How the ioby Crowdfunding Platform Helps Residents Plan and Implement Projects to Strengthen Their Communities

How the ioby Crowdfunding Platform Helps Residents Plan and Implement Projects to Strengthen Their Communities
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Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: March 5, 2019
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In a Nutshell: The foundations of community improvement often lie in funding and knowledge. But when leaders lack those fundamental pillars, they can turn to ioby for help. The crowdfunding platform ioby guides local leaders through the planning, fundraising, and implementation of worthwhile neighborhood projects to strengthen underinvested communities throughout the U.S. The nonprofit platform helps community leaders raise the financial support they need and provides guidance on working with residents, partner organizations, and local officials.

When the Firefly Trail wanted to turn an old Athens, Georgia, rail bed into a hiking and biking trail through its Model Miles Project, it encountered a significant problem: the cost. The project had earned a grant but still needed more to match the funding. Without that money, it couldn’t even start, and additional funding was not forthcoming from the city or county. To complete the project and secure funding for additional miles of the trail, the organization turned to ioby for assistance.

“We are a crowdfunding platform, but we’re more than that. We help everyday neighbors across the country fund projects that improve their neighborhoods,” said Noah Lumbantobing, Communications Associate at ioby. “We help organizations complete projects on social justice, environmentalism, and art installations — anything that has a clear, strong public benefit and works to strengthen communities.”

Launched in 2009, ioby is a nonprofit that focuses on underinvested communities, particularly in Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Memphis, and New York City — but its services are available to any community in the United States. In addition to helping raise funds for local projects, ioby provides a support infrastructure to coach users. The platform teaches them how to leverage the power already present in their communities and direct it toward social change.

Since its founding, ioby has helped communities raise more than $5.5 million in funds, launch over 1,850 projects (71% of which include a social justice component), and get more than 33,000 people involved in community improvement. The platform has nurtured leaders in 260 cities, helped train nearly 19,000 people through its initiatives, and boasts an 87% success rate in the community projects it supports.

“You don’t need to have a ton of money or social capital in your back pocket,” Lumbantobing said. “You can lean on your neighbors and crowdfund small amounts of money and pool that together to create big change in our communities.”

Large-Scale Change Begins with Community Investment

The name ioby is derived from the acronym NIMBY, which stands for “not in my backyard.” NIMBY is often a rallying cry for residents opposed to a development project or some other initiative they perceive as detrimental to their community. On the other hand, ioby stands for “in our backyards,” an affirmation of the good that communities can collectively achieve through small changes and improvements.

“The original idea was that, on one hand. a lot of philanthropy is aimed at the big picture — problems that can sometimes seem insurmountable from the perspective of everyday people,” Lumbantobing said. “But on the other, a lot of folks are interested in doing good. But when we think about doing good and giving back, we often don’t think about the needs in our own backyards and communities. ioby wants to fit into that missing puzzle piece, and help people make transformative, positive civic change in our own communities, too.

Photo of Noah Lumbantobing, Communications Associate at ioby

Noah Lumbantobing, Communications Associate at ioby, spoke with us about how the platform helps community leaders fund local projects.

That’s why ioby strives to serve and strngthen communities in ways best-suited to their unique needs and goals. It helps users promote and enact change by encouraging project leaders to think about how the funding will be used, who the project will impact, and to what extent. And ioby recognizes that meaningful social change typically occurs when the people most affected by a project are the ones leading it. These individuals may not be considered when government officials or philanthropic organizations plan a project, even though they may be better positioned to understand certain aspects of their community.

“Underinvested communities see a lot of outside folks parachute in, do a small project or do a quick project, and then not follow through. It’s important to have a sort of realization or analysis of social justice. Those are things that ioby leaders live out every day,” Lumbantobing said. “Small-level change is what we have championed from the beginning, and we believe it is open to a broader movement of specific change that can make a strong, positive impact.”

A Team of Strategists Support Leaders through Every Phase of their Project

To begin a project with ioby, a user needs to merely have an idea. It doesn’t have to be fully formed or completely mapped out; a prospective leader only needs to recognize an aspect of his or her community that could be changed for the better. Users can submit these ideas to ioby along with additional information about themselves and how they believe the project could improve their community.

An ioby leader success strategist will reach out and ask questions to learn more about the project, sketch out its needs and goals, and establish the best way ioby can support the leader, project, and community.

From prelaunch to completion, ioby provides leaders with coaching — both online and by phone — to ensure follow-through and success for the project. Strategists can help leaders with budgeting, communications planning, community outreach, fundraising strategy, and leveraging nonmonetary resources.

Photo of ioby logo on art installation

Community leaders can fund projects that range from social justice to art installations through ioby.

“We’re there to walk them through every step of securing the money they need to start their project,” Lumbantobing said. “We know it’s hard. It’s not easy to raise even $1,000 or $2,000, so we help them with that coaching and even moral support and advice if things get hard.”

Projects not already established as a 501(c)3 organization can receive sponsorship from ioby. This allows initiatives to gain tax-exempt status, maximize their funding, and dedicate more resources to local improvement.

Working with ioby can be a valuable experience. The process of starting, funding, and implementing a project helps leaders gain knowledge and hands-on expertise in areas of fundraising, planning, and coordinating. The process also helps them forge relationships with their communities, partner organizations, and government decision-makers. Just as importantly, local organizers can inspire and mentor other emerging leaders, imparting their knowledge and skills for the betterment of their communities.

Free Online Resources Guide Projects from the Planning Stage to Implementation

In addition to personalized guidance, the ioby website also provides leaders with a variety of free resources that help them chart the course of their project — from brainstorming ideas to learning from the success of others.

The ioby blog features posts about current and previous projects, where readers can get ideas for projects and learn from others. Additional posts offer tips and strategies for project starters and existing leaders.

The Learn From a Leader series provides videos and blogs with more information about running successful projects. Organizers can learn how others began their projects and accomplished their goals within their communities.

Recipes for Change is a series of how-to guides that go in-depth on each aspect of a project, including how to start, how to increase community support and involvement, how to gain the attention of the press, and how to interact with government officials and agencies.

Screenshot of ioby guide covers

With help from ioby guides, community leaders get ideas and learn how to raise funds and awareness.

In the support section, readers can find articles organized into three broad topics: ioby 101 (which covers the basics of getting started), campaign management, and information for donors and prospective supporters. This section is searchable, making it easy for readers to find specific information and understand how ioby functions on both the leader and supporter sides.

The organization provides additional resources, including webinars that address social, environmental, and community justice along with other related topics. Its Rainmakers series features stories about leaders who have raised more than $10,000. And ioby’s free guides educate readers on racial justice, fundraising, transit improvement, green infrastructure, and working with city governments, among many other worthy ideas.

ioby: Celebrating a Decade of Positive Social Change

With ioby’s assistance, the Firefly Trail exceeded its funding goal and completed its Model Miles Project. In the process, it also raised the project’s public profile in the lead up to a local ballot initiative — which ended up providing enough money to complete the first 13 miles of the trail.

The project’s success represents ioby’s more substantial achievements in the realm of community improvement. And the platform is looking well into the future as it celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2019.

“It’s exciting for us to get this point — 10 years later — and see that small change really does make an impact, and we’re building a movement of positive social change,” Lumbantobing said. “Anyone can do it.”

Although ioby encourages leaders and supporters to focus on local, manageable projects, its true mission is larger than any one person, single project, or community goal. As with any social movement, doing good for people and communities builds on itself. It improves the lives of the residents and shows them that change for the better is possible. The key is to take small steps on the path to creating greater overall change.

“Our crowdfunding is a stepping stone,” Lumbantobing said. “It’s about building a community that is ready for the next challenge after that crowdfunding project and is resilient for the next challenges they come across.”