Grassroots crowdfunding platform ioby makes Cleveland its new backyard

In Our Cleveland Backyard

Four local ioby projects that are already underway

Even thought ioby won't officially be here until March, several Cleveland projects have already been carried out through successful ioby campaigns. With the action strategist working directly in the field, ioby hopes to generate even more local initiatives.

Here are some of the local ioby projects already underway.

Chateau Hough
When Mansfield Frazier received a donation of solar panels for his Vineyards and BioCellar of Château Hough, which transformed a vacant lot into a thriving green space, he still had work to be done to make it truly sun-powered. He needed manpower.

Frazier’s campaign raised $1,136 for the labor-intensive panel installation and wind turbine repair. He advises other organizations in similar situations to specifically say how they will use the money to make the scope of a project more tangible for donors.

“If you can point to where the donations went, then that’s a great use,” says Frazier. “It’s in the realm of do-ability for the money you can raise. It certainly can help people with small projects.”

ReClaiming Home
The Stockyard, Clark-Fulton, & Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office (SCFBC) faced an inverse road block. The organization’s ReClaiming Home project needed to rehab five senior houses and had a full fleet of volunteers ready to work. But they needed to more funds for materials.

With Reclaiming Home’s ioby campaign, the group raised $1,098 to repaint houses, repair concrete, install gravel and fix porches.

“It provides an opportunity for senior citizens to maintain their homes but it also helps them maintain their pride in their homes,” says SCFBC housing director Tony Bango. “Which is really important in terms of reducing the number of people who are moving out of the neighborhood.”

Cleveland Action
ioby’s reach extends to emerging activists. Cleveland Action, which offers support for the black community, launched a campaign through ioby to provide bail and legal support, especially to protestors.

Leading up to the announcement of the Tamir Rice verdict, founder Waltrina Middleton crowdfunded nearly $9,000.

“People may not know me or Cleveland Action, but we’re counting on them to respond because they have a sense of urgency and agency,” says Middleton. “This platform allows you to have accountability, it lists what your funds will be going toward. In a time of need, such as in the case of the [Michael] Brelo trial when there were over 70 people arrested, having a partner in that effort is so critical.”

Local Art Projects
Local art projects have also reaped the benefits. Spang Mountain raised money to create graffiti murals by local artists that represented neighborhood themes.

Cleveland Public Theatre brought in donations to put on “Station Hope,” a one-night performance that united more than 30 companies and 150 individual artists to create original works examining issues of equity and social change.

“When residents can take the lead and have a really successful campaign,” says Barnes, “it can entirely change the ways organizations and agencies think about the role of community.”

When Erin Barnes first visited Cleveland in 2014 to meet with local leaders and grant makers at organizations like  Neighborhood Connections and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, she brought her philosophy “work small and think big.”

"I was struck by the strong network of community organizers in Cleveland," Barnes says. "It’s a role that’s valued here."

As co-founder of ioby (In Our Backyards), a national crowd-funding website based in New York that turns grassroots neighborhood projects into realities, Barnes and the local organizers shared the mutual desire to create positive change in Cleveland – one block at a time.

But often when it comes to crowd-funding platforms, residents with less digital know-how aren’t likely to start their own campaigns – no matter how transformative their ideas. Others don’t attempt spearheading the type of small-scale projects ioby champions – such as composting sites, street beautification and urban gardens – because they aren’t sure of the steps to actually implement it.

That’s why ioby took its program to the streets in 2012 and planted action strategists in cities coast to coast. It’s their job to find and coach could-be project leaders in what it takes to make an idea a reality.

In March, ioby’s program will come to Cleveland with the hire of a two-year action strategist that will work on the ground and teach residents how to use ioby.

Although the website is completely open to the public and has even been previously used by Clevelanders (see sidebar), the strategist will focus on locating and carrying out potential projects specifically in the greater Buckeye area through a grant from Saint Luke’s Foundation.

ioby’s platform offers plenty of potential to help both individuals and small organizations that may be between grant cycles and need a little additional funding. Because ioby is one of only a few crowdfunding sites that is also a non-profit, they can act as a fiscal sponsor, which makes donations tax deductible.

“When someone has a crazy idea about what they want to do in their neighborhood – an itch that won’t go away – a lot of times if they bring it up with a decision maker, they might just get a series of nos,” explains Barnes. “We want ioby to be a place that just keeps saying yes.”

With the help of someone like the action strategist who knows the city, projects will be able to reflect the neighborhood’s needs. That’s why Saint Luke’s awarded the grant for work in the Buckeye community, explains Nelson Beckford, senior program officer for Saint Luke’s A Strong Neighborhood.

“We really believe that the resident is the expert,” he says. “Those closest to the problems have the biggest insight into the solution.”

Beckford says he hopes the ongoing projects will shine an overdue spotlight on residents who are working hard to better their city.

“There are certain neighborhoods that get a lot of great attention in Cleveland and other neighborhoods, not so much,” says Beckford. “We’re hoping this project will raise up these narratives of folks rolling up their sleeves and changing things in their own backyard.”

ioby’s new ways of thinking about fundraising also captured the attention of Evelyn Burnett, vice president of economic opportunity for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. She first saw Barnes present at the Funders Network annual conference in Memphis in 2013. Burnett then joined the ioby board in late 2014.

At the time, Burnett recognized Cleveland’s strong philanthropic roots could be a blessing or a curse. It was clear to her that many organizations were dependent on grant cycles to fund smaller scale projects.

“People become very reliant on philanthropy,” she says. “But ioby is a bit of a paradigm shift from an organization having to wait for a foundation grant every time they want to fund a thousand-dollar event in their neighborhood. And they won’t have to not do it either.”

Having the strategist in Cleveland will help organizations navigate that balance.

For example, this January, ioby hosted two workshops on the best practices of fundraising at the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress offices. The workshops attracted more than 50 people, many of whom have never crowdfunded a project or applied for a grant.

The strategist will work with these people to make their campaigns successful. “The fact that there will be a person on the ground working with existing institutions alongside community organizers makes it a much stronger value,” says Burnett.

Nikki Delamotte
Nikki Delamotte

About the Author: Nikki Delamotte

Nikki Delamotte is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Diffuser.FM, The Grammys, Cleveland Magazine, Cleveland Scene and others.