ioby: A Big Idea that Funds Little Projects

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Brandon Whitney, Cassie Flynn and Erin Barnes wanted to make a difference in their Brooklyn neighborhoods and they noticed that a lot of awesome grassroots efforts were starting up and then starving for cash. So, last April the Earth-loving Yale alums launched In Our Backyards (ioby), an online microphilanthropic initiative. The website connects wannabe philanthropists with ongoing and start-up projects, making it easy to donate time, money or word of mouth to help good works get off the ground. It’s sort of an environmentalist’s Craigslist, where you can give 20 bucks to start a neighborhood composting program or volunteer a couple hours to fix a broken beehive. Unlike Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative types, ioby’s not-for-profit status makes it tax deductible.

ioby is a reaction to NIMBYism, the social phenomenon that describes how sites like garbage dumps, toxic factories and heavy industry are often built in poor neighborhoods after more affluent neighbors reject such plans, saying, “Not in my backyard!” To counter NIMBYism, ioby places special emphasis on projects in low-income areas and initiatives that include immigrants and people of color. Ioby hopes to harness a pattern of local giving and to channel the funds back at the same communities making donations. Most of the projects cost around $2,000, so fundraising with small donations–$37 on average–works well.

Working from Barnes’ Brooklyn apartment, ioby has fully funded 21 projects in its first year. One, the Prospect Park Lake Cleanup, raised $140 over its goal, which was later donated to the Prospect Park Alliance. The project drew 16 donors and 22 volunteers; four people were both donors and volunteers and many lived within one mile of the park.

The focus on neighborhood and proximity is key, says Barnes, to ensuring that participants don’t simply write one check and move on. If they see progress, either because it’s at the end of their block or because they personally pulled plastic bottles out of the lake, do-gooders are more likely to stay involved.

Still, ioby’s goal goes beyond one-time solutions. By getting individuals involved in making improvements they can see and personally benefit from, ioby hopes donors and volunteers will continue to care. “Maybe then you’ll become an environmental steward for life,” Barnes said, “instead of just someone who wrote a check for twenty bucks.”

Text by Amber Benham, sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of ioby.

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