at the neighborhood scale, it’s an interesting question. ioby projects are required to have a public benefit, so no matter who from the neighborhood gives to a project, the entire neighborhood can benefit. In some sense this could be considered a transfer of wealth from private assets to public assets within the same community. Rodrigo’s paper speaks to this definition of civic crowdfunding in terms of the production of the public good at length (beginning on page 28). But, having a public good accessible to all residents of a neighborhood, isn’t the same thing as increasing wealth or access to wealth (or decreasing either).
For now, the best we can do to answer the question is explain how ioby operates to in terms of a wealth dynamic in communities. ioby’s mission is to deliver resources (timely, right-sized funding) into the hands of civic leaders at the neighborhood scale undertaking projects for positive change. We work intentionally to support leaders in underserved neighborhoods, and the majority of ioby projects are in neighborhoods with average household incomes at or below the poverty level, led by residents of those neighborhoods, funded by the residents of those neighborhoods. Grounded in asset-based community development, ioby’s foundational principles are that residents of communities know what’s best for their neighborhoods and are the best equipped to design, implement, and steward local solutions. In addition, we believe that funding by neighbors is an important civic engagement tactic, source of personal accountability, and source of patient capital — the community itself.
And finally, no ioby projects were selected as case studies, but some speak to some of the questions Rodrigo has raised.
- In Next City’s September 2012 Forefront, When We’re All Urban Planners, you can read about a resident-led urban chicken farm in Cypress Hills Brooklyn, supported by the Verde program at the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, which was supported by a match campaign from the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation.
- We think an important use of crowdfunding is responding to urgent needs, like the ioby campaign Muckraking the Mayflower Oil Spill, a collaboration between the Arkansas Times and InsideClimateNews.com, who raised $26k to put two reporters on the ground in Mayflower, Ark, during a particularly underreported oil spill. The results of their work were notably a state-wide health inspection of affected families which found exposure to hazardous fumes significant enough that the State of Arkansas brought a lawsuit against Exxon Mobile. Read the story here.
- The tactical urbanism project, the 78th Street Play Street, is a great example of building civic engagement. Watch Erin Barnes speak about this case study at Poptech’s City Resilient.
- The Hampline, a state-of-the-art, two-way, protected and signalized bike lane in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee is an excellent example of civic crowdfunding and public investment used together, and of civic crowdfunding used as leverage to secure additional private funding. You can read all about it in the Memphis local paper the Commercial Appeal.
And finally, if you’re still reading, we do want to build on and underscore a few points from Rodrigo’s massive tome. First, ioby’s name is written in all lower case because our name comes from the opposite of NIMBY, and because ioby is a place for resident-led, neighbor-funded projects in public spaces that make neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable. We’re a mission driven 501(c)3 non profit organization dedicated to working in underserved neighborhoods. Our goal is to provide access to untapped source of patient capital – the community itself – and to amplify local work to a national audience in those communities that often have a greater number of local challenges and fewer resources available with which to address them. Our fundraising training program teaches communities to pool funds as startup or demonstration funding that can be leveraged to access other funds.
All of this is to say that ioby’s work is defined by collective grassroots action, working from the ground up, thus the all lower case name, the lowest median project budget size ($1,725) and ioby’s average donation amount (just $35).
ioby serves neighborhood residents. ioby Leaders must be residents in the neighborhood of their project. And most ioby Donors live within a couple miles of the project site. But we do work with governments, and have a long history of working with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the Miami-Dade County Office of Sustainability and the City of Memphis Office of the Mayor and Shelby County Office of Sustainability. We strive to work as a flexible facilitator to recognize the role of community leadership in meeting municipality goals and to expedite citizen interactions with governing agencies. We believe crowd-resourcing, as ioby defines it, can be a useful listening tool for government to understand where its citizenry’s interests and concerns are. In addition, we’ve just published two guide books for citizens working for change in Miami-Dade and in Memphis.
And finally, in response chart on page 40 in Rodrigo’s report, we want to mention that ioby’s tax-deductible donations are available to individuals and organizations not associated with a 501c3 by acting as a fiscal sponsor, most closely like a Type C fiscal sponsor (details here). For a complete list of ways that ioby differs from similar platforms, check out our blog on the topic.
How is ioby different from other crowdfunding sites? Glad you asked! There are some important differences.
1. ioby is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so all donations to projects on ioby are tax-deductible. Anyone can use ioby, so if you’re not a 501(c)3 yourself, ioby can offer you a limited form of fiscal sponsorship.
2. As a nonprofit, we have a mission to make sure your project is successful. This means we go the extra mile to make sure our platform is designed to serve you.
• NEW DONOR ACQUISITION. We give donors an easy way to join your mailing list after they’ve supported your project and send you the contact information of those who have given to you. Using ioby to power your campaign means a long-term investment in building your own base of donors.
• HIGH SUCCESS RATE. We have a very high rate of fully funded projects. That’s true because we’re here to help throughout the process.
• FLEXIBLE FINISH. We have a unique flexible finish policy that makes it easy for you to keep the funds you raised. “All or nothing” policies might work for contests, but not for real people doing important work on the ground.
• LOW FEES. We have a fee structure that intentionally supports early stage ideas and small projects. No matter how you figure it, we’re cheaper than our competition.
• TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE. We host webinars specifically designed to support civic leaders. We take the best lessons we’ve gathered from successful campaigns to date and share them.
• FRIENDLY STAFF. We care about your work and want to help leverage the ioby community of leaders to support you. We’re always here. And we listen to what you have to say.
3. ioby is more than a funding platform. We call ioby crowd-resourcing because we want you to get all the resources you need for a successful project. We connect you to other civic leaders, host meetings and discussions to support thought leadership in local solutions and civic engagement, like our Getting Good Done series, and bring you into a community of peer learning through our Recipes for Change toolkit. Check out our Resources.
4. You know what’s best for your neighborhood. All projects that are good for the community and make no profit are eligible to use ioby. We never judge how cool or innovative or creative your project seems to us. You know what’s best for your neighborhood, and we’re here to support you.