ioby topples barriers to neighborhood change

Online platform leads the way in citizen philanthropy. 

Written by: Troy Price

Date: November 08, 2018

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts featuring NCRP nonprofit members.

What would you do if one day your utility company came by and ripped out all of the streetlamps on your block, leaving your sidewalks in total darkness?

When this happened in struggling Highland Park, Michigan, local leaders turned to ioby.

ioby is an online platform that partners with first-time community leaders in disinvested neighborhoods to secure local funding for their project and knock down any barriers that might stand in the way of the project’s success.

By raising the money directly from the communities benefitting from the project, ioby builds in a kind of neighborly accountability. 100% of funds raised on ioby are disbursed to the project leader, not to an incorporated group. This accountability and the leaders’ commitment to positive change helps ioby feel comfortable taking this risk.

Others have clearly bought in too: Everyday people have contributed more than $5 million to almost 1,700 ioby projects – three-quarters of which either directly or indirectly work to dismantle systems of oppression.

Believing in community expertise

ioby’s core belief is that communities are experts in their own experience and are best suited to tackle the problems they face. As long as the idea is legal, community-focused and brought from a community member, ioby is on board.

Many of these projects are quite small, but that doesn’t make them trivial.

Several ioby campaigns have been started by mothers whose young children have died in traffic accidents. The woman who helped bring a new streetlamp to Highland Park had lost her toddler in an unrelated hit and run a few years before, and was galvanized to rebuild her community. She and her partners raised $25,000 with ioby.

Taken together, these small projects constitute a broad, national movement of neighborhood change. ioby’s task is to clear out as many hurdles as possible so this movement can reach its full potential.

More than just a fundraising platform

This process can take on many different forms. At first blush, parts of ioby’s site look a lot like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. But there’s more to it. ioby also serves as a:

  • Fundraising coach who helps craft the campaign, fundraising plan, timeline and budget.
  • Fiscal sponsor that makes donations to a project tax deductible.
  • Networker who can help project leaders connect with volunteers and subject experts.
  • Liaison who can go between the project leaders and local government.

Increasingly, ioby is moving from a transactional platform to a national peer-to-peer network. That way the group behind new solar-powered streetlamps in Highland Park can share their model with another team in nearby Parker Village.

Growing the movement

This year, ioby aims to launch 600 projects. By 2022, it wants to help with 5,000. That would mean tapping into $32 million in otherwise dormant citizen philanthropy and training 45,000 people to raise resources in their communities.

These small projects aren’t only intended to teach digital storytelling techniques in Pittsburgh, fill backpacks with school supplies for kids in Detroit or replace streetlamps in Highland Park. For the majority of project leaders, this is their first foray into civic engagement.

Take Binh Dam. New to Atlanta, he decided to add temporary bus schedules to downtown bus stops and partnered with ioby to raise money for printing 52 schedules.

Empowered by this experience, he became a founding member of MARTA Army, a volunteer group in Atlanta that works with city transit to improve rider experience.

United initially around posting bus schedules at every bus stop in Atlanta, this volunteer network was crucial after Interstate 85 collapsed last year and thousands of new riders entered public transit for the first time.

ioby’s growth and success is igniting new community leaders all over the country.

Next steps for philanthropy

Here’s what philanthropy can do to keep it going:

  • Believe that neighborhoods are filled with people who want to and can transform their communities and invest in them.
  • Support organizations like ioby as they help neighbors organize local resources.

Troy Price is NCRP’s membership and fundraising intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.

NCRP members