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Crowdfunding campaign backers are an enthusiastic bunch. They are a product’s earliest adopters, and a project’s most passionate supporters. They not only give money, but they also advocate on the campaign’s behalf.
Increasingly, however, campaign owners and platforms alike are realizing that there is much more that the crowd can do to contribute to a campaign.
Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell, crowdfunding research director at massolution (a Crowdsourcing.org sister company), has a term for this – “engagement effect” – which he defines as “all the emerging benefits of crowdfunding other than direct crowdfunded capital and exposure.”
While most are only beginning to think about how to tap into the other benefits that the crowd may provide, the platform ioby has been doing this for several years.
Ioby, which stands for “in our back yards,” helps people become “deeply engaged in a meaningful way” around doing good work, the platform’s co-founder and executive director Erin Barnes told Crowdsourcing.org. The non-profit's unique approach combines local, donation-based crowdfunding with resource organizing and volunteering; ioby calls this mix “crowd-resourcing.”
First, a bit of background. The idea for the company came to Barnes and the two co-founders, Brandon Whitney and Cassie Flynn, when they moved to New York after grad school.
“We felt there was a lot of energy around people wanting to do things to fight against climate change,” Barnes said. “But we felt that it was hard for people to connect their personal actions with what was happening on a glacier really far away. So we wanted to make it really easy for people to understand how their actions could do good for the planet, and for their community.”
Inspired by companies like DonorsChoose and Kiva, the ioby team spoke with community organizers about raising money online. At the time, “crowdfunding” wasn’t in vogue, so the founders described the process as “online micro-philanthropy.” The term didn’t stick, but the concept was appealing. Throughout those conversations, the founders also saw a need for community leaders to find volunteers for their projects.
“Ioby, as well as a way to funnel financial transactions, is really a platform for people to bring their best ideas for the neighborhood and get all the resources they need to make [them] happen,” Barnes explained.
Since launching in 2009, ioby has helped 178 projects raise $409,000; over 50 percent of the donors on the platform also volunteer. An average donation on the platform is $35, and the typical funding goal is at just above $6,000. Campaigns run for three months, and ioby boasts an 85 percent success rate.
Ioby takes a relatively hands-off approach with its projects. As long as a project is good for the community and for the environment, and the campaign owner knows how to pull it off, it has a good shot of making it onto the platform. During the campaign, ioby staff members help answer any questions the campaign owners may have. The team follows up on the projects afterwards to track their impact, but isn't involved in their implementation.
“We check the projects to make sure they happen, but we don’t do the work [project leaders] know how to do best,” Barnes summarized.
Ioby charges a $35 platform use fee for projects that have a goal above $1000, as well as a 5 percent fee for projects that wish to use the platform as a fiscal sponsor. Donations are tax-deductible, and ioby waives the $35 fee for projects with funding goals below $1000. Three percent goes to credit card processing fees.
The platform offers a unique “flexible finish” feature that allows campaign owners to revise their funding goal up or down, as long as they can prove that the tweak will not compromise the project’s integrity. Campaign owners whose projects do very well over the first few days, for example, can increase the goal amount. Those who are dollars away from meeting their goal but would like to receive the money sooner than the campaign ends can lower the target amount. In either case, ioby asks the owners to submit a new budget plan for review.
The vast majority of donations come from within two miles of a project’s location, which makes sense given ioby's focus on the local. Barnes said where the funding comes from isn’t a big concern for the platform as long as projects are getting the funding and resources they need. What does matter, however, are the ideas behind the projects.
“If someone launches a really innovative idea in Portland, Oregon… and someone in Aurora, Illinois tries it out, and then someone in Miami tries it – can the crowd accelerate innovation?” Barnes asked. “We want to have solutions to city problems solved faster.”
More traditional, top-down approaches to solving community problems are through things like project grants. Barnes thinks those are important, but she believes ioby can be a better fit for certain projects. The funding, she said, comes faster, and is the “right” amount; being able to recruit volunteers is clearly key, too. More importantly, though, ioby allows neighborhoods to solve problems in innovative ways.
“You might have a solution that really works for your neighborhood, but no large funder would ever say, ‘This is the type of project we’re looking for,’” she said. “A community can support it because they can quickly understand why it’s a solution that will work, whereas an outsider might see it as an odd way to approach a problem.”
Currently, the company has offices in New York and Miami, though projects can come from anywhere. Barnes indicated that her company will be opening offices in a “second second-city” in the near future, but she wouldn’t reveal where just yet. Ioby is also looking at expanding internationally, though Barnes first wants to “make sure we can do it without exorbitant credit card fees.”
Aside from expanding into new areas and finding more projects, ioby’s plans for the future include promoting innovative ideas among different communities. 2013 will be the first full year that the platform operates nationally.
“We’re really excited to see the way that an innovation in one place plays out in another,” Barnes said. “Making sure that we can test a couple of those [projects] out over the next year is going to be a really big goal for us.”