VIDEO: Dark Skies Over Torrey

Think all ioby projects are in cities? Think again!

This is one of our very favorite recent projects, in the tiny, rural community of Torrey, Utah.

Dark Skies Over Torrey is a resident-led project to help the small community of Torrey, Utah become the state’s first dark sky community. The first stage, funded on ioby, replaced all of Torrey’s public streetlights with fully shielded, dark-sky friendly, LED lights. Subsequent phases of the project will help Torrey residents replace privately owned lights that are out of compliance with Torrey’s Dark Sky ordinance, and will launch an education program for local businesses, residents, and tourists about the benefits of dark sky lighting.


Part of a NYC Stewardship group? Get on the STEW-MAP!

Guest post by our friends at the United States Forest Service’s NYC Urban Field Station

Hey New Yorkers! If you are a gardener, a park champion, a food justice activist, a kayak club member, an educator, a researcher, or a community organizer—we need your help in putting your group on the map!  The 2017 STEW-MAP survey is now open!  Check your inbox and respond to the survey to  make sure your hard work is recognized. (If you have not received a survey but are a part of a stewardship group you would like to see on the map, email


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Worldwide, cities are grappling with aging infrastructure, shifting populations, and a changing climate, necessitating the use and expansion of green space in equitable and creative ways. Many are embracing a transition from the “sanitary city”–comprised of siloed functions and grey infrastructure–to the “sustainable city”–comprised of regenerative and distributed systems that require ongoing coordination. At the same time, municipal budget constraints create an urgent need for leveraging civic capacity. City agencies do not have the funding or human power to maintain these systems alone, and rely on a growing network of civic organizations and volunteers.


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The urban landscape is a co-creation of many.  If we want to improve the quality, accessibility, and viability of our natural resources then it is important to understand not only the resource as an ecological system, but those who care for it as part of that system.  STEW-MAP (the Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project) began in New York City in 2007 as a way of visualizing the civic groups that provide capacity and take care of the local environment.  Mapping these groups helps point out overlaps and gaps in stewardship and can help groups identify potential partners, funders, and events. At the NYC Urban Field Station, we define stewardship groups as two or more people working to conserve, manage, monitor, transform, educate on and/or advocate for the local environment–from the group of friends or block association planting flowers in tree pits, to the large environmental education NGO, to the grassroots environmental justice campaign.  STEW-MAP surveys these groups on their:

  1. Characteristics: Their capacity, capability, longevity, structure, and theory of change.  Questions address the motivation and the mission of groups, as well as the metrics used to track progress.
  2. Turfs: The physical spaces that stewards care for (waterfront, block, park, etc.) and the spaces where systems (waste, air quality, etc.) touch down in place. Unlike the jurisdictions that govern private property, political districts, and formalized public space, civic stewards are not held to arbitrary boundaries.  Instead, they determine and shape their own turf based upon a number of social-ecological factors. Stewards can self-define their turf in the STEW-MAP survey, whether they work on a specific lot or an entire borough or waterway.  
  3. Networks: The public agencies and NGOs that stewardship groups go to for support and collaboration. Do these social networks generate resources like materials, labor, funding, or rules of governance?  Who are the key nodes or brokers in this network?

The data collected from the STEW-MAP survey were analyzed and made into a public database and interactive map designed to help stewards better understand how they fit into their city. Data from the 2007 survey can be found here.  Since 2007, STEW-MAP has expanded to cities internationally.  STEW-MAP projects are currently underway in Baltimore; Philly; Seattle; Chicago; Portland; LA; Hilo & Honolulu in Hawaii; Paris, France; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Valledupar, Colombia.

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In 2017, we are working to update and expand STEW-MAP New York through a regional survey of stewardship groups.  STEW-MAP 2017 builds upon this past research, providing the first update in 10 years on previously participating groups.  In addition to capturing change over time, the 2017 survey data will reveal the ways in which the larger stewardship landscape has evolved in the New York Region, including how the changing climate, political administration shifts, social movements, and environmental disasters have influenced the goals and methods of stewardship groups.    

Through this research, we have learned that people will not care for what they do not love and understand – they care for that which has meaning in their lives.  STEW-MAP helps to understand how groups are making meaning of their local, everyday environment.

For more information on STEW-MAP, visit or email

AWESOME PROJECT: Spreading love and healing on Governor’s Island

Christine Dimmick, who founded natural products company Good Home out of her Chelsea kitchen in 1995, has been in the natural products arena for a long time. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago, she realized it was time for an even deeper clean, and an even closer look at her life and her world.

“I was very fortunate that it was stage 0-1,” she remembers. “I looked at my life. I looked at the stresses in my life. I looked at how I’m managing health and wellness, chemicals, everything in my life. You have an awakening. You can kind of choose to go through it with anger, or you can really sit there in a room, seeing the other people getting chemotherapy. I’m effectively cured, but I had two friends diagnosed with stage four cancer, same age as me, who both passed within six weeks, leaving children behind. I looked at that, and I said, I was given this for a reason. I do believe that the reason is that I’m a messenger. There’s still so much work to do. I’m a messenger. That’s my goal. That’s my dharma.”

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Health empowerment is for everyone

Dimmick flew into action, exploring alternative and supportive therapies as she made her own healing journey, and then bringing her discoveries to friends and strangers alike. Eventually, Love Revolution was born, as a vehicle for spreading that message of hope and empowerment. “What I hope to do with Love Revolution,” explains Dimmick, “is to bring that to people who don’t know about it, or can’t afford it, or just don’t have access to it. Health has become something that’s exclusive to those with money, and that’s not how it should be. We all have a right to health. Particularly when the industrialization of our world is what’s causing our ill health. People taking no responsibility and putting out crap products and food that kill consumers.”

Love Revolution first took form as a one-off summer event – a bringing together of teachers, healers, yoga students and passersby. “There’s so much hate,” Dimmick says. “I believe that what you put out, you get back. So I thought, well, if we’re going to have so much hate, I’m going to put out love. One small interaction, even one minute, can absolutely impact someone’s course for the better.”


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[Christine Dimmick –  photo via  Downtown Magazine]


Our house

The event went well, and so this summer will expand to become a residency on the weekends (open Friday-Sunday, 12pm-6pm) at a house on Governor’s Island. Look out for yoga classes, Tibetan bowl sound healing sessions, guided meditations, healthy cooking classes and introductions to little-known veggies, and rotating artwork on the walls. Upstairs, a Gamelatron – an electronic iteration of an incredibly healing traditional instrument developed in Bali – will play 24/7.

“Anything that promotes the goodness of humanity,” says Dimmick, “and helps people to feel their self-worth. I believe that everyone is divine. No one’s better than anyone. We’re all great.”

Classes and lectures will be free – donations welcome – and open to ALL. Inclusive is the name of the game. Dimmick is dead-set on making healthy products and practices available to those who might not otherwise encounter them – whether because they don’t have the time or the money, or both, for exploration and self-education beyond our  medical system.


Almost there

Only one thing left on the to-do list! Dimmick needs to raise money to hire a few people to supervise and manage the house on weekends, when it’s open, and while events are in progress. If you want to help her take this final logistical step towards making Love Revolution 2017 a reality, click over here to donate  or volunteer   on her ioby campaign page. And New Yorkers: take the ferry over this summer to check out the action!

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

AWESOME PROJECT: Billboard art to fight blight in Detroit!

Did you know that there are currently about 50,000 vacant residential properties in Detroit? If you add commercial spaces and storefronts to the list, that number skyrockets to 80,000. That’s about 25 square miles of vacant and blighted property, out of the 139 square miles that make up the city. Which tells us something about how dire the situation has been, and for how long.

But what do you hear, when you hear these numbers? We hear possibility.

So does Daniel Commer, Detroit native and acting director at Detroit’s Michigan Avenue Business Association. He believes that Detroit has a unique opportunity to learn from other cities where gentrification has spelled the end of diversity and liveability. One of the first challenges he took on, after joining the association, was to go door to door along the Avenue, meet every single business owner in person, and put out a survey that would help him understand what factors were holding folks back. “The number one response we received was ‘vacancy and blight are detracting from the area’s safety and appearance,’” explains Commer.

Southwest Solutions Neighborhood Beautification Day - Public Art & Lot Activation Volunteers!

Paint it new

The good news is that through his work on Michigan Avenue – including an experiment in installing cheery new trashcans that garnered outsize interest – Commer has also come to believe that little visual cues and concrete improvements can go a lot further than you might think. That’s why he’s focused on raising money for a project that will, in partnership with local organization Holding House Artspace, install community-made public art on billboards at the vacant lot at 25th and Michigan Ave, and down the three mile stretch between 196 and Wyoming. The artwork will be displayed throughout July and August; Holding House has already put out a call for art submissions, and the work that’s come in has been absolutely fantastic.

What good will a few billboards do, you ask? Think of them as little crumbs of inspiration and creativity, sparking conversations and bringing folks together. Think of them as a moment’s respite in a hard day. Think of them as laying the foundation for paths that will draw locals and tourists out of their comfort zones and into new Detroit adventures.

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Lighting the way to hidden gems

“You have this public art activation strategy that would work there,” explains Commer. “You could conceivably, as you come out of this vacant lot area, be like ‘oh, I can keep on exploring, because here’s this visual cue, this protected bike lane, and here’s this wayfinding, and here’s this public art space. Oh, I can stop and eat outside at this wonderful deli. Oh, I can see a sign and keep on going, and lookit, here’s this pocket park that has these two amazing murals and landscaping. And up there’s a restaurant that does amazing Spanish-italian fusion.’ And then again, you go another half a mile up, and you’re in this beautiful theater marquis that just started. So I think that that’s all doable.”

Public art – in combination with pocket parks and creative wayfinding – is just one way to keep locals moving on foot, which is how they become better customers and more engaged neighbors. It’s all about reconnecting parts of the city that have become, whether by highway vivisection or disenfranchisement – disconnected. Like repairing the veins that carry the lifeblood of the city.

“People love to see public art,” says Commer. “Whether you’re a community organizer, or a planner or designer, people see their neighborhood and they notice when something is more vibrant, when there’s an effort to make it more beautiful.”

Want to cast your vote for public art? The project’s ioby campaign is fully funded, as of yesterday, but it’s never too late to reach out to the Michigan Ave Billboard Collective, or to parent organization Southwest Solutions, to get involved.


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

The Rainmakers: Frampton Tolbert of Center for Urban Pedagogy

While the average budget for ioby projects is around $4,000, many are larger scale. If you have your sights set high, your budget—and fundraising skills—will have to rise to the challenge.

Crowdfunding large amounts of money on ioby is totally doable, but it takes some extra planning. In our Rainmakers series, we’re sharing stories and tips from Leaders who have successfully raised $10,000 or more for their ioby campaign. Learn how they did it, and how you can do it, too!

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“We wanted to support a Center for Urban Pedagogy Youth Education project for 15 high school students to investigate a social justice issue in their community,” says ioby Leader Frampton Tolbert of his project Bronx Students Investigate Transit Pricing, which took place in New York City two summers ago.

This Awesome Project post explains how the students researched the topic and interviewed local decision makers to produce their own documentary video. Below, Frampton gives us the inside scoop on how he and his team crowdfunded over $12,000 to launch the project.


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Q: Who was on your fundraising team?

We were about 20 people total, all board members and staff from my organization, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP).

It was interesting to see some board members get really engaged with this project who may not be as engaged with our other fundraising efforts. I think they really just loved the idea. Then there were some who didn’t get so engaged with this one, probably because youth education is not their primary interest.

I found that our most successful fundraisers weren’t necessarily the people who had the most experience raising money—it was those who had the most enthusiasm for the project. Having a team this large and diverse let people who aren’t that comfortable with fundraising participate and really shine, and I think they enjoyed that.


Q: Were you already comfortable with asking for money?

As CUP’s Chief Development Officer, I myself was pretty comfortable with it! Especially when it came to securing the initial seed funding. When that was done, and I saw the group’s level of enthusiasm, I basically left it to them to move the campaign forward. Beside reminding people of what needed to be done, I didn’t have to do a lot of follow-up.

The advice we gave our team was: “No gift is too small.” There’s always that hesitancy and concern: “I can’t ask my friends; I don’t feel comfortable…” But for this kind of project, unlike some others we’ve done, even five dollars is amazing. It actually makes a difference. It’s not usually a big deal to ask someone for five dollars, and if we have thousands of donors giving five dollars apiece, we’ll reach our goal. That attitude made our staff feel more comfortable asking, and made donors feel better about giving, even if they weren’t giving a lot. I think that accounts at least somewhat for the fact that we had a lot of first-time donors, and a lot of people who are not local to NYC. The latter couldn’t attend the events we organized around the project, and didn’t necessarily want to become regular donors to CUP, but they loved this idea and we let them know we would appreciate their donation regardless, even if it was small.

I don’t have a lot of familiarity with other crowdfunding platforms so I’m not sure if this is common, but I liked that ioby allows people to give anonymously; some people really appreciate that. The downside is that acknowledgement and follow-up are more difficult when you don’t know who someone is! Even if they give a first name and last initial, in some cases: everyone knows a John R! We didn’t actually have too much trouble with that, but I remember it came up.


Q: How did you plan your fundraising?

CUP organizes five after-school intensive programs per year, so we’ve developed a pretty standard budget for how much they cost. This one was in the neighborhood of $20K to $25K. We had a grant from an erstwhile city program that provided some funding but would not support the whole thing, so we knew we would need to raise some additional funds. We had never done a crowdfunding campaign before, though we had talked about it. We loved the ioby platform and the whole model of the organization, so we decided to try it.

We started with a round of seed funding to secure some support before we went online; that way, the first ioby donors could see we already had some backing. The seed phase consisted of a targeted letter campaign to a small group of individuals identified by our board and staff.

Then we sent a message out to our entire email list, and then we asked every team member to make their own individual list. We didn’t ask to see their lists or say, “Did you email so-and-so?,” but we would all let each other know when someone had donated, and we did ask people to follow up when we got pledges that were not fulfilled.

Everyone on the team managed their own fundraising tasks, for the most part. We didn’t have defined roles, like, “We’re going to send out this many emails this week; we have this goal to meet by Friday,” etc. We did have a plan for how the whole campaign would roll out, and we offered information and resources about the project for people to share with their contacts, but each team member pretty much made their own work plan. Happily, people really just volunteered to do whatever was needed.


Q: How did storytelling factor in?

It was huge. We took a lot of photos of the students in action during the program—interviewing stakeholders, working together in groups, etc—and posted them regularly on our website and ioby campaign page, and in email updates to donors. That gave the students some good affirmation as the project continued, and it served as a way to walk donors—both potential and past—through the project and let them watch the students’ progress. That was crucial because it connected the abstract premise of the project with reality. It stops being, “We’re raising money for an education program,” and becomes, “This is what your support looks like. This is why you should donate.”

At the end of the project, we held an event where students presented their work. From the beginning, we had advertised that donors would be invited to attend, which I believe was a selling point. Maybe for some projects it works to say, “Okay, fundraising is done, we’re going to start the project, see you later!” But for us, staying in touch and continuing to tell the story and involve people was a key to success.  


Q: What methods did you use to ask people?

Our board and staff made a lot of asks on social media. Their connections were apt to know and have a good feeling about our organization generally—even if they weren’t regular donors—which helped us engage them around this specific project idea more easily. Several board members told me they were surprised by how much their network stepped up. I think social media turned out to be the number one outreach method for us.

Some board members also sent personal emails, and a few made phone calls. CUP itself sent a mass email to our whole mailing list—6,000 or 7,000 people—every two weeks, and that brought some donations. In the future, we might think about segmenting that list to reach different audiences, but this time, everyone on the list saw every ask.


Q: Did fundraising help with community buy-in?

Absolutely. We worked to make sure people would feel some connection to this specific project and these specific students and their experience. Sometimes with our projects, people know the format and know the end result will be great, but this time they got to see the process unfold, too. They got to see exactly how they helped to create this positive impact. A public crowdfunding platform is great for showing people more than they would usually get to see about a project, whether they donated or not. Also, staying in touch with our followers and donors helped us to see who was most interested: you can see who likes something, who comments, who shares.


Q: Any other advice?

– Create as large a network as possible to make your asks. Don’t say, “These five people are good fundraisers” and give it all to them. The broader your network, the better.

– Story and specifics are crucial. Even if you have a lovely, amazing idea, if it’s not tangible, it won’t grab people if you don’t tell a story about it. Add as many details as possible: we said “high schools in the Bronx,” not just “schools.”

Boost your posts on Facebook to get more coverage. Boosting helped us reach people who are interested in transit issues as well as in youth education. We wouldn’t have reached nearly as many of the transit folks if we hadn’t done that.

– Timing is really important. Have the project kick off right at the end of the campaign, if at all possible; try not to wait two months before doing anything public. This helps people feel a sense of urgency: if the campaign ends on August 15 and your project starts on August 15, they know they need to give by August 15. It also strengthens the sense of continuity between the campaign and the project.

– Stay in touch. Don’t let your “Thanks for donating” email be the last time you connect with a donor. Keep them engaged by keeping them in the loop.


New news: Frampton and his CUP colleagues are back this summer with another ioby campaign, Student civic engagement in the age of Trump. Have a look!

Campaigns that RESIST!

At ioby, we believe that neighbors are best positioned to identify and lead positive change within their own communities.

While we are mission-driven to support leaders in neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested, we don’t come up with ideas for projects. We just do all we can to support leaders in planning, funding, and carrying out their visions for a better community.

That said, we do pay attention to trends and patterns in what people are funding. And over the past few months, we’ve noticed a new category emerge: projects that directly respond to the policy proposals of the Trump administration.

Whether it’s a public demonstration in solidarity with the Women’s March, or an interactive art project drawing attention to the divisive rhetoric around immigration, or a series of public meetings around design for resistance, it’s clear that our communities are feeling a new sense of urgency, and are working to mobilize.  


Yancy Villa-Calvo & Mauricio Calvo


[Barrier Free: A social-engaged art installation in Memphis]


This kind of organizing, on a local level, by a community that feels vulnerable, or around a certain topic that feels urgent, is a crucial form of civic participation. We believe it strengthens our democracy. We want to do all we can to support projects that are about resisting, organizing, and mobilizing community talent and assets to speak out, build power, and protect the vulnerable in this political climate.

Here are some of our favorites:

One more note: while many of these campaigns are explicitly in response to threats posed by the Trump administration, many more ioby leaders are doing similar work to undo the legacy of decades of discriminatory policy, and to build community resilience in the face of all sorts of threats, new and old. This ongoing work, led and funded by communities, is just as important a measure of civic strength.

We hope you’ll join us in supporting this work, or even better, start a project in your own community!


Why we’re so excited about June 21: Meet our honorees!

ioby’s  Summer Party is almost upon  us! (In the New York area? It’s not too late to snag a ticket to this June 21 shindig!)

We’re excited to party with  ioby leaders, partners, neighbors and friends, and to celebrate all the amazing work being done in neighborhoods across the US.

We’re ESPECIALLY excited to  toast the  achievements of our  Summer Party honorees, truly some of the most incredible people we know.

So why are we so star-struck? Keep reading!


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Joyce Moore

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Joyce Moore is a many-time ioby Leader who has brought art, fresh food, affordable housing, and more to her Indianapolis neighborhood through her innovative social enterprise. Joyce and her family’s passionate commitment to staying in and improving their neighborhood through decades of changes is a true inspiration to all of us at ioby.  Together with her son, Justin, she co-founded Urban Patch, LLC whose goal is “To Make the American Inner City Better” by bringing the Greatest Generation ideals into the future of the American inner city community—through urban gardening, housing preservation, food justice work, education, strides forward in green infrastructure, and more.


Micah L. Sifry 

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Micah is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Civic Hall, as well as Co-Founder of Personal Democracy Media, which produces the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference on the ways technology is changing politics. In addition, he consults on how political organizations, campaigns, non-profits and media entities can adapt to and thrive in a networked world.  Micah’s work has been foundational in the way we at ioby think about the power of technology to spark civic engagement and strengthen social movements – he’s lived, breathed, and made waves at the forefront of civic tech for decades.


Partnerships for Parks


Partnerships for Parks has  enabled thousands of New Yorkers to become dedicated advocates, stewards, and organizers around parks and open spaces in the city.  This joint program of NYC Parks and City Parks Foundation equips communities to take a leadership role in improving and managing some of our greatest assets: our green spaces. 


Here’s to $113K raised for Healthy Neighborhoods in New York!

The second round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge  is complete!

Building on the success of last year’s program, we teamed up once again with the New York State Health Foundation to  help   support resident-led health and wellness projects   in seven neighborhoods   in New York — across   12 zip codes — including East Harlem and the Lower East Side in Manhattan;  Hunts Point, Claremont,  and Mott Haven in the Bronx; Brownsville in Brooklyn,  and Clinton County.

This time around, residents raised a total of $113,273   for projects that make their neighborhoods healthier, more active, and more full of opportunity. This total includes the matching funds that NYS Health Foundation provided to each project, based on its individual fundraising goal. The total of  match funds distributed was $49,396 and the total in citizen philanthropy that ioby leaders raised from their neighbors was $63,877. In other words, for every dollar received from match funds, ioby leaders raised $1.30 from within their communities!

21   ioby projects participated in this round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge — these projects all have the goal of creating a culture of health by making their neighborhoods greener or safer; improving local access to affordable healthy food; promoting walking, biking, or other exercise; educating neighbors about lifestyle changes, and more.

Here’s what some of our favorite participating leaders had to say about their work:


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“Community gardens are known for engaging all different types of people: youth, teachers, new Americans… People just walking by, or coming from work, will stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’ Then they pick up a shovel! Everyone gets to mingle and trade ideas.”  

– Alicia Williamson, Lydia’s Magic Garden

East Harlem residents led by Alicia  raised more than $2,500 to restore  this beloved 20-year-old community space,  which had lost most of its plantings and amenities after serving as a staging ground for the redevelopment of an adjacent building.

Read their story


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“How can we set up a community-led resource that helps bring fresh and local food directly to the tables of our residents? How can we bring in more sustainably farmed and raised food  and also keep it affordable? How can residents who rely on food subsidies eat better without going to another community for food? Our market helps solve many of these problems.”  

– Lily Kesselman,  the South Bronx Farmers’ Market

The mostly-volunteer team at the South Bronx Farmers’ Market raised more than $10,000 to  extend their hours of operation to include a weekly Wednesday market in addition to the Saturday hours they’re already open.

Read their story


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“I’ve lived here my whole life, but I rarely get to see or talk to a lot of the other people who live here. I want to give us a space where we can work together. There’s something so special about taking part in the growth of something, and all watching it grow together.”

– Veronica  Vasquez, NYCHA Community Garden

17-year-old Veronica and her mom Liz live  on the Lower East Side. They exceeded their fundraising goal of $1,300 to build a new  community garden at the NYCHA complex where they live.

Read their story

You can see all 21   Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge projects at

The Rainmakers: Tim Kovach of The Cleveland Refugee Bike Project

While the average budget for ioby projects is around $4,000, many are larger scale. If you have your sights set high, your budget—and fundraising skills—will have to rise to the challenge.

Crowdfunding large amounts of money on ioby is totally doable, but it takes some extra planning. In our Rainmakers series, we’re sharing stories and tips from Leaders who have successfully raised $10,000 or more for their ioby campaign. Learn how they did it, and how you can do it, too!


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The Cleveland Refugee Bike Project is working to improve mobility—both physical and social—for the city’s refugee community by providing them with bicycles to ride and the training and tools necessary to become safe and self-sufficient riders.

ioby Leader Tim Kovach let us in on how he raised over $13,000 last fall   to launch this ambitious project this spring.




Q: Who was on your fundraising team?

I saw my job as bridging the gap between the bike and refugee services communities, so I chose my partners very deliberately. I bike a lot and do volunteer advocacy work with the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op and Bike Cleveland, so I had personal relationships with them and approached them that way. My wife happens to work at Catholic Charities: they run the largest refugee resettlement program in Northern Ohio, and are a member of the The Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland. So my connections in both worlds gave me access to both donor pools.

Cleveland has been trying to make itself as welcoming a community as possible for refugees and immigrants, so we had a lot of good connections and reception from that side. On the bike side, Cleveland has been going through some growing pains to become a bike-friendlier city—it’s happening in fits and starts—there’s lots of grassroots momentum there.

Through one tragic event, I saw there was a lot of fundraising potential in our bike community. A local bike luminary, Shelli Snyder, was critically injured while biking from Ohio to Seattle last year, and her peers raised tens of thousands of dollars for her recovery. That showed us there was a lot of support here for bike-related concerns.

I approached the directors of both bike organizations in January 2016 to pitch it to them, but the idea didn’t go anywhere until late summer or early fall, when we knew more about how it would be funded: through crowdfunding on ioby and through the Cleveland Climate Action Fund, which gave us $5,000.


Q: Were you already comfortable with asking for money?

No, I’m not really the fundraising type. I’m a very quiet, reserved person, so this was not comfortable to me, and it was all fairly new. I did solicit family and friends through social media, phone calls, and face to face. My sister-in-law is a refugee herself, so my brother was very generous. It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I got a good response—though my asks didn’t comprise the lion’s share of what we made.

Fortunately, I was able to partner with people who had more skills in this area. The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op and Bike Cleveland are both very small—less than 10 people each. But the directors of both organizations put asks in their newsletters and made personal requests of their contacts. Catholic Charities is obviously bigger, and they put the word out on their social media. It’s definitely easier to work with a small local organization than a national one. The potential for donations is larger with the latter, but there are more layers of bureaucracy to communicate through.

I found that personal relationships were important to this campaign across the board. Cleveland is a small city; you run into the same people over and over. That can be a problem when it comes donor fatigue, but unexpectedly catching someone can also be a great way to have that conversation you wanted to have. This familiarity definitely came into play when it came to hosting a fundraiser. My wife and I live near a brew pub called Platform that we knew had hosted such events in the past. I approached the manager in person, he agreed to have us, and we raised a few hundred dollars in a few hours via cash donations and a percentage of beer sales.


Q: How did you plan your fundraising?

We developed the budget and program plan systematically. I costed out a few things, then asked my partners for feedback. The bike co-op is hosting a lot of the project’s trainings, so they knew how much that part would cost; the same went for Catholic Charities, who provided the translators. With these numbers, I initially drew up a budget for 50-plus participants as a pilot. That wound up growing to 100 participants as we raised more money.

The fundraising effort was a little more by the seat of our pants. I relied a lot on the organizations to contact their donor lists, I made my own list of who I should ask, and I cobbled together targeted social media efforts as I went along. On social, I made an effort to go for people I knew had a lot of connections. For instance, I noticed that a reporter for a local blog was putting together a list of local organizations who were accepting different kinds of donations. I asked her if she’d include us, and she did. There was a lot of happenstance like that.


Q: How did storytelling factor in?

It was challenging on one hand because there are privacy concerns with sharing info about refugees, for their safety. You don’t want to get into too much detail, so just we said there’s a need and there’s an interest: that it’s been difficult for refugees to get bikes, and there have been incidents where people have been injured.

But I did try to share my own story of how we got to where we were, why this issue was important, and more about this mobility gap we wanted to bridge. Interestingly, the campaign deadline was November 18 of last year, and we found that we kind of plateaued about two weeks before the presidential election on November 8. After the election, it was evident that people really wanted to do something, and we were there with some issues that were really at the heart of the election: immigration, refugees, climate change, transportation equity, human dignity… So that timing wound up really working to our advantage. Donations surged and got us to our original goal, then to our stretch goal.

Another aspect of storytelling that really helped was earned media recognition. There’s a local blog that does feel-good stories, and they wrote about us. While I thought they focused too much on me—that’s not my cup of tea!—it did help spread the word. We also appeared on the WCPN radio program The Sound of Ideas around the time we hit our goal. They wanted to do a show about refugee issues a week or so after the election, and reached out to us.


Q: What methods did you use to ask people?

I was pleasantly surprised by how effective creating a Twitter account for the project was: for raising money as well as for thanking and appreciating donors. But the larger donations we got—above $100—all came from direct asks to people, made either by me or our partner organizations. In those cases, personal emails were probably the most effective method.


Q: Did fundraising help with community buy-in?

Sure. In addition to donating, or in lieu of it, some people said they would like to volunteer, donate bike paraphernalia, or help us get the word out. Those were beneficial outcomes for sure.

As you would expect, given the political climate and the nature of the program, there were a few less than kind comments made and messages shared. But then we saw a lot of vocal supporters step up to “drown out the haters,” so to speak.


Q: Any other advice?

  • It’s important to set a realistic fundraising target and justify how you got to that number; people will want to know. ioby training taught me to break it down this way: If you give us $75, that will buy a bike; $25 will buy an hour of interpretation; etc. Giving concrete examples of where the money’s going encourages donors to feel ownership.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends; they’re the ones most likely to support you if they can.
  • Partner with good organizations that have experience in your topic area and good donor lists. Harness their skills and connect with their constituencies.
  • While ioby cautions not to rely too heavily on social media, I found it to work pretty well, though I understand that might not be the case for everyone.
  • Have a story to tell. People want to hear it. I had to figure out how to do that without divulging too much private information, but in any case, work to tell an engaging story of some kind. People will feel like they have a stake in what you’re doing if they know where you’re coming from and are sharing something personal with them.

VIDEO: Barrier Free, a socially engaged art installation

Barrier Free is a socially engaged art installation designed by artist Yancy Villa-Calvo for Latino Memphis about the impact of barriers. A direct response to the Border Wall proposal and other policies that threaten to divide Latino families and vulnerable families, this piece asks residents to participate by imagining that a loved one has gone missing, and by sharing their dreams for a barrier-free world.


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