Category Archives: Under the Hood

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, ot 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!]

Website upgrades to help your project shine!

The ioby website is all for you.

It’s where ioby Leaders post about and raise money for their projects, where volunteers and donors find the projects they want to support, and where we sing out everyone’s successes as much as we can.

We’re always working on ways to improve—especially ways to make it easier for our community to create, share, and search for projects. To this end, our product team just rolled out a suite of upgrades to our campaign pages that we’re hoping you’ll love.

We’re excited enough about them that instead of a regulation show-and-tell, we’d like to turn this fun unveiling into a game:

Check out the  Biggs Hillside Garden  campaign page. Take a niiiiiice looooong look. Ok, got it? Good.

Now check out what it used to look like:

campaign page before

So?  Did you notice…?

  • The Countdown Clock showing “x days left”—a more urgent call-to-arms for your donor network
  • A Photo Gallery that allows you to upload up to five photos and one video into a dedicated gallery instead of directly on to your campaign page. You can now embed a video (file or URL) to make it the featured image, display additional photos or videos as thumbnails, choose the order in which images appear, and add captions to all of them.
  • A Giving Levels rewards/incentives chart where you can create up to five reward levels, incentives, or suggested donation amounts for specific project needs (totally optional!)

ioby campaign page after

These are just a few of the many changes we have in the works that will let you better customize your campaigns and promote your projects on ioby. (We think they’re just plain good-looking, too. Win-win!)

We’d love to know what you think. Please comment below, or drop us a line at



Unpacking Wired’s Cheeky Crowdfunding Formula

James McGirk’s calculus equation (Wired, June 2014) to a successful crowdfunding campaign has some good points.


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Your campaign should be presented as professionally as possible, it should be communicated in an interesting way, it should be interesting in and of itself, and there should be some tangible and some intangible benefits to the potential donor. The “Money Woe Multiplier”, defined as ‘the factor by which the donor’s rent exceeds the national mean multiplied by their student debt loan,’ is where ioby’s mission and Kickstarter’s business part ways.

ioby is a funding tool for all people, not just young creatives with access to wealthy roommates and uncles (young creatives welcome, too!). If you’re working to make positive change in your community, we’ll make sure you can build support from within your neighborhood, from an important source of patient capital: your neighbors. You can learn an actual formula to a successful crowdfunding campaign with ioby’s friendly staff through our training program, FastCash, or join us in person at GIFT’s Money For Our Movements in Baltimore August 2-3.

Like Kim Klein says, no matter who you are, you already know all the people you need to know to fund your work.

MIT Report on Civic Crowdfunding

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, 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.