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.

A shot of beautiful Cincinnati, from People’s Liberty’s office.

Why Cincinnati? 

We’ve worked in plenty of different cities, so we have a sense of  what makes a city a good fit for ioby’s services. In preliminary research, we found that Cincinnati had a lot of those things, including a strong culture of giving to causes and nonprofits, an openness to grassroots fundraising, and remarkable pride of place. 

“For me, the magic of Cincinnati comes from a unique blend of civic pride, collective imagination, and residents’ unbounded energy. People with great ideas to improve their neighborhoods don’t seem to be afraid to share them with each other, and neighbors aren’t reluctant to work together to realize a shared vision for their blocks and neighborhoods,” David said. “From Steve Rock’s vision for 500 Gardens in Madisonville to Tia Brown’s West End Art Gallery, Cincinnatians have no shortage of great ideas and commitment to see them through.” 

What we learned in Cincinnati

Early on in our research, it was obvious that Cincinnati’s community plenty of strengths. We found a robust community of neighbors actively invested in one another’s future.

“Cincinnati’s civic infrastructure is strong and getting stronger,” David said. “There is a large and growing community of people and organizations who are hard at work, delivering timely and powerful resources to neighborhood leaders, artists, and placemakers.”  

As we know well at ioby, money is often key to making positive change–even if it’s just a few hundred dollars. So we often look at how our services and our model might fit in with the existing funding community. What we found in Cincinnati was a community of thoughtful funders, like our friends at People’s Liberty, who provide support to individuals in addition to organizations. That’s important to us at ioby, particularly because of our deep belief in neighborhood groups’ and leaders’ expertise, who may or may not be part of a formal group. 

We also found big challenges that neighbors are taking head-on in Cincinnati, and found space where ioby’s services might be particularly helpful in addressing. 

“Some local leaders I spoke to pointed to the success of large-scale economic development projects—such as the very high-profile redevelopment of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and the construction of the new Major League Soccer stadium in the West End—and the region’s recent population growth as evidence that Cincinnati is on the rebound,” David said. “But several neighborhood leaders and organizations are fighting to ensure that any new investment benefits, and doesn’t displace, the people living in neighborhoods with long histories of disinvestment.”

Concerts in the Square, a free summer concert series in St. Lawrence Square.

How did we learn all this? 

Our Phase 0 research process is pretty similar across each of the cities we explore, and you can read about what the nitty gritty looks like here. In Cincinnati, it meant looking at data from the United States Census Bureau for neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, as well as poring over the research that other organizations had done about the region. 

Then, we conducted one-on-one interviews and surveys to get feedback from nearly 200 resident leaders across the region. Those listening sessions helped us understand what makes Cincinnati so special, where opportunities for ioby’s unique model were, and what challenges we might face. 

What comes next?

There’s still much work to do before we’re ready to open an ioby office in Cincinnati, but we’re excited by the energy that the city has to get good done. Now that we know that there’s a place for ioby in Cincinnati, and that there’s lots of potential for us to do great work there, we’re charting a path forward. That includes raising the resources we need to hire someone with a deep connection to Cincinnati to lead our work there, and forming partnerships with the organizations and people that Cincinnatians know and trust. 

In the meantime, we’re excited to continue to learn from others our friends in the city, and to grow our movement for positive change in beautiful Cincinnati.

Learn more about our Phase 0 process, and sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about ioby’s work in Cincinnati!