Diversity & Inclusion
Communities / Crowdfunding

This startup wants to use crowdfunding to improve neighborhoods

We caught up with Katie Lorah from ioby about how the organization has spread nationwide.

This summer, ioby is launching its Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge. (GIF via Vimeo)

ioby stands for “In Our Back Yard” and it’s *sort of* like a Kickstarter for social impact. The goal is to raise money for specific projects that help improve neighborhoods. ioby’s staff, which is based in Brooklyn and has 17 people between New York, Memphis, Detroit and Cleveland, helps curate and guide the projects.
We caught up with ioby’s Katie Lorah to hear about the outfit’s new initiative, the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, happening in Brownsville, and about the organization generally.


What is ioby?
ioby is a nonprofit crowd-resourcing platform that connects neighborhood leaders with funding and resources to make positive change where they live. We work nationwide with residents and grassroots groups to plan, fund and implement block-level projects that make neighborhoods safer, greener and more livable. So far more than 750 local leaders have raised more than $2.5 million on ioby, and have also used our platform to find volunteers, gain publicity, and connect with a likeminded network of support.
How’d you guys get started?
We were founded as a New York City pilot with a specific focus on local environmental projects. The platform launched in 2009, and it soon became apparent that “environmental” projects like community gardens, clean-up days and citizen science initiatives were impossible to separate from other factors like community-building, safety, community health and social justice. We broadened the focus to include any project that is locally run and makes neighborhoods better places to live. We launched in Memphis in 2013 and Detroit and Cleveland earlier this spring.
What are you guys up to in Brooklyn?
This summer we’re launching the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge in nine NYC and upstate communities, including Brownsville, Brooklyn. This initiative is designed to get communities thinking creatively about how they can promote health where they live. We want to encourage all kinds of ideas from Brownsville — ranging from events that bring fresh food into the neighborhood, to biking and walking programs, to health education for kids. Winning ideas will have access to matching funds — up to $5,000 per project, and will use ioby to crowdfund their idea later this summer. We’ll help participants make a project plan, a budget, and a fundraising strategy, and will train them in online fundraising and provide support throughout their campaign. It’s our hope that Brownsville residents will come forward with their great ideas and become active participants in making their neighborhood healthier.
It looks like Kickstarter for social impact projects? Would that be fair to say?
Sort of. We think the huge success and growth of the crowdfunding sector in general shows a tremendous opportunity, and we’re adapting and shifting it to be an organizing tool that works for our communities. Our model is about raising more than just money, which I think is an important differentiator. We work deliberately to recruit leaders in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment and may feel disconnected from official decision-making processes. We operate on the premise that small, visible changes can make a big impact on a place and a community — the average ioby project is around $4,000. Because we are combining crowdfunding with principles of grassroots organizing, our model depends on some pretty hands-on training that we offer to every leader who runs a project with us.
What do you see as the long-term goal for ioby?
We’re continuing to expand the cities in which we have an on-the-ground presence — later this fall we’ll open our doors in D.C. and Pittsburgh. The impact we’ve been able to make by having a local organizer in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Cleveland has shown us that offline engagement is a crucial supplement to our online tool.
Long term, we want to reach as many communities as possible and tap into the incredible grassroots movements for local, positive change that are happening all over the country. Rather than just providing a tech tool, we want to work as a convener of smart, dedicated neighborhood leaders with great ideas. We’re not the experts, but we work with so many people across the country who are, and we’d love to grow this network and build ways for our leaders to learn from each other.

Series: Brooklyn

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