This document is a collaborative creation of many Buy Nothing volunteers who offer a variety of tips to help get your Buy Nothing group off to a great start. Please note, some of these tips apply only to Buy Nothing groups using Facebook and other platforms that offer private groups. Communities using our BuyNothing app (iPhone and Android) don't have to manage group boundaries or number of members.
Q: My group is brand new – how do I get the word out to get new members?
A: There are a bunch of ways to get the word out! Here are some of the top suggestions:
- Contact the admins of various community groups in the area asking if you can post a link/invite in the group. Craigslist has a 'free' section, some parents' groups might welcome a post, perhaps Nextdoor has a group in your area, and some admins have even posted to Ebay.
- Join other Buy Nothing groups nearby to observe! Since you are not an active member, keep in mind that you should not be participating in other groups at all, but feel free to observe. Ask the admin of the neighboring group if they will make a post to let their members know of the new group. The members likely know some people in your area.
- You can also print out flyers or cards. There are a couple of templates in the Buy Nothing Public Library, or you can make your own. Print some out with the link to your group, with a QR code too (for this, we would recommend making a TinyURL), and post these in local shopping centers, libraries, churches, schools, public bulletin boards, etc.
- Once you have some members, encourage them to invite their friends and neighbors! Some admins will have ‘Invite a Friend Day’, or offer a gift to the person who invites the most members.
Q: My group is new and small, and I have a bunch of requests from neighborhoods that aren’t included in my group’s footprint, some of them quite far away! Is it a good idea to add everyone to my group so they can see how this works?
A: We totally understand how tempting it is to grow your membership when first starting out, and we encourage you to find ways to include everyone who identifies as a member of your community. It’s a kindness that serves your community and its members when your group welcomes people who live close to the outer edges of your group’s footprint, and people who have strong ties/identity with your community. But when you include people who must travel a long distance/time, from way outside your group’s footprint, your group will typically experience a few issues:
- When your group includes people who have to travel long distances (either geographically or in terms of travel time), it’s harder to form connections between people who will also see each other around the neighborhood during their daily lives. These connections that start in your Buy Nothing group have the power to transform your neighborhood, making it more resilient in times of trouble (such as a global pandemic) as well as times of joy (such as the end of a global pandemic). There’s a sweet spot for each Buy Nothing group, where people who identify with the group are included, and everyone is within easy reach of each other (this means something different for each neighborhood/part of the world) so that Asks, Gives, and Gratitude flow easily and naturally between group members.
- Groups that grow to cover large geographic areas with large populations tend to grow incredibly quickly, and this rapid growth brings with it a host of predictable difficulties, including Asks and Gives that aren’t seen because posts get lost in the shuffle; items that aren’t picked up; more and more group members who participate less and less because they feel anonymous and unseen, not included in the sharing, and a general lack of trust between members because people do not feel genuinely connected in real-world ways.
Q: My group is new and I’ve added some members, but nothing is happening! How do I get the ball rolling?
A: The best way to get activity going in your group is to just start posting yourself! You may not get many responses at first, but people will slowly start catching on. It’s great if you build a little stockpile of gifts you’d love to give, and then post one every few days. Gifts do not need to be big and fancy - the mere act of posting a Give, especially if you write about your offer in your own voice, with humor or a heartfelt story about the thing you’re offering, will model what makes the Buy Nothing Project different from groups that are all about the quick and anonymous transfer of stuff. We take the time to share and hear each other’s stories that go with the stuff, and to see each other as neighbors who we begin to trust and care about. Remember to post Asks, too! For a gift economy to work people must Ask as well as Give.
Q: What does a great post look like? What types of posts should I model and encourage?
A: There are a few characteristics that we encourage all admins to model to foster a strong gifting community:
- Depending on the platform hosting your group, you may want to add only 1 photo to each post. If you have additional photos of the item, you can add them in the comments. This sounds like a silly nuance, but it helps keep the feed tidy, and all the comments for your item in one place. It also makes it easier for the gifter to choose and the other group members to see who all has expressed interest!
- Add a fun description about your item and why you are giving it away! For example, instead of posting “Dinosaur puzzle”, try “My 4-year old has finally graduated to more difficult puzzles! Giving away this dinosaur puzzle that she LOVED so another child can enjoy it!”. For an ask, instead of posting “Looking for 5 lb. dumbbells,” try “I am finally committing to taking a 30 minute walk every morning! I’d love to amp it up just a little bit and bring along some 5 lb. dumbbells for arm resistance. If anyone has some lying around that you don’t need anymore, I’d love to put them to work!”
- Along those lines, when commenting on other posts to ask for items, be personable and model the type of human communication that reminds everyone that this group is filled with people, not internet bots. Instead of “Interested”, you might say “I’ve been trying out some new recipes in the kitchen and my spatula is in dire need of upgrading – this one would be a great addition!” Use your own voice, whether it’s humorous, serious, or in between - the more your personality comes through, the more others will add their own personality to their posts and comments, and the more the trust and connections will build, which inspires more Asks, Gives and Gratitude.
- We strongly encourage you to avoid choosing first-come, first-serve whenever possible. This is not a rule for members, but when modeling posts, please try leaving up your posts for 24 hours so most of the group has a chance to see it. It’s also good if you include in the post how long you will leave it up, and how you will choose your recipient. Try mixing up the way you choose to spur different giving ideas! Without gentle encouragement like this, first-come, first-serve often becomes the default and the community doesn’t feel as connected. It becomes more like a race to get free stuff instead of a gift economy connecting neighbors.
Q: How many members should I aim for? How many members do I need for the group to really start ‘working’?
A: We don’t want admins to think of growth as a numbers game. As a guideline, here are a few benchmark numbers we see as groups grow: As long as you are modeling posting and posting admin reminders, usually a group with 50-100 members will start to see some moderate activity (at least a post a week).Usually between 500-700 members is another ‘sweet spot’. This is where your group really forms its own identity as a Buy Nothing community, and there is tons of giving and receiving going on!
- Once it starts getting over 1,000 members, this is when the sweet spot can really start to get a little crowded. There will be many posts, as many as multiple an hour, and usually so many people interested in any given item that the connected community starts to get somewhat diluted and feelings of scarcity hit. It is usually around this point that we encourage discussing group growth options with your group. We have a document devoted to various ways you might want to accommodate growth: Growth Options.
An important thing to keep in mind about growing your group: Once you have a decent number of people and moderate activity (usually between 50-100 people), we recommend avoiding growth for growth’s sake. We all want our groups to thrive, and it’s best to let it grow slowly and organically. This allows the group to develop a sense of community and it’s easier to encourage the Buy Nothing spirit, and this happens most naturally when people find their way to your group through word of mouth.