What details do I need to create a Buy Nothing group for my community?
March 17, 2021 11:47 AM   Subscribe

What details should I iron out before I do so and what ground rules should I set ahead of time?

I would like to create a Buy Nothing group (on facebook or other platforms if there's a better option) for my community of Townhouses and Apartments (about 2 square blocks). I live in Toronto, but all the Buy Nothing Groups are either for downtown, or specific neighbourhoods, or too general like all of Scarborough. I do plan to ask my other neighbours to see if there's anything existing already and if they have any interest.

I haven't really participated in any groups before so I don't have a good idea of what works and what won't. Like how often would you let someone repost? Everything must be free right? Is there ever a "free talk" day? Etc etc

Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated!

(Also I have no idea what category or keywords to tag this with, so sorry if i messed anything up)
posted by vespertinism to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My local group has the following rules:

-Everything needs to be free (no bartering, trading, etc.)
-No solicitations for money
-No self-promotion/marketing your job/etc.
-No hate speech or bullying
-You don't need to live locally, but you need to agree to come to the town for pick up or drop off.

There also special threads for ISO (in search of), with a "just say what you're looking for and nothing else" rule, as well as a special pinned "holiday assistance" thread in November/December. There's a "please delete your post once things are taken" rule as well, to help keep things tidy, and a general "act like adults, and you all need to sort out who gets to claim something and how and where to pick it up between yourselves".

The moderators seem pretty efficient--literally all that happens on the page is people posting and picking up items. Honestly, there are other local groups for just chatting with your neighbors, and I would be a little annoyed if that group started a weekly chat.
posted by damayanti at 11:57 AM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Buy Nothing is its own group of groups that all follow the same rules, and are all Facebook-based. These are all the Ontario-based groups. And here's info on how to start a new group if there's not one in your area.

In my experience with Buy Nothing groups, I started in one group that encompassed a general quadrant of my city. Then as members in the group increased, the group divided. We've now gone through I think, 4 'sprouts'. So my group now encompasses a much smaller geographic area.

Within the Buy Nothing group, rules are pretty strict, which keeps extra chat to a minimum. If you want to have another type of group with its own rules, I'd keep away from using the 'Buy Nothing' name. (In my city, for example there is one group that calls itself "Buy Nothing - NO RULES". So you could do something like that.) Or just make your own group and call it "{your area} Free trade and swap".

Personally, I like that the Buy Nothing group is well-moderated and kept free of 'clutter.' There's still a community of people (that's one of the goals of the group), and most people are in it to benefit the group.
posted by hydra77 at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

I assume you've already checked on the official website's area for Starting a Group.
There seems to be a great deal of information there.
I have no knowledge of the project, but I would caution you from trying to reinvent the wheel, when there are perfectly good ones on the vehicle.
Also, using them as a resource would probably get your group listed on their website (Find a Group) and thereby help yours grow.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Freecycle operates similarly to Buy Nothing groups and has a fairly well-developed wiki full of policies and practices for moderators. You may not want to be quite as rules-focused as they are right from the start, but if you read through it, it will at least point out many of the issues you might want to think about.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:00 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here's a map-based view of Toronto's Buy Nothing Groups. If your neighborhood isn't served by a group currently, then that would be a great place to start one. Buy nothing probably won't allow you to make it super-small, though, as they want to be a bit more open than that.
posted by hydra77 at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: I am an admin of a Buy Nothing group on the west coast of Canada so feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions.

In general, the benefit of starting a "Buy Nothing" group (rather than a homegrown, make-it-up-as-you-go) group, is that it gives you the process and scaffolding when you are getting started. The rules are already made for you. The template for group descriptions. There is an admin training process. So to your question (what do you have to think about), the answer is "not much" because they have thought about most things for you! You just have to commit to it, sign up, do the training, and then start your group. RE: geography and group boundaries: as of last year, they are allowing overlapping groups that serve the same area, and even though the recommended group size is up to 1000 members, you can probably make it a small area, especially if there is very high density.

The downside of course is that, if you are a Buy Nothing group running on the global standard set of rules, you don't have the flexibility to change things if you find that you don't like some of the rules. BTW, these are publicly available under The Fine Print on their public site. For example, did you know that you cannot post about lost pets/keys in a Buy Nothing group under the global standard rules?

Recently, there is an option to create a "local variation" group, if you'd like to go a bit off-brand. If you go this route, you'll have to disclose this in your group description, and I think also tell BNP, because some rule changes (like allowing trades or selling) will get you taken off the Find Your Group page. Our group is based on global standard so I don't have much info on how to set up a local variation group.

Personally, I would suggest joining some FB groups first to observe what you like and don't like, AND doing the Buy Nothing admin training, to see if you'd really like to commit to the set of rules that Buy Nothing Project provides. Undergoing training is not a commitment to starting your own group. Starting and managing a group is hard work and time-consuming, with all the related people/relationship management that goes along with this sort of role. So I agree with other commenters that if something is already set up that suits your needs, you may not want to reinvent the wheel.
posted by tinydancer at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The one for my local group recently "sprouted" and I have appreciated the following rules that they have instituted:

1. Everything is labelled a "Gift", "Ask" or "Thanks". Encouraging the "Thank You" posts are really fun because you get to see what other people use your items for.
2. Encourage people to post their item to let it sit for more than a day before choosing, because a lot of people just cannot be on Facebook all day, and inevitably as your group gets larger, it's harder for people to try to obtain an item they might want. (Basically, discourage "first come first serve".)
3. Encourage people to choose the person they give their "gifts" to with fun queries like "pick a number between 1 and 100" or "what's your favorite recipe"? The goal is also to encourage community and to get to know your neighbors.
4. Encourage people to tell stories about their items - ie, "my daughter grew out of this and had many great memories", "this is from my grandfather and I want to pass it on to someone who will appreciate it", etc.
5. Ask multiple people to assist with being moderators - this will take more of the burden off of you, because it does seem like a lot of work to run a group.
posted by toastyk at 12:27 PM on March 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you’re starting a Buy Nothing group with the Buy Nothing Project, you go through Buy Nothing and use their rules and resources. If you’re just starting a “free stuff between neighbors” group, you don’t use the Buy Nothing name.
posted by OrangeVelour at 12:50 PM on March 17, 2021

Also, sometimes there are themed posts...like, for example, if it's close to Halloween, you would start a post saying something along the lines of "Since Halloween is coming up, this is the post to ask for/gift costumes you no longer want or need." And then people work it out in the comments.
posted by toastyk at 12:51 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

My local group is called "Pay It Forward" and one rule they have I like is that you must let an offer stay open for set number of hours before choosing a winner. It's more hassle for the person who wants to get rid of the thing, but it's more fair - otherwise, the person who claims it fastest always gets it.

One rule they don't have, that I think they should, is to not divert food away from the local food pantry.
posted by xo at 12:52 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m in a “sprouted” Buy Nothing group and love it. Things I especially like:
*Members are encouraged to be conversational when responding to Gift posts, rather than just commenting “Interested”.
*Members are continually reminded that they can use any criteria they wish to select who to gift their items to.
*”Simmering” is encouraged (but not required) to give more people a chance to respond to gift posts
*Every few weeks the mods do a BigAsk, Little Ask post, where people are invited to post an “out of this world” ask and a very small ask. This morning I fulfilled someone’s Big Ask and it was so much fun to make someone’s day(and get something I haven’t used in years out of my house!)
*I love seeing people’s Gratitude posts, esp those with photos of how they’re using items they’ve been gifted.

I’ve really enjoyed my group. I’ve gifted a lot of items, and I’ve received some truly wonderful things as well. Good luck and have fun!
posted by bookmammal at 1:08 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm in a Buy Nothing Group in WA, but it's part of the official buynothingproject.org behemoth, so follows all official rules; two interesting things that have come up are.

* No alcohol, because we don't want to get banned by facebook. (It is comical when someone has accidentally bought 0% ABV beer and thus, is technically able to give it away)
* Because my neighborhood is very hilly and many people are car free, some folks give a rough location of where they are when posting so people can evaluate whether a gift is worth picking up. I bring this up as a nice local variation that developed organically even within the official project.

I would just start a group based on the official project with its preset rules -- local variation will develop.

I know some other groups have a culture of posts requesting small bits of information of what you'd like to do with the item ("If interested, please say where you'd put this big flowered armchair!") -- mine doesn't do that, but I wouldn't mind if it did.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:10 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

One other thing—the mods in my group are very strict about everything being free. They don’t allow any posts about cost at all—no live links to items on Amazon etc to use as examples, no posts about where you can buy something—no talk about money or prices in any way, and I think that is very much in the spirit of the idea of the group.
posted by bookmammal at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

One rule on my local share group that I've not seen mentioned here - anyone who is discovered to be picking up free stuff from the group and then selling it elsewhere gets an instaban. Apparently it happens.
posted by penguin pie at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Buy Nothing is great, if you're ok with Facebook, which I'm not. I used to use it and it was a fantastic resource.

My major concern was with the "sprouts". The smaller the group's region gets, the less diverse it is likely to be, due to historical redlining, cost of living in a certain neighborhood, and such. Buy Nothing encourages (or at least it did when I used it) these location-based "sprouts" as soon as you hit a certain size. Which, again, can have the effect of perpetuating existing divisions.
posted by aniola at 2:20 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh. One thing to really focus on strongly from the start is that accepting a gift is a kind of gift, too.
posted by aniola at 2:53 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm part of a couple of local "Pay it forward" groups on Facebook. For my location, the focus is as much on getting rid of things easily as it is on getting free stuff. I'm in the inner suburbs of a large city where most people are living in smaller houses/apartments, and often move with very little warning. A lot of decluttering goes on.

In my local group more than other groups I've heard about, things move fast. The rules are very clear that the Piffer can chose whoever they like from the people who respond, and mostly it's the first person to reply, (though they may chose at random if the item is very popular). There's also a rule that you can only post "Yes please" or other polite variations, no sob stories about why you need it, which gets ignored occasionally, but isn't too common. People will sometimes add info about when they can pick it up, as the expectation is that the Piffee will hustle to pick the item up as soon as possible.
posted by kjs4 at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2021

The one in my city is not a Buy Nothing group but is called “[City Nickname] Shares” so has some different rules and in general is a less strict than official Buy Nothing groups. In addition to what people mentioned above here are some that have come up that you might want to think about:

-Is there a specific way givers are supposed to decide who gets an item? Is it first to comment? Do they need to randomly draw? Is it up to them?

-Our group has recently instituted a rule that you cannot say in your offer that you “want to give it to someone who really needs it.” The moderators found that this put people who might want the item in the awkward position of having to explain their whole situation and reveal personal information.

-Sometimes people claim an item and arrange pick up and then no show. The moderators of our group have asked that you let them know if this happens to you and they track repeat offenders.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 4:40 PM on March 17, 2021

I was part of Buy Nothing Group where the "sprout" went horribly, horribly wrong, and it was shut down by the big Buy Nothing Group. Two new groups were started- one took the name Buy Nothing (it isn't copyrighted) and the other calls it self "Everything Free Neighborhood name." I moderate the new Buy Nothing group, and we have kept it small, and local and these are our rules: Group Rules: if these rules are broken, it may result in a member being removed from the group.
1. This group is for giving and requesting items. If you need suggestions about services, or other questions about neighborhood, please post in the other neigborhood groups.
2. Include information about where you live and what type of pick up (porch pick up, or in person exchange).
3. Include how you will select who will receive item, via random drawing, through highest need, soonest pick up, or randomly by givers criteria.
4. Do not email a giver before a selection is made.
5. If you have animals or there are other allergens present in your home that might affect the item, please include in post.
6. Before showing interest in an item, ask yourself if you can pick it up in a timely manner.
7. Are giving others a chance to claim items- no one likes to see a person "interested" in every single item posted.
8. Please do not make comments that cast judgement on members, or items- this will get you removed from the group.
posted by momochan at 7:29 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I found the Buy Nothing group that includes my neighbourhood and have joined it, but am still contemplating on making a small group for my community (I'll avoid the buy nothing name) for the small things.
posted by vespertinism at 8:38 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

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