For faith-based community organizations, fundraising can pose particular opportunities and challenges. Megan Klein, Chief Development & Communications Officer at STREETS Ministries in Memphis, puts it this way: “It’s heaven and hell all together.”
“It’s never too late to act. There’s always time to make your voice heard and to do something, even if it’s a small thing—especially if it’s a small thing. That’s the best place to start.”
— Indigo Bishop, ioby Cleveland Action Strategist, in ioby’s new Racial Justice Toolkit
Fifty years ago today, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Commemorations are taking place across the country to honor his vision and achievements, from panel discussions to walking tours to the symbolic ringing of church bells. The anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic death can serve to remind us of how real the challenges to racial equity movements can be.
Love music? Love working with young people? Interested in organizing a music program for youth in your community, but not sure what it could look like?
You’ve come to the right place. Over the years, we’ve worked with many leaders who have started creative initiatives in their communities that get young people involved in music, often in conjunction with something else engaging like the outdoors, visual arts, or technology. They’re all different, but they all have some common threads (such as, we’ll just say it, being awesome).
ioby is more than just a crowdfunding platform: we’re a team of individuals who are passionate about helping neighbors make their neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable and more fun. We love hearing from ioby Leaders about their experiences planning, funding and implementing a project with us. We think by sharing these experiences, complete with both triumphs and roadblocks, we can help spread knowledge and maybe even inspire others to take action towards positive change where they live.
Looking for signs
As a self-identified sign-hunter, Khara Woods is always on the lookout for street art in Memphis. On leisurely walks through her hometown, she documents property signage and graffiti as reference for her graphic design and hand-lettering projects.
[Photo by David Leonard]
One day in midtown, Khara stopped in her tracks and took notice of a colorful new graffiti-inspired mural on a formerly unsightly wall along Lamar Avenue. The stark contrast between the mural design and surrounding disrepair drew into focus the strange mix of rapid transformation and neglect that for her characterizes the historic neighborhood of Rozelle-Annesdale. The wall sat adjacent to a freeway that now the divides the area, which was formerly a bustling corridor for residents and commuters. Her curiosity piqued, Khara was determined to track down the artist responsible and soon learned that the art was one of eight installments comprising the “Paint Lamar” ioby campaign led by Kyle Taylor. Khara kept ioby on her radar. She bookmarked the site to her browser and checked in periodically.
A family affair
She also sent the link to her mother. While Khara scouts emerging street art, her mother NJ Woods keeps busy as a “primitive folk” artist building on a collection of self-portraits depicting Mid-South and Civil Rights- era living. For some time now, they had been looking for a way to collaborate, and they had an idea to work on a large scale public mural together. They had applied for grants, responded to city RFPs and sought funding from arts commissions to no avail. Feeling defeated, they tabled their collaborative project until they had the resources to execute on their own terms.
[Photo by David Leonard]
A connection is made
In the early stages of ioby’s 85K Memphis Match, Khara skimmed our blog announcement and promptly got in touch with our office to float a question about what permission she’d need for a potential public mural project. After connecting with ioby’s Ellen Roberds in person at an Urban Resource Center meeting, Khara shared her concerns about her lack of fundraising experience and navigating permissions for public property use. Drawing on her local relationships, Ellen facilitated introductions between local business owners, weighed in on potential sites, and even proofread Khara’s draft emails to property owners.
After much back and forth with local stakeholders, Khara secured the site of a welcoming local eatery in Midtown: Moore Food Company. Launching their ioby campaign “Headshots”, Khara and NJ quickly racked up match funds for their $1,000 funding goal for wall clean-up materials and paint supplies. Inspired by NJ’s past collage work, the mother-daughter pair spent a couple of weekends rolling out a cast of minimalist geometric figures to represent the diversity of their Memphis neighbors. After Khara and NJ’s mural went up on behind the Moore Food Company, the restaurant saw business profits spike – their beautification project was clearly doubling as a placemaking success and a striking new neighborhood landmark!
[Photo by David Leonard]
Vision meets guidance
Khara and NJ’s mural project reminds us that fundraising is just one of many barriers that can stand in a way of potential leaders starting a project. After being burned by grant opportunities, Khara felt discouraged by bureaucratic language, sluggish timelines, and by veteran organizers competing over resources for public arts projects.
When the Woods pair came to ioby with the vision to get their project off the ground, ioby provided the footing they needed to ask for buy-in from their community. Ellen’s guidance throughout the process speaks to one of ioby’s core principles: we believe that our neighbors know what’s best for their neighborhoods. While we’re confident that local residents are the ones best equipped to make on-the-ground change, our hands-on approach offers leaders the chance to build confidence and expand their skillsets. We’re here to affirm ioby leaders’ right to improve their neighborhoods and to guide them through unforeseen hiccups along the way. ioby is proud to be a part of Headshots fundraising success and we hope it’s one of many for the Woods family!
And remember: if you’re ever headed east from Downtown Memphis, keep on the lookout for the Woods’ bold and whimsical 10-foot geocentric headshots to jut into view.
The numbers are in: ioby leaders and project donors in Memphis raised more than $160,000 during our Memphis Match campaign for projects that will make the city safer, greener, more livable, and more fun.
How’d it happen?
In February, ioby and Livable Memphis put the word out about a matching funds campaign for neighborhood projects in Memphis and were quickly inundated with great ideas. Leaders came forward with ideas large and small, from re-striping public basketball courts to creating “bee gardens.” Murals were designed, new park signage was planned, and neighborhood cookouts were coordinated. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Then, the magic really happened.
On Saturday, April 11, the match period kicked off at the much-loved community event MEMFix: the Pinch with live music, pop-up shops, food trucks, and an ioby installation in an empty storefront where neighbors could meet the leaders making all these great projects happen.
The inspiration going around that day proved highly contagious, and resulted in a tidal wave of giving: as part of this campaign, citizen philanthropists, together with the matching funds, had raised $161,100.58 that will benefit 66 projects! Pretty stellar.
More eye-popping numbers:
- More than $100K of the total was given by individuals.
- 36 ioby leaders (more than half) met their original fundraising goal before the match period deadline of April 15, and 28 of them surpassed it! Some have since adjusted their goal and are now raising even more money.
- More than 60% of the leaders had never before raised money online.
- Campaigns raised an average of $2,440.92
- Nine projects were city-wide; the others focused on one or more particular neighborhoods. Together, the projects cover 17 zip codes.
Here’s what we love about these projects: While they include the typical mix of project types (14 involved gardens, 11 included art, 7 dealt directly with education, and so on), their benefits transcend categorization. A community garden can provide fresh food, but creating one together also gets kids outdoors, teaches them about science, and gets neighbors talking to each other, maybe for the first time. Painting a mural can brighten up a wall, support a local art scene, encourage community pride, and even make a neighborhood feel safer. The benefits of each project are real, long-lasting, and powerful. Now multiply that by 66 and you get nothing short of a groundswell of positive neighborhood change in Memphis. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see where this goes!
You can read more about this smash-hit campaign and the people and initiatives who made it happen on our blog (increasing the match amount; stories behind some great ideas) and take a spin through the super-cool projects now in process on our Discover ioby page. We owe a big and hearty thanks to the Kresge Foundation for the initial $50,000 in match funding, and to the Hyde Family Foundation, Livable Memphis, and the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis for helping us “grow the pie” when it became apparent that the opportunity to support awesome projects in Memphis was even bigger than we had imagined!
And what’s our favorite part? That the best part—bringing these projects to life—is just getting started.
Calling all Memphians, neighbors, and friends who care about making a difference for Memphis neighborhoods: the big day is almost upon us! Tomorrow, Saturday, April 11, from 11am to 4pm, the Pinch district in Memphis comes alive with the latest manifestation of beloved community event series MEMFix. And we’ll be there loud and proud, to celebrate the seventy, yes, seventy – Memphis ioby campaigns currently running as part of our MemMatch challenge. Want us to throw some more awesome numbers at you? Don’t mind if we do:
Total raised to date: $98,043
Number of MemMatch campaigns already fully funded: 10
Largest amount raised so far for a MemMatch campaign: $11,105 for Trinity Playground Revitalization
So come find us tomorrow at our pop-up storefront at 358 N. Main Street. We’ll be there with Liveable Memphis and Sweet Potato Baby. Expect games, sweet treats, a book signing by Tactical Urbanism author Mike Lydon, and the chance to learn about some really cool projects coming down the pipeline in your neighborhood.
Here’s the best part: All donations given at MEMFix or online until April 15 will be doubled, thanks to the match! To whet your appetite, read a little bit below about four of the inspiring MemMatch projects.
Strengthening Memphis communities by improving public basketball courts
When Daniel Peterson was a junior in high school living in Putnam County, New York, the middle school in his town renovated its basketball court. No big deal – just your average renovation. But it changed Peterson’s life. His school team, “perennial losers,” as Peterson puts it, had within three years of the renovation started sending kids to play in college. He started practicing by himself every night – getting to know the cops, who always kicked him off at midnight – and soon found himself playing Division 1 in college. Fast-forward a few years and a few careers, and he was stepping into a new role as senior coordinator for health and fitness initiatives for the Memphis Grizzlies. Today, he’s the director of an organization called Project Backboard, which strengthens communities by improving courts. The game has never left him. And it all started with that renovation back in Putnam County. “Having those courts renovated really changed the trajectory of my life,” says Peterson.
A Memphian now, Peterson is focused on making as many improvements as he can to as many public Memphis courts as possible. Even something as minor as painting posts and covering graffiti makes a difference. “My feeling is that if you add minor improvements that draw people out of their cars and off their bikes and out of the house and into the parks, then you start getting that social interaction that strengthens community ties.”
There are 51 public courts in Memphis parks, only 13 of which are striped. Most of them are in pretty bad shape. Peterson is raising money right now to get to 15-20 of those that need stripes, and to replace backboards where possible. Striping and painting an entire court takes only $150, which means that with the current one-for-one match offer, $75 of your cash will go a long, long way. Click here to learn more about the campaign.
Memphis churches coming together to save the bees… and to serve survivors of prostitution and trafficking
Last year, Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis found itself with a massive bee problem on its hands. The church’s bell tower, it turned out, was teeming with tens of thousands of the little guys. But instead of calling the exterminator, Calvary did something remarkable: they put out a call to other churches in the area, and set to work on finding a new home for the hive. That’s how the “bee garden” at the Church of the Annunciation, in Cordova, was born. The bees now make their home here, on a gorgeous nature trail near a meditation garden and a very special spot that the church calls the Stations of the Cross. The Church of the Annunciation offered the land for free; they simply wanted “to be good stewards of the land,” as Amanda Jemison, director of operations at All Saints Presbyterian, puts it.
Jemison got involved in the project early on. She was particularly excited to learn that the honey produced by the project would be sold locally, and that proceeds would be donated to Lives Worth Saving (LWS), a prostitution intervention program in Memphis. For her, that made the honey that much sweeter. Her reaction to the first honey harvest? “Amazing! I just finished my jar. It was delicious. It’s local honey that’s contributing to a dream and a mission that I just believe in so fully.”
Now Jemison is helping to lead the charge to raise the funds to another three apiaries in the bee garden, which will make five, total. The original two hives produced twenty pounds of honey in their first go-round; the second big harvest will take place in September, and is expected to produce 95 pounds of honey. Click here to help make that possible!
Bringing bats back to Buntyn (Late breaking: This project is now FULLY FUNDED, although donations are still being accepted!)
When Shannon Langellier, Vice President of the East Buntyn Historic District Neighborhood Association, heard about ioby’s MEMmatch challenge, she put out a call to community members, asking how they thought the neighborhood could best be improved. And a very interesting suggestion came in from Caroline Carrico, who works at the local natural history museum. We need more bats, Carrico said. And more homes for bats.
Some of the best insect-eaters around, bats are critical to ecosystems, especially in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem. That includes Memphis, which is starting to see more and more West Nile virus. And bats are equally critical for their top-notch pollinating skills; organic gardeners love them.
But Carrico was right – bats had all but left the neighborhood of Buntyn. “I’ve lived here 30 years,” explains Langellier, “and it was not uncommon to see bats and chimney swifts around. At twilight, you could go out and see them fluttering around and such. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a bat anywhere in our area. I haven’t seen any in years and years. And you don’t realize it until someone points out that they’re gone!”
The money that Langellier and her partners are raising now will go toward the construction and installation – with the help of experts from the local nature center – of ten bat houses and one chimney swift tower in the neighborhood. So here’s to healthier gardens and fewer skeeters next year! Click here to learn more.
New rock garden and rotating art exhibit coming to an empty Soulsville lot (Late breaking: This project is now FULLY FUNDED, although donations are still being accepted!)
At the corner of Mississippi and Mclemore, in Soulsville, Memphis, is an empty lot about to get a serious makeover. It’s a high traffic corner (the Stax Museum and Stax Music Academy are both nearby) in a very walkable part of town, and residents often sit and hang out amidst the remains of the building that was demolished across the street. Lori Robertson, VP of the neighborhood association, wants to build an inspiring and permanent space where residents can gather. There’s a fabulous “I love Soulsville” mural in place in the empty lot already, and all it needs now, says Robertson and her team, is the attention of some Memphian creatives.
Robertson’s hope for the art garden? To “create a little happy in Soulsville,” she says. She and her team are raising money now to turn the lot into a rock garden, which will serve as a canvass on which local artists will create their own public works. The exhibition will change – if all goes according to plan – every two or three months.
“My husband and I have this personal mantra that we try to live by,” says Robertson, in explaining why she loves her corner of Memphis. “It says ‘live in the vision, not in your circumstances.’ And I feel like the residents of Soulsville truly believe in that. Despite that Soulsville is part of an inner city neighborhood, they focus heavily on the opportunities. What can we do to make sure that Soulsville grows into something greater than what people may see it as today?” To learn more, click here.
Oh hey, people who want to bike safely to work, and people who hate traffic, and people who like clean air, and people who want our coastal cities not to be underwater in 100 years:
Would it surprise you to know that Copenhagen itself, that shining eco mecca of robust and teeming protected bike lanes – bike highways, really – was not always so? That up to the 1960’s, Copenhagen, too, according to People for Bikes, was just as jam-packed with smelly cars as the rest of the developed world is?
Well, yes. It was that late in the game that the bike-heaven of the world turned it around, creating vast networks of protected bike lanes and clearing public squares of cars. Think we can do it, too?
Signs point to yes. In fact, lots of the cool kids already are. New York is doing it, Chicago’s doing it, Minneapolis is doing it. Memphis, a city particularly dear to our hearts, is doing it. And here’s some very exciting news: up next to the plate is a city that for many of us probably still calls up images of SUV’s packed with outdoorsy gear, rather than of bicycles. Time to throw out your old ideas about the mile-high city; cyclists, meet the new Denver.
By this summer, two major protected bike lanes will have opened, with many more to follow.
The imminent changes are thanks in part to Aylene McCallum, Transportation & Research Manager at non-profit Downtown Denver Partnership, and her D.D.P. colleagues. About a year ago, McCallum and her boss approached the city of Denver to say that they planned to crowd-resource money to design some protected bike lanes for downtown. City officials immediately jumped in to partner on the project, and to greatly expand its scope.
“The city said, well, wait a second. Why don’t you let us do a protected bike lane plan. We’ll fund it,” says McCallum. “We’ll focus on downtown, but we’ll do it for the entire city. And how about you use the money that you raise to accelerate the implementation of one of the corridors that we identify in this bike lane plan? So we said ok, we’ll do that.”
In an incredibly streamlined and speedy fundraising push, McCallum personally approached local businesses that stood to benefit from the increased bike and foot traffic the protected lane would bring them. She approached, in other words, people who were already stakeholders in the project, but didn’t know it yet.
“You can’t just get a story on a blog or just get a story even in the newspaper or just get a story on TV,” says McCallum. “That’s not going to bring you to your goal. You have to set aside some time to send out personal emails and personal phone calls, and that’s really what makes the difference. We pulled lists of companies that were directly on the route, on Arapahoe Street and on the adjacent corridors, and did the majority of our outreach to those companies.”
The money was raised in no time, at which point a community meeting was held, and a straw poll taken to determine which major roads residents wanted to tackle first. McCallum says it was the most fun she’s ever had at a public meeting; the poll was a hit. Arapahoe Street won, and a summer 2015 opening is slated for the new protected lane, along with it’s sister lane, which will run on a parallel street, in the opposite direction.
McCallum is herself exactly the kind of Denver resident and hopeful cyclist that she wishes were out pedaling on the roads. She’s what she calls an “interested but concerned” cyclist. She’d like to bike to her work in downtown Denver, but with two young children and a husband at home, it simply isn’t worth the risk. The city still doesn’t quite feel safely broken in for cyclists.
“I’m a mom now, I have two kids,” says McCallum. “A lot of people that work in downtown have families and are really worried about their safety, but they want to ride bikes because they’re active people and they want to use active transportation more. They’re concerned about their safety in Downtown with the high volumes of traffic, and distracted drivers. You want a little bit more protection.”
Looks like McCallum and her many interested but concerned peers won’t have to wait long; maybe we’re not as far behind Copenhagen as it seems. For a map of the new protected lane site, and lots more info, check out the Arapahoe Street Protected Bike Lane ioby campaign page.
Tactical urbanism projects serve the public good, from making it safer for families in Memphis to cross a busy street to giving bus riders in Lithonia a more enjoyable commute. In case you missed it, John Bela’s piece in Next City last week gave a fantastic look at how cities like San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia are incorporating some of the tenets of tactical urbanism into their capital programs. Here at ioby, we’ve been following this trend with keen interest, and have been particularly inspired by local government support for inspiring citizen-led projects in the City of Memphis and Shelby County.
Tommy Pacello, Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team in Memphis, says that the city is interested in taking up the role of tactician in placemaking projects. “What we have seen in Memphis is local government embracing the idea of testing ideas before they invest in them,” say Pacello. “From re-tooling intersections to be more responsive to the needs of pedestrians to temporary road diets that slow down traffic while prototyping new bicycle infrastructure. The city is using inexpensive materials, typically just paint and plastic bollards, to allow the public to engage with the proposed improvements before they become permanent.”
Pacello points to two examples that illustrate the city’s approach to iterative placemaking. At an intersection in South Memphis that sees heavy pedestrian traffic, the city used paint and plastic bollards to temporarily enhance a highly trafficked intersection with a better crosswalk and bump-outs. Then, after a year of studying the effects of the treatment, the city is planning to make the improvements permanent. In Downtown Memphis, the City used similarly inexpensive materials to test a road diet – complete with protected bike lanes and additional pedestrian space – on Riverside Drive. Now the City is measuring community response for a year and plans to make permanent improvements based on community feedback.
In acting as a tactician, Memphis has established itself as a leader among cities looking to incorporate design thinking into its approach to problem solving. At the same time, citizens in Memphis have demonstrated the same level of commitment to taking a measured, incremental approach to public space transformation.
Back in 2010, neighbors in Binghampton – a neighborhood that suffered from severe disinvestment after the construction of I-40 cut right through the heart of it – came together to reimagine Broad Avenue, the community’s historic main street thoroughfare. Inspired by the Better Block method, the community planned “New Face for an Old Broad,” a two-day intervention followed by a series of many more small, low-risk projects meant to help neighbors, businesses, and government imagine this stretch of Broad Avenue as a thriving commercial corridor. They painted protected bike lanes, staged pop-ups in vacant storefronts, and invited musicians and artists to provide cultural programming. The event was a tremendous success, and heralded $2.5 million in private investment in the next year alone. Four years later, the commercial district boasted 95% occupancy and a total of nearly $40 million in private investment.
The city, inspired by this citizen-led movement, worked with local cycling advocates, businesses, and the team at Livable Memphis to raise the funds to make that bike lane on Broad Avenue permanent. This two-way protected bike lane is part of what is now known as the Hampline, and the majority of it was paid for by a combination of federal, state, city, and private funds. But in late 2013, when the team behind the Hampline realized that they were about $70,000 short of meeting their target, they turned to neighbors on ioby for support. Later that year, the team had raised enough in citizen philanthropy to begin the timely installation of the bike lane.
Bela poses a series of questions often posed by those who are skeptical of government involvement in guerrilla interventions:
But what happens when city bureaucracies and private developers adopt the tactics of guerilla artists. Do they lose their potency and radical potential? Do they actually result in more resilient and just neighborhoods? Can tactical urbanism catalyze institutional change?
Bela outlines concerns that skeptics have voiced about the public sector turning to tactical urbanism. Namely, some are worried about governments that are increasingly relying on private partners to supply the resources, while communities have always relied on government to ensure the equitable distribution of public resources. This messaging problem poses some challenges for proponents of tactical urbanism, which is founded in principles of equity and the importance of broad civic engagement.
At ioby, we believe that an important role of government is to facilitate and encourage citizen-led interventions in neighborhoods with histories of disinvestment. Municipal government is uniquely positioned to create a permitting and regulatory environment that is favorable to the tactical urbanist, and eliminate barriers to would-be leaders in priority neighborhoods.
Based on nearly five years of working with more than 750 leaders, we’ve learned a few things about the psyche of the self-starting urbanist. Specifically we have found that people with great ideas to improve their neighborhoods are put off by two significant barriers: First, a lack of confidence, bred by a limited knowledge of permitting procedures and a fear being penalized for staging a public space intervention; and second, a lack of timely, right-sized funding.
ioby’s crowd-resourcing platform funnels capital from the neighborhood – financial, social, and in-kind – to citizen-led projects. ioby offers neighborhood leaders the tools and guidance that they need to bring their ideas to life. Still, even equipped with resources and support, onerous and intimidating permitting requirements are roadblocks that prevent leaders in underinvested neighborhoods from taking on tactical urbanism projects.
A year into our partnership with Memphis, we are excited to build on this innovative way that we have worked with government to support tactical urbanists. Right now, ioby is working with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability to find ways to find, encourage, and support Memphians looking to make their neighborhoods stronger and more livable. Together, we hope to build a system that will integrate ioby’s crowd-resourcing platform into a neighborhood visioning process.
As communities work with the Office of Sustainability and their partners to develop long-term goals for their neighborhoods, ioby will equip them with fundraising and organizing tools they need to take on shorter-term projects toward their visions. If successful, city and county government will be able to keep an eye on these initiatives taking form, deploy resources where needed, and expedite approvals where possible. Through our partnership, ioby hopes to facilitate the “measure, test, refine” model made famous by pioneers like Bela.
As they aim to encourage tacticians engaging in iterative placemaking, cities like Memphis could reorient their procedures and policies to accommodate leaders in neighborhoods where obstacles to civic participation are most significant. To sum our reply to Bela’s questions, the involvement of city government does not threaten the integrity of the tactical urbanism movement. In fact, we boldly suggest that with the right kind of thoughtful public investment and policy adjustment, governments can grow and diversify the legions of tacticians that are taking root in cities across the country.
Today ioby is pleased to announce the national expansion of our fiscal sponsorship program.
Effective immediately, ioby will offer fiscal sponsorship to informal and unincorporated groups in any community in the United States. To take advantage of ioby’s fiscal sponsorship service, you must have a live ioby campaign. See the details of our fiscal sponsorship policy here. To be eligible to use ioby, leaders must live in the neighborhood where the project is taking place, have explicit goals to make their neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable, make no profit and benefit the public, and have tangible, measurable and measured results.
Why are we doing this?
Since ioby’s beta launch in April 2009, we knew we wanted to serve those who many people call “the grassroots.” During our two-year NYC pilot phase, this meant serving the approximately 3,000 groups that steward green spaces across the five boroughs. According to research by the U.S. Forest Service NYC Urban Field Station, we know that more than half of these groups have annual budgets of less than $1,000 and nearly 70% are led by volunteers. The majority of these groups are informal; that is, they aren’t incorporated and certainly don’t have IRS recognition as a 501(c)3 non profit.
These groups, in NYC and in many other places, are critical managers of green space, open space and public spaces. They’re the unrecognized maintenance partners of plazas who run annual or seasonal cleanups. They start beautification projects. They run programs that activate public spaces and bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods. Most are powered by sweat equity, in-kind donations, small cash donations and small grants. And frankly, there is little incentive for these groups to incorporate and become 501(c)3s themselves.
We also found that ioby is a critical source of startup capital for new social enterprises and civic organizations. About 1/3 of ioby campaigns are explicitly startups and go on to raise additional funding from major gifts and grants.
Since our launch, ioby has provided a limited type of fiscal sponsorship to informal groups of neighbors and unincorporated groups in New York City’s five boroughs and Jersey City. In partnerships with the Miami-Dade County Office of Sustainability and the Memphis Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, ioby extended this service to the metropolitan areas of Miami, Florida in 2012 and Memphis, Tennessee in 2013. In these communities, ioby acts as a fiscal sponsor for approximately 60% of these citizen-led, neighbor-funded projects.
We surveyed ioby Leaders in New York, Miami and Memphis. Among other things, we found that providing tax deductions for donations was especially important in the lowest income neighborhoods where we work. (It wasn’t as important an issue for neighborhood leaders from wealthier families and neighborhoods, except when those groups were expecting to receive donations of $500 or more.) We’re serious about our mission to support leaders in low-income communities who are working to make positive change, and we believe that being responsive to about the services that matter to them and to their donors.
Why is it so important to fund these small groups at the hyper local level?
Well, for starters, we know that lack of non-profit status is a barrier to receiving philanthropic dollars, especially grants and large donations, but it may also be a barrier to effectively solving complex problems. In “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” by Sarah Hansen, we learn that environmental organizations with budgets higher than $5 million consistently receive more than half of all philanthropic dollars, leaving just half the pie for more than 80% of organizations. Hansen’s paper smartly argues that allocating funding explicitly for grassroots organizing in front line communities can effectively support national policies by mobilizing demand for change. But this citation from the Urban Institute only includes groups that have filed a 990 or 990-EZ with gross receipts of $25,000 or more, groups that are in many cases 5 to 25 times larger than a typical ioby Leader’s.
If this expert article assessing the landscape of the grassroots is looking to groups 25 times larger than who ioby typically works with, is anyone studying social change at the block level? What about the important work at an even more grassroots level?
Maybe more importantly, we believe that neighborhood leaders are not just underfunded and untracked, but that they’re an overlooked source of innovation to solve local problems that we believe can and already have demonstrably contributed to climate mitigation and resilience at the local level. To the ioby cofounders, this is worth underscoring. In this crisis, we can’t turn away from this important fountain of radical innovation.
Finally, resilience depends on the strength of community fabric. We believe more funding made available to these groups builds capacity and the strength of local networks. You can read more about ioby’s approach to neighborhood resilience here and here.
The Hampline is one of ioby’s favorite campaigns for a lot of reasons. It’s not only because the Hampline was ioby’s first campaign in Memphis, ioby’s first campaign to raise funds for hard infrastructure, and ioby’s highest grossing campaign to date. The project is to us a brilliant collaboration, blending commercial revitalization, placemaking, cycling infrastructure and the arts in a community suffering from disinvestment. It’s an important and rich story, and we’re proud to play a role in the success of the project.
Like many U.S. cities, Memphis, Tennessee has suffered from residents moving out from the urban core to the suburbs. Between 1970 and 2010, the city population grew by 4% while the geographic area grew by 55%. The city limits doubled in size, but population remained flat, and residents packed up and moved to the outer edges of the city. Dispersion created lower density, leaving the core looking like Swiss cheese, with more than 50,000 vacant lots in the city.
Population shifts were coupled with the construction of I-40. Although Memphis is home to the notorious Supreme Court case Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe (1971) that stopped the construction of 1-40 through an established neighborhood and central park, not all neighborhoods fared so well. Similar to the way that the Cross Bronx Expressway cut off the South Bronx from the rest of NYC and compounded socio-economic barriers with a lack of physical geographic access, I-40 cut right through Binghampton, putting five lanes of high-speed traffic between the residential area and the established commercial district on Broad Avenue.
Binghampton, lovingly nicknamed “The Hamp,” is today a neighborhood of about two square miles and 9,000 residents. The median income is $26,000, and nearly 50% of residents have average household incomes below $20,000. Of the residents, 35% live below the poverty level. In recent years, the neighborhood has suffered from 30% population decline, with a 10-14% vacancy for homes in the area.
It’s not surprising that this is the case. It’s not easy to live in the Hamp. There are two active rail lines and an expressway with dangerous cross traffic. Vacant properties have led to an increase in blight.
But the neighborhood is literally surrounded by assets. To the west are the famous Overton Park, Rhodes College, the Vollintine-Evergreen Greenline, Downtown Memphis and its historic Beale Street, and the beautiful Mississippi River. To the east are Shelby Farms Park, the Greenline Extension, the Wolf River Greenway, and thriving neighborhoods. The opportunity was that connecting these assets, through Binghampton, and several other neighborhoods, would strengthen Memphis’ urban core.
In 2006, the city of Memphis began a charrette process using Broad Avenue as a test case, and the planning galvanized the neighborhood and created a business association. Together, residents and business owners came to believe that Broad Avenue could be a place for economic vitality.
In 2008, there was just one lonely mile of bike lane in Memphis, and the paths to the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park were unsuitable for biking, giving Memphis the unenviable position of “Worst City for Biking” (as ranked by Bicycling Magazine—along with another ioby priority city, Miami—in 2008 and 2010). Inspired by advocates, Mayor A C Wharton set about changing that, by hiring the city’s first bike-ped coordinator and setting a goal of adding 55 miles of bike facilities within city limits. Soon to follow was the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 6.5 mile bike lane connecting Midtown Memphis, just on the other side of Overton Park, to Shelby Farms.
Livable Memphis, a program of the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, saw an opportunity to connect these two great assets—grounding a major cycling highway while bringing traffic through an emerging business and arts district. As with many neighborhoods of disinvestment and blight, Binghampton had a reputation for crime to overcome. Although Binghampton’s “actual” crime rate was decreasing, nascent revitalization efforts and connecting assets would further reduce Binghampton’s “perceived” crime.
To jumpstart the pre-vitalization process and overcome perceptions, the Livable Memphis, the Broad Avenue Arts District, and the Binghampton Development Corporation, and the owner of an anchor business, T Clifton Arts, drew on a tactical urbanism tool from Dallas, Texas, called Build a Better Block.
The Better Block method, developed by Jason Roberts, uses a 24-hour intervention to reimagine small public spaces in commercial corridors, as if the corridor were thriving, as it perhaps was in the past. Pop-up businesses, public arts, and temporary installations allow residents to reimagine the use of public space, without the investment and the time to make permanent capital improvements.
For Binghampton, the Better Block method was translated for the locality, and A New Face for An Old Broad was born. For a single weekend, the desolate Broad Avenue was transformed into a thriving commercial district, with protected bike lanes and cultural programming. Watch the videos about New Face for an Old Broad here.
And this was just the beginning. What followed over the next year was $2.5 million in private investment, and in the next 3 years, more than $18 million. By the fourth year, the commercial district had 95% occupancy. As investments in local business boomed, cycling advocates began fundraising for the infrastructure to build the two-mile connection between Overton Park and the Shelby Farms Greenline, at that time called the Overton-Broad connector.
The $4.5 million bike lane would be the first of its kind in the United States. A two-way, protected, signalized cycle track would run straight through the emerging commercial district. Neighborhood and cycling advocates, businesses and the City raised federal, state, city and private funds, but in August of 2013, was faced with a $70,000 gap.
They could wait for the next city council cycle to request the remaining funds and delay the project, or compromise the safe and innovative design for the route. Or, they could raise the funds themselves from their friends, neighbors, and folks who would like to use the route.
The groups leading the charge – the Broad Avenue Arts District, Livable Memphis and T. Clifton Arts – and their leaders – Pat Brown, Sarah Newstok and Sara Studdard — approached ioby with their challenge to raise $70,000 by Thanksgiving. Raising the remaining funds would mean groundbreaking would begin in April and the construction would be completed in phases through Spring 2015.
The leaders agreed that their catchy fundraising campaign needed a title that would be easy to remember and authentic to the Hamp neighborhood’s unique character. After some deliberation, the Hampline was born.
The Hampline team started their campaign by asking their closest networks – friends, family, and colleagues – to donate $50 each. At the same time, a local bicycle club called the Memphis Hightailers came to the table with $2,500 in matching funds for donations made by their members. The team prudently decided to cap the amount of match funds applied to each donation at $50, so that donors with large contributions would not drain the pot too quickly. Using this match fund as an incentive, the team raised $2,530 in citizen philanthropy within the first four days of launching. By the end of the first week of the campaign, the team had raised close to $8,000 and the press was starting to pick up on this exciting new effort. They repeated this successful strategy with the Evergreen Neighborhood Association.
Recognizing that a $70,000 goal seemed daunting and unattainable for many donors who were only capable of making small contributions, Pat, Sarah, and Sara wisely began to make asks in bite-sized chunks. Rather than focus on the lofty total that they needed to raise, they began to ask many of their donors for $55, which they calculated to be enough to sponsor exactly one foot of the Hampline.
About two weeks into the campaign, with about half of the money raised, the Hampline’s tremendous progress started to plateau. The team worked with ioby’s team of strategists to reorient and reenergize their campaign. They assigned fundraising roles and responsibilities to the campaign’s most ardent supporters, added some new prospects to their list, and identified new opportunities to make in-person asks.
Working in tandem, the team made a series of phone calls, sent out emails, and appeared at community gatherings to share their work, make asks, and recruit new supporters. The Hampline also benefited from two additional matches over the course of the campaign, thanks to generous support from Alta Planning and Design and the Hyde Family Foundations. Ultimately, the combination of matching funds and the team’s direct and explicit style of making asks were enough to get the team across the finish line on time.
The result was that more than 700 people, living with just a couple miles of the future bike lane gave to the campaign, the median donation was $50, but many people giving just $9.01 (the city’s area code). Not only did the local giving demonstrate a groundswell of community support, but it also fostered a culture of ownership and local stewardship of the space.
Donating to the Hampline became the cause célèbre of the city. Groundbreaking took place as planned in April, and the archway went up. Today, Broad Avenue has more than 95% occupancy. Additional private funding has supported cultural amenities in the area, creative bus stops and an archway made of bicycles at the entrance of Overton Park. The ArtPlace America grant has enlivened the avenue to zumba, dancing and performance arts on weekends. All of this transforming the neighborhood nearly unrecognizable to its former self just five years ago.