VIDEO: Kelly Street Garden, South Bronx

Kelly Street Garden has been a hub of healthy food and growing community in the South Bronx for more than 4 years. Despite being in the poorest national congressional district and lowest-ranked county by health in New York State, the garden, mostly run by volunteers, has grown and distributed hundreds of pounds of produce to neighbors—for free—through weekly summer Farm Stands, cooking workshops, and other events.



Recently, Kelly Street Garden raised nearly $5,000 on ioby as part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, to launch a “Garden Ambassador Program.” This summer program will provide opportunities for three youth garden ambassadors to build critical urban gardening skills, deepen knowledge of urban agriculture careers, and receive $1,000 to help maintain the 2,500-square-foot growing space over 16 weeks.


Getting fresh: The South Bronx Farmers Market delivers produce & inspiration

With our partner the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to announce the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York state who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.

Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including the one we’re profiling below) will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $250 per donation by NYSHealth until May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health across New York!


Trinity Farms

“I don’t consider myself a community leader—though I do aspire to that—but I’ve been in the food movement for a good while, and have been exposed to a lot of different leaders and projects,” says Jorge Cubas, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign South Bronx Farmers Market – New Market Day and one of the market’s board members. “I’ve found that the most resilient projects are resident-led. They’re endeavors of passion. The South Bronx Farmers Market is an excellent example of that.”

The South Bronx Farmers Market (SBFM), now entering its fourth season, is the only farmers market in the neighborhood of Mott Haven: the poorest congressional district in the country, where almost fifty percent of children live below the poverty line. Its founder, Lily Kesselman, and a small team of mostly volunteer staff are on a mission to address the area’s public health crises—in particular obesity, diabetes, and undernourishment—by providing residents better access to nutritious, affordable, locally grown foods, and free, bilingual demonstrations for kids and adults about ways to prepare it. On average, around forty percent of funds spent at the market come through one or more of NYC’s food subsidy programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (the assistance program for Women, Infants, and Children). Last season, SBFM markets facilitated over $10,000 in SNAP purchases.


“Giving our community a way to find locally grown, nutritious food and showing them different ways to experience it will make a real, positive health impact here,” Jorge says. “We know our farmers are not always going to be able to grow foods that are familiar to our community—the things they would find at home if they came here from another country—so our demonstration chefs help show them what to do.”

SBFM’s ioby campaign is raising money to extend their hours of operation to include a weekly Wednesday market in addition to the Saturday hours they’re already open. Funds will cover costs like printing flyers, banners, and posters to advertise the new day, as well as living wages for two part-time staffers. Customers—many of whom work on weekends—have requested the extra midweek day, and Jorge and Lily are happy to oblige.

Lily lives in the South Bronx; Jorge was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens—a neighborhood he finds similar in some ways to Mott Haven. “They’re both very diverse places with a lot of immigrants—like my parents,” he says. For several years, Jorge worked in operations at Just Food; he met Lily when she participated in a community food project training program there. “From that time on, I’ve always admired her work,” he says. “She’s been very inspiring and tenacious and has made the South Bronx Farmers Market as successful as it is. It’s very difficult work. It requires a real leader, and Lily is just that.”


Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 4.33.09 PM

“You walk in some areas of Brooklyn or Queens, and of course Manhattan, and it’s not difficult to find a farmers market,” Jorge says. “That’s much less the case in the Bronx. This area has a history of being ‘drowned out’ in city decision making.”

Lily relates the story of FreshDirect, which she says recently struck a deal with the city to lease space on state-owned waterfront land in the South Bronx. Their operations will bring a sharp increase in diesel truck traffic through the neighborhood, which already suffers from some of the highest asthma rates in the country. “Our community was notified of this ‘deal’ after the lease was signed and money had been approved,” she says. “FreshDirect aims to push out small brick-and-mortar businesses and will be exempt from any living wage laws in the future. So our tax dollars are pushing out our own small businesses and funding additional pollution that will affect our families.

“My personal challenge,” she continues, “was: 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 without harming our residents 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.”

In the future, SBFM would like to expand its value-added offerings (like locally made pickles, baked goods, and crafts), grow to support additional farmers and food companies, and host an indoor market in the winter so residents can access fresh local food year round.  


Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 4.32.56 PM

Jorge invites visitors to the market to give their feedback—”Let us know what you’d like to see!”—and says volunteer help is always needed and appreciated. “A big part of doing this is mentorship,” he says. “We take the time and effort to make volunteering here a meaningful experience for people.”

“The political climate is such that we’re all agonizing over ways to boost one another and feel more connected,” he adds. “It’s part of my philosophy, and Lily’s, that ‘helping’ is not as useful as feeling invested in a movement or endeavor. If you have a network and invest in it, you have a pretty powerful tool to drive the needle in your direction.“

In 2017, the South Bronx Farmers Market will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays from June 17 to November 22, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. They’re located on the south side of 138th Street, between Willis and Alexander Avenues in Mott Haven, near the 3rd Avenue/138th Street subway station on the 6 train.

VIDEO: Rockaway Dune Planting with the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF Ambassadors!

The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Ambassadors are a group of high school students helping NYC residents build healthy coastal ecosystems to protect against storms and rising sea levels. On Earth Day 2017, the LEAF Ambassadors partnered with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance and local residents to restore a natural storm buffer on the Rockaway Beach sand dunes in commemoration of the 5-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.

By planting native shrubs and grasses, the Ambassadors and volunteers are helping create a more resilient NYC coastline while engaging the community about the importance of natural buffers and coastal resilience in the context of rising sea levels and a changing climate.

AWESOME PROJECT: Memphis nonprofit needs truck to transport restaurant compost to farms

Did you know that the average restaurant meal produces one and a half pounds of food waste? Much of it – think potato peels, broccoli stems, eggshells, or food the restaurant ordered but never got to send to a table – is pre-consumer waste, and some of it – like that last quarter sandwich you couldn’t finish – is post-consumer.

Until a little restaurant-to-farm composting nonprofit called Project Green Fork (PGF) was piloted in 2008, all that food waste from Memphis restaurants was going straight into landfills. That’s a whole lot of space taken up in landfills, a whole lot of methane dumped into the atmosphere (food produces methane, a greenhouse gas, as it rots), and a whole lot of potential fresh new soil going down the tubes. Imagine Memphis-area farmers paying for fertilizer and soil, when they could have been getting it for free all that time!

Support this project!


Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 10.16.47 AM

clean green Memphis pride

Audra Farmer, who’s had a foot in the restaurant biz since she was 19, was a bartender at a restaurant called Tsunami when it became the pilot PGF location in 2008, so she got to see her colleagues in the kitchen switch from one bin – just trash – to three: trash, recycling, and organic food scraps. It wasn’t as difficult a switch as you might have thought, and the results made her proud of PGF, of Tsunami, and of Memphis.

“It was an organization I was interested in, and proud to have here in Memphis, since we don’t have commercial recycling in the city of Memphis. We’re pretty far behind, honestly. It’s small organizations and nonprofits that make up the difference, so I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Today, PGF is at 57 certified restaurants and counting. Just recently, they added three new ones. PGF restaurants collect all of pre-consumer food waste in a special bin, as well as recycle bottles and cans , conduct energy audits, cut out Styrofoam, and take good, non-toxic care of their land, to prevent pollutants from going into the Memphis stormwater drain network.

“It’s a massive amount of waste associated with dining out,” explains Farmer. “But it doesn’t have to be. PGF has a big following. We have diners that only dine at PGF-certified restaurants, because they stand up for what we’re doing.” As for Farmer, she’s become more and more invested in PGF over the years, too. These days, she works as PGF Project Manager, and also goes into local school systems as an environmental educator for PGF’s parent organization, Clean Memphis.


Food scraps

when you just need a bigger boat

This all sounds pretty great, right? So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that PGF grew almost too fast for its own good! “We wound up with all this compost,” explains Farmer, “and we kind of overwhelmed the local farm that we were delivering to. It was almost to the point that we didn’t know what to do. We were almost panicking. We didn’t want to ask the restaurants to stop. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know once you tell your staff ‘you don’t have to do this anymore,’ it’s gonna be pretty hard to get them to go back to doing it.”

Girls Inc., whose farm outside the city highlights the work of girls and women in agriculture, stepped up to the plate, and within a week had started taking all of PGF’s compost. Get Green Recycleworks also opted in; they pick up the compost, as well as plastic and metal recyclables from all PGF restaurants. “Those two organizations are our champions right now,” says Farmer, “along with our restaurants, who do these practices every day.”



Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 10.15.32 AM

The only remaining volume problem today is that PGF needs a bigger dump trailer to transport all that precious compost. They’re raising money right now via ioby to pay for a new dump trailer to hook up to their truck. “We just need a bigger boat,” says Farmer. “We outgrew our tiny little trailer that could, so this is going to make it easier, more manageable, more efficient  to get food waste to the farm. Right now we have to do three to four dumps per day, and we’re growing every day.”


Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 10.15.23 AM

what you can do

  1. Visit a PGF restaurant.
  2. Attend Living Local festival on June 8
  3. Donate towards the new dump trailer, by donating to their ioby campaign.


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? NO PROBLEMO! We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.


AWESOME PROJECT: Recovering lost stories of the Underground Railroad

In 2002, 73-year-old Joan Southgate – retired Cleveland social worker and grandmother of nine – decided she was going to take her daily one-mile walk up a  few levels. She felt called to honor her enslaved ancestors by walking the very same hundreds of miles they’d walked to freedom, on the Underground Railroad. Her march made the news, and when she got home, she founded an organization called Restore Cleveland Hope (“hope” had been Cleveland’s code name on the Underground Railroad) and set to work saving the city’s last remaining “safe home” – the Cozad Bates House – from demolition.


Joan Southgate on Toni Morrison's Bench by the Road

“She wanted her grandchildren to grow up being proud of having survived,” explains photographer and Restore Cleveland Hope volunteer Jeanne Van Atta. “When the subject of slavery comes up in schools, African American children hang their heads, and feel ashamed, and that’s something she wanted to get past. That this is not something to be ashamed of. This is something to be proud of. This is not something you did, but something that was done to you. And something that your ancestors survived by their own strength and cleverness, and they only became stronger from going through this.”


Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 10.15.08 AM  

recovering lost history

The Cozad Bates House stands today, and hosts wonderful cultural and educational programs, including a Freedom Festival featuring African dancing, singing, and reenactments. Last year, an actress took on the story of Lucy Bagby, the last enslaved fugitive to seek shelter in Cleveland. “It’s a sad story in many ways,” says Van Atta. “There was a lot of support for her because of the fugitive slave act. Ohio was a free state. There was a fight between people who wanted to capture her and people who wanted to keep her free. She was actually sent back to her so-called owner. Ultimately she was freed, and she moved back to Cleveland and was buried here in a cemetery.”

Restore Cleveland Hope’s team of volunteers also go into schools and communities to lead “beloved community dialogues,” in which they tell the story of a person whose life was touched by the Underground Railroad, and then draw lessons for today. Toni Morrison recently placed one of her twelve “benches by the road” – commemorating those who worked to fight slavery – in front of the Cozad Bates House. Wonderful work is being done.

The problem is that Restore Cleveland Hope can’t keep as much of the history alive as it would like to – because so much of it is lost. “A lot of the underground railroad history was lost because of the nature of what was done,” explains Van Atta. “It was all done in secret. Nothing could be written down or documented, because people’s lives were at stake. And then once the Civil War was over, I think a lot of people wanted to move on. People were trying to survive. The white abolitionists moved on to other issues. And the people who had been enslaved were desperately trying to survive and deal with all of the new hardships that they had to face. So preserving that history was not a priority.”


Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 10.14.55 AM

This was, unfortunately, especially true in Cleveland. “Cleveland is not usually thought of,” explains Van Atta, “when people think of Northern Ohio and the Underground railroad. They usually think of Oberlin, because they’ve done a really good job of preserving their history, and Cleveland has not. Until Restore Cleveland Hope came along, people didn’t know what Cleveland’s role was during that time.”

That’s why Restore Cleveland Hope and the Cozad Bates House volunteer staff recently raised money via ioby to fund new research into the history of the Underground Railroad in Cleveland. They plan to hire university students to dig deep into archives and communities, using maps, illustrations, and court case documents to recover as many names and individuals’ stories as they can.

Money raised will also help fund this year’s Freedom Festival; because the organization is volunteer-run, and the festival offered free of charge to participants, funds are needed to cover permitting, sound equipment, and other basics.

To learn more about Restore Cleveland Hope’s wonderful work, visit them here.

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: New rail trail coming to Georgia!

One of the coolest stories we get to tell, here at ioby, is the story in which someone smart and inspired moves away from home to live somewhere new for a period of time, gets exposed to a life-changing idea, and then brings it back home  when they return months or years later. These leaders  are like pollinators, buzzing from state to state, town to town, spreading ideas that work, and leaving  fruit-bearing trees in their wake. It’s a story that never gets old.


Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.49.46 AM

greenways make people happy

Want a good example? Ivette Lopez Bledsoe is a social worker and health counselor who grew up in Georgia, but early in her career moved to Fort Collins, CO, where she was lucky enough to have a world-class greenway trail just outside her door. Suddenly, her day-to-day didn’t revolve around the car. For 18 years, most of life’s to-and-fro happened on that trail. It was a place where she could restore herself, travel and run errands safely without getting in a car, and connect with neighbors. She felt how profoundly her time on the greenway affected her own wellbeing. At work, she constantly witnessed how walking in nature, connecting with neighbors, and breathing fresh air had lasting benefits for her clients. She knew what the research said: that walking outside can often improve our mental health even more successfully than medications can.


Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.53.08 AM


So when Bledsoe and her husband started talking about moving back home to Georgia to be closer to family, it was a real reckoning. The decision was incredibly difficult to make, in large part because they just didn’t know if they could say goodbye to their beloved greenway. If you think that sounds crazy, imagine your quality of life if you could safely and easily bike to work, send your children to school by bike, and even bike out to run errands or get a quick summers’ evening ice cream cone. Goodbye, road rage. Hello, fresh air. “It absolutely impacted me, and it made me realize how it could be,” says Bledsoe. “So coming back, that was probably the most difficult decision, knowing that I was going to give that up. I really was having a very difficult time. And I remember taking my last bike ride as a resident, and being very emotional about it.”


Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.49.32 AM

“Here in Georgia,” she continues, “the safety issue is very big for me. I’m very worried about my kids; I can’t really send them out to bike here. I see people walking on busy streets with no sidewalk, riding bikes on streets with no bike lane. There aren’t a lot of options.”


sometimes you CAN take it with you

Here’s the best part of the story. Instead of feeling helpless, or telling herself she’d just never get to bike to work  again, Bledsoe got active. She sought out a team of people who had been working for a decade to bring a similar greenway to Georgia – running from Athens to Union Point – and she dove right in. Today, Bledsoe has been on the Firefly Trail board for nearly a year, and she can’t wait to see it finished – hopefully in the next 5-10 years. She and the rest of the board are raising $60,000 right now, via ioby, to jumpstart construction of the 39-mile trail, which will make Athens, Maxeys, Union Point, and all the other small communities along its path safer, healthier, and more economically stable. The hope is that historical points of interest along the way – like the old theater in Union Point – will be revived by new bike and foot-traffic. “Union Point is literally one of those dying communities you hear about,” explains Bledsoe, “that got blown away during the recession. And it’s unbelievably adorable.” The town’s main industry, until recently, had been a sock-making factory that’s now shuttered.


Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.52.54 AM

“When it’s all said and done,” says Bledsoe, “this is going to be not just an Athens or a Union Point amenity, but a state amenity. Because a lot of people do rails-to-trails vacations. We see it breathing life into these small communities: hotels, restaurants, breweries. All kinds of things are there and waiting.”

Bledsoe feels incredibly lucky to have experienced life on a greenway, and wants to bring that experience to her new community. “I wanted my kids to understand that the car is not the only way to get around in life,” she explains, “and that when you get outside your car, beautiful things start to happen. You actually start to see smiling faces. You stop and talk. You actually see plants and animals and things you would never have noticed. I want this Firefly Trail to be completed so that those residents in those communities can experience that.”


Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.49.16 AM

So, who do you know that’s a pollinator of good ideas? Someone in your family? Someone in your town? Is it you? Can you see why we never get tired of the pollinator story? It’s the story of our interdependence, and our collective evolution towards happier, stronger, greener, cleaner communities.

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: artists are elevating political issues through murals

“It’s one thing to celebrate the anniversary of something, but if you can’t show its relevance today, it’s just a relic,” says Jane Weissman, ioby Leader and administrative director of the community mural organization Artmakers. “Here, 30-some years later, these works—and the issues they address—are still living and breathing.”

Jane is leading the campaign La Lucha Continua The Struggle Continues: 1985 & 2017, an exhibition and series of public programs commemorating the 26 political murals Artmakers painted in 1985 and 1986 on New York City’s Lower East Side to portray six issues of acute concern to the area’s residents and the artists: gentrification, apartheid in South Africa, U.S. military intervention in South America, feminism, police brutality, and immigration.

You read right: this was the 1980s. Swap out a couple of the geographic locations, perhaps, and that list of ‘wicked problems’ could have been penned this morning. “Some things have changed, and some things have not, and that’s the premise of the show,” Jane says. “These were fabulously interesting, smart murals, and they could all have been painted today. Maybe instead of a beautiful Nicaraguan face, now you’d see a beautiful Iraqi or Syrian face. But these problems are still with us, they have not gone away, and in many cases they’re just as bad as they ever were, or worse.”


23_Rikki_3 copy

Time to look back, and look ahead

Near the end of 2015, Jane was talking with Camille Perrottet, artistic director of Artmakers, about the La Lucha project, which covered seven walls on four buildings surrounding the La Plaza Cultural community garden. (Today, only two remain.) They decided to go digging for old photos of it in Camille’s basement and realized that many of the murals they were looking at were painted three decades ago to the year. “How could we not have acknowledged that somehow?!” Jane recalls exclaiming. “I said, ‘We’ve got to do an exhibition about this.’”

Camille unearthed and organized scores of archival photos, and Jane began searching for the 34 artists who were involved; she was able to locate and connect with all but a handful. Together, and with help and input from other Artmakers volunteers, they organized the retrospective that will be on view at The Loisaida Center from April 8 to June 30. Their ioby campaign is raising money to pay for exhibition costs like graphic design, video editing, and photo printing and framing.

“Whoever reads this blog,” Jane says, “whether they contribute to our campaign or not—and their contributions are very much appreciated!—we just hope they come. We’re doing a visit to the original community garden, where people can get a sense of where the murals were, and visualize them, and see the renovated buildings that are there now. They can imagine what was there before, and think about whether something has been lost or gained.”


Artists of conviction

Jane describes Artmakers, which was established in 1983, as “a very loose group of artists of conviction; political artists. We work with people to help them articulate their ideas in images and create high-quality public art that’s relevant to their lives and concerns. We also put up scaffolding, bring lemonade, and make a great celebration at the end. We want to foster not only art but also the appreciation of a neighborhood’s own work as art.”

Artmakers has created over 50 murals since its inception, primarily in New York City. The organization works with community based organizations, public schools, health care facilities, homeless shelters, day care centers, and other entities to determine mural themes and content, and involves them in all aspects of mural creation. Artmakers also hires young people to work as paid apprentices through its Pre-Professional Training Program, and hosts design workshops for groups interested in organizing community murals on their own.


1_La Lucha Continua copy

“Art is not our primary purpose. Art is our vehicle for change.”

Quoting Artmakers founder Eva Cockcroft, Jane says: “Painted images cannot stop wars or win the struggle for justice, but they are not irrelevant. They fortify and enrich the spirit of those who are committed to the struggle and help educate those who are unaware.”

“I give a lot of talks,” Jane continues, “and when I talk about community murals, I apply a lot of words to them: they beautify, inspire, motivate, educate, celebrate, protest… Not every mural has to be a great work of art to be effective. Murals take on power because of their context in the community; they absorb and reflect the zeitgeist. Murals can become lightning rods, powerful beyond their aesthetics. Some are drop-dead beautiful, too, but some are just drop-dead powerful.”

After 30 years, Jane says she doesn’t think Artmakers’ work is going to start winning any wars, “but we might get some people to act,” she says. “That’s why, wherever there’s a struggle, it’s important to represent that struggle through art. Art is a powerful motivator. Hopefully, this exhibition will infuse the air with possibility: of protest, action, and change. The possibility of making the world a fairer, more just place.”

Learn more about Artmakers’ history and mission on their website, and see their Facebook page for a full list of the events they’re planning around La Lucha Continua The Struggle Continues: 1985 & 2017. Check out their previous successful ioby campaigns: the second and fourth murals in their four-part series commemorating poet Federico García Lorca.


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? NO PROBLEMO! We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

VIDEO: Lights for Life at the San Bernardino Bicycle Hubitat

The Bicycle Hubitat at the San Bernardino Transit Center aims to fill in an important transit gap for commuters, especially economically disadvantaged individuals who may not have the means to acquire, repair, or maintain a bike on their own. The Hubitat, a program of Inland Empire Biking Alliance, is a do-it-yourself bicycle cooperative that provides access to tools, equipment, parts and know-how so that cyclists can get their bikes back on the road.

Lights for Life is an initiative of the Bicycle Hubitat that distributes bike lights for free to cyclists using the transit hub. For those who commute in early morning and evening hours, visibility while riding can be lifesaving.

Lights for Life and the Bicycle Hubitat are made possible through a partnership with Omnitrans, and through the Trick out My Trip program, a fundraising opportunity for resident-led transit improvements through ioby and  TransitCenter.


An update on funding racial justice trainings

By Erin Barnes

This blog is an update from the piece I wrote in October about ioby’s rationale behind, plan to develop and approach to funding an antiracism framework. You can read the original piece here.

After I published the blog, a lot of nonprofit executive directors have asked me that I “let them know how it works.” I’ve been keeping them updated informally, but I wanted to share things publicly with executive directors who I may not know.

racial justice1

The short version is it’s working. Since we published this piece, we changed all of our budgets to be formatted this way, and have submitted them to the following foundations, all of whom accepted this line item without question.


The Kresge Foundation

The Ford Foundation

The Summit Foundation

The Overbrook Foundation

The JPB Foundation

Saint Luke’s Foundation

The George Gund Foundation

Hyde Family Foundation


The one exception was the Ford Foundation, which recently changed its policy on indirect costs to provide a minimum of 20% on project grants. Our combined Indirect Rate… and 2% for Racial Justice was still below 20% so the Ford Foundation asked us to simply submit a flat 20%. THANK YOU, FORD FOUNDATION!!!!

So, in just three months, we have raised $10,000 for racial justice trainings. We’re only 13% of our way to our goal of $81,000, but, hey, that’s 13% further than we were in October.

Staff final web ready copy

I also want to acknowledge Gehl Institute, Resource Media and EcoDistricts for joining ioby in using this structure. Although we have a long way to go before nonprofits can finally cast off this burden of using ‘overhead’ to evaluate organizational effectiveness, we believe there is real urgency in funding antiracism work inside the social sector today. So, rather than wait for the social sector to reinvent itself, we’re going to make incremental change today, with the tools we have, just like ioby Leaders do in their communities every day.



Erin Barnes, co-founder and Executive Director of ioby

Does crowdfunding work for large or established nonprofits?

Here something we hear fairly often:

Sure, crowdfunding works for small startups raising a seed  money, or loosely affiliated groups of neighbors working together for the first time, but why would my large, relatively well-established organization want to crowdfund? After all, we have several established revenue streams, including foundation or corporate funding, an active list of engaged individual donors, maybe even a membership program. Where’s the added value in a crowdfunding campaign, especially if it means more work for my fundraising team?

Who We SErve

[Nearly a quarter of our ioby Leaders represent larger, more established nonprofits]

We’d never argue that crowdfunding is the best fundraising tool at all times, but when used to complement other funding streams, it can actually help build a more sustainable organization in the long term. Here are some instances in which crowdfunding can be the right move:


1. you have a depressed donor base you want to invigorate

If you have a robust development approach, and you are already sending individual donors authentic thanks and detailed communications, you probably don’t need this. But if your donor base could use new life breathed into it, a crowdfunding campaign can be very satisfying in addition to regular annual giving because:

  • the asks are very concrete
  • the funding goal is clearly communicated
  • donors can understand their contribution towards the overall goal
  • generally speaking, crowdfunded projects are typically implemented very quickly and those implementations, when communicated with the same speed, can be very satisfying to a donor.

In order to make this approach work, we’d recommend using both your email or mailing subscriber list and your current donors, and differentiating the ask very clearly from other asks, such as an end of year, annual appeal, and putting many months’ distance between those distinct campaigns so you have plenty of time to thank and follow up.


2. you want to audience-test a new program or approach

Crowdfunding can be an important way to say, “You are all familiar with our  core work, which is critical to providing our basic mission-based services. We’re interested in trying this new approach and we’d like your support in experimenting with it—something institutional funders would hesitate to do.” If it’s applicable to your organization, ioby supports and encourages both permitted and non-permitted activities in public space to get the attention of government and to work for justice—unpermitted activity is something few institutional funders have the leeway to support.


3. you need to rapidly and urgently respond to a crisis

Many in our sector want to be able to serve our constituents quickly, compassionately, and effectively during a crisis, but restricted funding, long turnaround times for grants, and other challenges can make this difficult. Crowdfunding can be a way to build up additional unrestricted funds when your base is very activated. The motivation is clear, the ask is concrete, and the urgency is palpable. These are the most important components of a good crowdfunding campaign. Because of the urgency, your most loyal supporters will be inclined to share the campaign with their networks.


4. you want to expand your base of younger donors

A crowdfunding campaign can be a useful way to use impassioned supporters to leverage their own networks. Similar to a peer-to-peer campaign, you can recruit your most passionate, energetic, youngest donors (even if they are giving at very small levels) and ask them to run a campaign to fund part of your work. In this way, you convert your donors into cheerleaders and solicitors on your behalf. Their personal ask to their friends is more compelling than an institutional ask, and your reach is expanded. This approach, of course, takes staff time to support.


keep in mind:

  • Real urgency is the most important part of a crowdfunding campaign. The fundraising appeal must be different from an annual appeal and distinct from language on your donate page.
  • You want to keep integrity in your brand. When you use any crowdfunding platform, you’re directing your base to a third party site, and you want to keep the number of clicks to get to the donation as few as possible. It’s important to think through when you want to have complete brand control and when you don’t need it.
  • Crowdfunding is a real campaign, and it takes work. These campaigns are  best executed in collaboration with program work, and not by a development team in isolation — and that coordination takes work.
  • Remember that crowdfunding is an important source of unrestricted funds. So strike the delicate balance of being specific while keeping the way you spend the funds as unrestricted as possible.

Are you with an established nonprofit and have questions about how crowdfunding can support your programs and complement your development portfolio? Reach out!