This is a dynamic document that answers Frequently Asked Questions sent to the Buy Nothing Project co-founders. This is not a guide to questions that come up in local Buy Nothing groups – for detailed information about how Buy Nothing gift economies work, please take our free online course on gift economies at the Buy Nothing Academy, or if you are in a Buy Nothing Facebook group, see your local group leaders and our Fine Print document. The Buy Nothing Project’s documents change in response to real-world experiences and feedback we receive about the impact of local group leaders’ actions. We have removed the old versions of our FAQs that were meant to answer questions about local groups as they can potentially cause harm to participants. We have learned that some of our wording in the past has been used to stop equitable sharing and fair access to the giving, asking, and gratitude practiced in the Buy Nothing groups. Please check back frequently for changes; as we learn more, we do make changes.
General Information to help you find answers to your questions:
What is the Buy Nothing Project?
THE BUY NOTHING PROJECT is an international network of local gift economy Buy Nothing communities. This movement is supported by an app, freely-offered training, volunteer mentors, and a library of public copyright resources available to everyone around the world. The first Buy Nothing Project group was started on Bainbridge Island in the Salish Sea 7 years ago; today there are at least 4 million participants in local groups around the world, in at least 44 countries. The entire movement at all levels is led by volunteers, at least 12,500 of us give our time each day to empower giving, receiving, and sharing.
Some Buy Nothing communities use our foundational documents as-is, without any edits; we refer to these as Global Standard groups. Some communities make edits to our public copyright foundational documents to refine or expand the scope of this experiment, to better meet the needs of their communities; we refer to these as Local Variation groups. We’re excited to see both Global Standard and Local Variation Buy Nothing communities develop.
What Happens in a Buy Nothing community?
People in a Buy Nothing group can give any legal gift (i.e. following national and local laws), whether it’s an item or a gift of self (service, skill, etc).
People can request any legal gift.
All gifts have the same value – priceless.
People can lend and borrow from each other.
Everyone participates as an individual, not as a business or organization. This helps us see each other as fellow humans. Each individual can request or offer gifts on behalf of themselves, a friend, family, organization, or business, and all gifts are posted without any marketing or advertising.
Everything must be given freely, without any expectation of a gift in return (no bartering or trading allowed).
Everyone participates at their own risk.
Everyone makes their own choices about what, how, and to whom to give, what to request, and whether to lend or borrow something.
There are no official rules that dictate how posts need to be worded – We encourage people to share stories about themselves, their gifts, and their requests, so that you build deeper connections with your group community.
We encourage people to use words and post formatting that work best for them, and to strive to make their posts accessible to others (for instance, you can add a text description of any photos you share, so that people who can’t see the images know what’s there).
There is no rule that the first to reply to an offer is expected to receive that gift – Givers are always in charge of their giving and how they choose recipients of their gifts.
We encourage creative thinking about giving, requesting, and sharing that includes as many people as possible, so that everyone is included in the giving and receiving.
In addition to posting offers and requests for gifts, people post to share their gratitude for others, and can also offer ideas and suggestions about how to improve the group, and how to Buy Nothing through creative reuse, etc.
How can I reach someone with my questions, concerns, and suggestions?
Our website and email address connect you to the Buy Nothing Project founding team – we field questions about our movement’s mission, philosophy, and history. We’re also happy to answer press inquiries and speaking engagement inquiries related to the Buy Nothing Project and our book, The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan.
If you have questions, concerns, or suggestions about anything happening in a local Buy Nothing gift economy group, you must reach out to the group’s local leadership team. Each local group is created and run solely by its local volunteers, and they are the only people who can take action within their group.
If you are looking for assistance regarding issues of equity, inclusion, and justice within your local group, please see our statement. Please also check out the Equity Team’s Community Agreement, which is available to each group to support this critically important work. We have learned much in the 8 years since starting this project and we’ve blogged about the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and therefore the necessary changes we’ve been compelled to make. We encourage you to bring our public statements and resources to your group if they’re not already available there. We encourage you to ask your community and fellow Buy Nothingers to step up and engage in this human rights work. You also always have the option of starting your own equitable and inclusive Buy Nothing group for your community if existing local groups aren’t working to embody this.
Please know that the co-founders of the Buy Nothing Project share your concerns about COVID-19 and how we can legally and safely help each other during this pandemic. You can read our full public statement about COVID-19. Each Buy Nothing group around the world has its own response to safe sharing during this pandemic. All questions about how your local group is responding need to be taken directly to your local group’s volunteer leaders.
Live a Buy Nothing, Get Everything Life:
If you’d like to go beyond the giving, receiving, and sharing that happens in your local Buy Nothing group, we encourage you to read and share the book we’ve written to empower everyone to nourish a gift economy and Buy Nothing philosophy in their daily lives. As an alternative to buying it, ask to borrow it in your local Buy Nothing group, or check it out of the library. We love to connect with readers of our book, so if your book group or Buy Nothing community is getting together via Zoom to discuss our action plan, we’d love to join you if our schedules allow. Some public libraries have book group kits that supply multiple copies of our book, or perhaps you’ll find one of the hundreds of copies we’ve set free as community pass-along copies; if not, your local independent bookshop would greatly appreciate your support.
Issues with Your Buy Nothing Group:
The Buy Nothing Project acts as an international resource for people who want to set up their own gift economies. All Buy Nothing Project groups are locally created and managed. Local group leaders are solely responsible for what happens in their groups. If you have an issue with your local admin or a member, please reach out to fellow group members and work on your local concerns as a community. We have Member Resources for you, if you need further assistance. And, if you have questions about our rules and mission, you can also check out our Fine Print document that is a guide to the Project’s Global Standard rules and mission.
Join a Buy Nothing Group in Your Community:
If you’d like to start giving, receiving, and sharing freely, please sign up for our upcoming mobile and web BuyNothing app. You can also join your local group on Facebook to connect with your community if there is an existing group there. We have a collection of international maps on our website, and you can search these maps using your address to find existing Buy Nothing groups that serve your neighborhood. To do this, find your state, province, or territory in our list of maps, click through to the map, then click on the Search icon to open a text field where you can type in your address or location keywords. You’ll get search results that display your location with colored polygons that show existing groups you might want to join. Each of these polygons are clickable, and will take you to that group’s URL.
Many Global Standard groups have a one group per person rule, and ask people to Give Where They Live. Some Local Variation groups are created specifically to foster giving and sharing between people in local organizations, schools, synagogues, mosques or churches, groups of historically marginalized people, etc; many of these groups do not have a one-group-per-person rule, but function in parallel to neighborhood-centered Buy Nothing groups.
A growing number of Buy Nothing groups aren’t on Facebook but use other online platforms or exist only offline. Check your favorite social media site to see if there’s a group set up where you like to spend your online time; check your local bulletin boards, and keep an eye on our Find Your Group list – We’ll add new groups on any and all platforms to this list as quickly as we get that information. In all cases, contact each group’s leaders for the specific details about how each one works. See “START YOUR OWN GROUP” below for more information if you’re having trouble finding a group that works for you.
Having Trouble Joining Your Local Group?:
Only the local admins of each group have access to their Facebook group membership queue. It can take local admins several days to add prospective members. Check your Facebook Private Messages, including your “hidden” message Requests and Spam message folders. If there’s no message waiting for you from an admin, send a message to each person listed as an admin on the group’s public Facebook page. If you have a friend in the group, ask them to tag the group’s admins in a post to the group asking for help. You also have the option to start your own group if the admins of your community group are unresponsive. We also encourage you to forgo the Facebook Buy Nothing group experience in favor of the BuyNothing app which will be a custom-built gifting app for everyone!
How To Start a New Buy Nothing Group:
If your community doesn’t have a Buy Nothing Project group yet, if you’d like to start your own unique local variation of a Buy Nothing Project group, or if you have an issue with an existing group that can’t be resolved, we encourage you to set up a new group of your own. The worldwide network of Buy Nothing groups includes many that overlap with each other geographically, as well as Local Variations that serve specific populations or communities. Buy Nothing groups can be started on any social media platform or in person and completely offline, using our public copyright foundational documents. We welcome this growing diversity and complexity.
Broken URL Links on our Find Your Group page:
If your group link URL on the Find Your Group page is not functioning, that means that the group has transitioned to the BuyNothing App! Join us there for your hyperlocal sharing and build the kind of gift economy you’d like to see in your community.
Are You a Group Leader with Questions?:
We have a wonderful team of volunteer librarians that would be happy to answer your questions. You can contact them through our Contact a Buy Nothing Librarian Form.
If you’re written to us asking for a version of the Buy Nothing Project that’s off of Facebook, please know that we share your desire! We are building that new platform and you can join us for our worldwide launch by signing up at https://www.buynothingapp.com/ Please also read our book, which provides an action plan that doesn’t need social media at all.
Sustainability & Justice:
The Buy Nothing Project is led entirely by volunteers, including all local group leaders, all peer mentors, and the entire co-founding team. We’ve learned a lot about the pros and cons of an all-volunteer movement, and one of the greatest failures of this system is its unsustainability and its inherent injustice/inequity. When no one is paid for their labor, systemic injustices, particularly gender and race-based injustices, are amplified. Many of the thousands of volunteers serving Buy Nothing groups around the world work full-time hours each week to help their neighbors give, receive and share freely-given gifts, yet few of us can afford full-time work that’s never paid. In addition, these perpetual gifts of free labor begin to be seen as something others are entitled to, which is neither equitable nor psychologically healthy for anyone involved.
In the interest of increasing the sustainability, racial justice, and gender justice of the Buy Nothing movement, we are now encouraging local group leaders, mentors, and international Buy Nothing content creators to set up a “coffee fund” or “gift jar” (in online Buy Nothing groups, this may look like a link to your group leader’s personal Venmo or PayPal account). All of us who volunteer our time on behalf of this movement will continue to offer our labor as a freely-given gift *and* we will now have a way to give and receive freely-offered “change for change” or “gratitude pennies” that may help group leaders and content creators establish a sustainable and equitable dedication to this work.
Here on the Buy Nothing Project website, we’re going to stop paying out of pocket to turn off advertising; instead, we’re currently working to find website advertising that will allow us to feature ads from small businesses run by BIPOC/BIWOC so that we can promote the growth of these businesses that will help dismantle systemic racism within the USA. We’re also setting up an affiliate program with online booksellers for our growing list of resources, and we’ll be adding a link to our own PayPal/Venmo account. Tips are never expected, and will have no bearing on our dedication to this work, but they will be gratefully accepted and will help us to maintain our focus on this work, and to create more content to assist Buy Nothing groups around the world. We hope to see our fellow Buy Nothing volunteers group join us in this new facet of our experiment, as we strive for equity and sustainability.
© 2021 Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller All Rights Reserved
– 13Apr2021 0823PST –