Buy Nothing Groups: Set-up, Growth Options, And Defining Your Community Footprint

Buy Nothing Hyperlocal Gift Economies Belong to the Community

Hyperlocal Groups & Growth Options

If you are setting up a Buy Nothing community as a Facebook Group, the Facebook structure will give you the power to include and exclude people from the community. Other popular social media platforms have similar structures that grant equivalent powers. We ask you to use this power wisely, compassionately, inclusively, and equitably, in line with the Buy Nothing Project ethos. This document contains information and resources to guide you in your actions along those lines.

Much of the information, wisdom, and labor that went into the creation of this document came from Buy Nothing Project Facebook group admins, members of the Buy Nothing Project Equity Team, and Buy Nothing participants around the world who have contacted us to share their perspectives and lived experiences. 

Hyperlocal Groups

The Buy Nothing Project was founded on the idea of establishing local gift economies with small population sizes for many reasons. Getting to know your immediate neighbors and sharing with them has been a founding tenet. For many people, it takes less time and energy to walk around the block than it does to drive 20 minutes to pick up something. Meeting your direct neighbors and knowing they are nearby and available can be a reliable safety net if you have an urgent need. 

Geographically small groups, however, might mean less diversity. Please take this into consideration when defining the area that your gift economy will cover. Gift economies that are relatively small and include people from a variety of different races, countries, and socioeconomic statuses is a balancing act. 

We often hear from people who are concerned that another gift economy has started up in the same area, either a different type of group or an overlapping Buy Nothing group. That’s OK! We believe there is space in each neighborhood for many different gift economies to thrive. If a gift economy is started that overlaps yours or you want to start an overlapping gift economy, we encourage you to focus on creating the giving group that you feel best meets the needs of your community. The people that resonate with your gift economy’s culture will find you and the people that don’t will have another gift economy to join.

Growth Options

As local Buy Nothing communities grow in numbers, 800 – 1,000 very active members, we often see the culture within them change. This would be a good time to look at your growth options:  “sprouting” into multiple smaller groups, capping the group and encouraging future members to create an overlapping group, or continuing to grow and addressing the issues that come with larger online groups. You are welcome to choose any option.

Before you make a decision about what to do, please do research into the demographics of your area. Geography and population size might influence you to sprout into X number of groups, but looking at the racial and socioeconomic diversity in your area can reveal a very different picture. It may be difficult to sprout your group without reinforcing the line between what the world sees as “haves” and “have nots” or different racial groups and the historical redlining practices. If you do wish to proceed with sprouting, consider that the most common ways of dividing a neighborhood are often similar to old segregation lines; you can play with ways of dividing (or even growing!) the map so that groups remain diverse.

Capping is another growth option where a community closes, or caps, the membership and allows future neighbors to start an overlapping gift economy. This can be a solution for communities that feel any further sprouting would reinforce lack of diversity or further isolate different racial or socioeconomic clusters of neighbors. You may find capping needs to be done sooner than sprouting because it closes the gift economy to new members instead of reducing the membership number..

Here are a few lessons we’ve learned: In larger gift economies it’s hard to get to know even a small percentage of people. Smaller gift economies will feel more intimate. There is less competition for items so it can feel more like a conversation than a race to the finish line. The speed and pace of a more hyper-local group will be slower. That allows us all to feel a bit more calm in today’s hectic world. Driving less (using less gas) to pick up an item, or making it easier to walk or bike ride, also helps us and the environment. Scroll to the bottom of this document for a section called In Depth About Growth Options for much more information, action tips, and food for thought. 


Buy Nothing Gift Economies Belong to the Community 

Our ultimate hope is that these groups will eventually no longer be needed, as gift economy sharing becomes the daily norm for all of us. We long for that day, but until then, our system is here to be used in every and any community that would like to use it. And even when that day arrives, we may still find joy in the connections of our Buy Nothing groups.

Fitting the Rules To Meet Local Needs

We’ve received hundreds (sometimes thousands) of messages from Buy Nothing participants around the world each and every day for 8 years, and have gotten a simple truth loud and clear: the foundational tenets and ethos of the Buy Nothing Project resonate everywhere, and the diversity of human history and society demands flexibility in the details in order to serve communities in constructive ways. For instance, there are compelling arguments to be made for a firm One Buy Nothing Group Per Person rule and compelling arguments for allowing people to join the Buy Nothing groups that match their daily/weekly/monthly/annual community participation as they work, travel, and help friends or family. We’ve heard from many people, including many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, on both sides of this issue, who see their community served well by one of these approaches and damaged by the other.

In order to allow each Buy Nothing community to bring our foundational ideas to life, we have moved our resources to our public website (where they are accessible to everyone who can get online), we wrote a book (check your local public library for a copy), and we make our foundational documents available with a Creative Commons Derivative license so that each Buy Nothing group can choose to become a Local Variation that meets the needs of its community members. Derivative is a term used by Creative Commons for what we call a Local Variation group. It must be made clear in your documents that you license from us, that you have made changes, and what those changes are. You also must cite the Creative Commons License and attribute all of our works to us, per copyright law. We’ll show you what is needed if you choose to change the rules. For more information about this you can see the file Buy Nothing Open Source Attribution & Inclusion


Footprint/Population/Map Pin/Name

 The Footprint of Your Gift Economy

Describing Your Gift Economy’s Footprint

If you are creating a new group, welcome! If you are choosing the neighborhoods for a sprouting group, welcome! The idea behind Buy Nothing community footprints is very similar in these two situations but there are differences we’ll highlight.

When choosing each new gift economy’s footprint for your new or sprouting community, we urge you to check out the different websites that you can use to further understand the area. These sources are listed in the Determining Group Footprints document below and will help you gather information about race, demographics, population, and other factors like social vulnerability. Following our mission, we hope that your community footprint will be as inclusive as possible and will result in a diverse gifting community for the group. 

We’ve found that Buy Nothing communities that serve an area with a population between 10,000 – 35,000 people, who have easy transportation routes to reach each other, tend to grow many meaningful connections between participants. 10,000 works well for areas where the majority of people have reliable internet access, speak the same language, and have time and desire to join a Buy Nothing group. 35,000 works well for areas where a significant percentage of the population lacks reliable internet access, speaks a second (or third) primary language at home, or has other barriers to full participation in an online group. Some people set up Buy Nothing groups to serve an entire city, and the participants in these much larger groups tend not to make as many personal connections and spend much of their time traveling long distances to pick up gifts.

Unfortunately, some maps that you can find online may have originally been drawn based on factors that may not be obvious to those outside the community. We’ve found that groups with as diverse a population as possible are the healthiest, so we encourage you to choose the most inclusive boundaries to best serve your neighborhood/town, and to avoid the isolation of any marginalized communities. On another hand, some communities have thriving populations of historically marginalized people who may want to preserve and nourish their identity with a Buy Nothing group that focuses their sharing within their own neighborhood(s). On yet another hand, we have seen that some Buy Nothing groups in North America that include racially and economically diverse participants may experience “White Flight,” as white people seek to join neighboring or overlapping Buy Nothing groups where they are in the majority. Similarly, Buy Nothing groups that include participants who are struggling economically may experience Economic Flight, as these people seek to join nearby Buy Nothing groups that include economically wealthier neighborhoods. There are many human impulses that can either strengthen or weaken neighborhood resilience, diversity, and the connections between people. We hope you and your Buy Nothing community will strive to build a thriving gift economy that includes all of your neighbors, as you all define your own community identity in ways that are meaningful and constructive. The Buy Nothing Project documents allow each community to decide for itself what footprint will best serve its needs and desires as it balances many factors.


Placing a Pin on Our Map

Choosing a Pin Location For Our Map

Once you’ve decided which neighborhoods your new groups will cover, please contact us via our List Your Gift Economy Form, to give us your new group names and the locations for the pins you’d like us to place on the map to signify your new groups. Generally, GPS coordinates, cross streets, or a landmark in the middle of your group locations will suffice for us to use as a pin point. You can then place in your group description a description of the footprint your group covers, the general area of the neighborhood described by streets or landmarks, so people will know which group covers their home neighborhood.. (Please download our group descriptions (if you’re starting a group on a social media platform) from this page on our website.)


Naming Your Group

Once you have determined your gift economy’s footprint, you’ll need a name. We do have Group Naming Conventions that we’d love for you to try to follow, so your group can be properly listed and easy to find in our worldwide list of Buy Nothing gift economies. If you’re not sure of the neighborhood names, the Footprint document can help you find those. The more specific you can be the better. If there are a lot of neighborhoods in your boundaries, try picking 3 that are the largest or those that are located along the edges of the group. Facebook has a character limit of 75 for group names so more than three neighborhood names usually won’t fit. If you choose to go with “Buy Nothing Town, State/Province” and you haven’t included the entire town in your boundaries, be prepared for people to ask to join and be upset when they can’t. In this situation, it’s best to include some directional information in the name (e.g. ‘Buy Nothing Town (East), State/Province”.  


Setting up A Group, Membership, Growth, More Resources

Setting up a Group 

Setting up a Group

You can create the new group yourself following the step-by-step process outlined by the social media platform you choose to use. Facebook and Nextdoor, for example, both will show you how to use their products. On Facebook, please know that the creator of a group cannot be removed from the group by any other admin. 

Adding People to Your Group

Once your Buy Nothing group is set up and ready to go, it’s time for the real fun to begin. Each social media platform has its own system for inviting and adding people to a group. It’s important to read your platform’s rules so you know what your responsibilities are in that respect. For instance, the Facebook Terms of Service do not allow group administrators to record personal information about group members in any location outside of Facebook itself. Generally, each platform has a way for you to describe your community and who is welcome to join, then a way for you to identify community members and add them to your Buy Nothing group. 

If you are using the original Buy Nothing Project “Give Where You Live” idea as a guiding principle for community participation, please remember that not all participants will have traditional homes. For more information on this, please see the How to Welcome Members with Unconventional Housing document. 


Gaining Momentum 

Gaining Momentum

Whether your group is just getting started, going great, or needs a little help, this As Your Group Gains Momentum document is useful. It gives you information about how you can grow your group and what to do if you need to step down as an admin at some point in the future. There are also links to other documents that may help give you ideas of how to grow at any stage of your group. 

Adding Admins

As your group grows, you may want to add a co admin, or two. We recommend they take the free Buy Nothing Academy course to learn all the basics about growing a healthy neighborhood gift economy. 


The Buy Nothing Project is Here for You & Your Group 

Please Reach Out to Us for More Tips and Resources

We are constantly creating new resources to assist Buy Nothing communities around the world. Visit our website for all of our Freesources and to connect with a volunteer Buy Nothing Project librarian who can help you find the tools you need to guide your group to a sustainable and positive community that brings the Buy Nothing Project ethos to local life. 

In Depth About Growth Options

This section may be useful for those ready to sprout, cap, or start an overlapping group.

If you’re not sprouting, capping or starting an overlapping group (ie: your group is the first one in your neighborhood), you can skip Module 7 and move on to Module 8. You are welcome to read them to get a full picture of group growth options.


“Sprouting” is the term used within the Buy Nothing Project for the Here is an explanation of the sprouting process and steps to set up the new sprouted group when it’s time to do that. We recommend that each sprout group have admins local to those new groups and will need to be created or set up by one of those local admins. The creator of a group can never be removed by other admins.

How to Sprout

You’ve reached the point that your group is so large and you’d like to sprout and become even more hyperlocal. We highly recommend taking racial and socioeconomic diversity into consideration when considering what neighborhoods the new groups will cover, or when you’re considering whether to sprout at all. You may find that information leads you to want to cap your group or rethink sprouting. 

We have a Google Doc you can access with the following information, that gives an overview of the “sprouting” process. We also offer some content you may find useful to share with your Buy Nothing group along the way: 


Polls and How Many Groups to Sprout Into 

The first step is putting up a poll in your group to see where your members are. A sample poll is listed below. Create a list of the different neighborhoods within your existing group that you could sprout into. Using these neighborhoods as pieces of a puzzle will allow you to see how these different neighborhoods could be combined in different ways. Sometimes polls are surprising and sometimes they aren’t. Either way, they can also help you see which members live in which areas of the group and thus help you recruit admin(s) for the new group(s) if you need to recruit more. The key is to be clear that there do not need to be hard lines drawn between different groups and that people who live on borders of neighborhoods could choose which one they want to join as their Buy Nothing “home.” 

Please do research within your community about whether there has been gentrification and any historic redlining there. It will be important for you to NOT follow historic lines of segregation, but rather to seek out ways of dismantling systems of power and control over others by creating diverse and inclusive neighborhoods. Please listen to your neighbors and their suggestions, ideas, and especially any concerns they have about splitting your group up into what may feel to anyone like a segregated neighborhood. This has never been the goal of Buy Nothing Project gift economies and we encourage you to network within your community to find informed people who can help with defining the most inclusive community giving groups possible. 

Here’s some sample wording you might use to poll your Buy Nothing group regarding the sprouting process: 

Good Morning Buy Nothing! 
One of the main purposes of the Buy Nothing Project is to build community and connections with our neighbors. We thought it would be fun to give you a NEW way to “meet” them. Let’s see approximately who lives where! We are also using this information to see where participants live so we can make informed decisions about how many new sprout groups to create. For more information about sprouting please see our informational sprouting posts here {include links to posts you’ve put up about sprouting. If you haven’t started educating your group about sprouting, you NEED to do that before putting up a poll}

1) Check out the list of neighborhoods in the comments to figure out which area you belong to   

2) Vote for that area   

3) Check out who else lives there! (It should show up next to each area)   

Extra Credit: If you’re feeling social, message someone new in your area and say, “Hi neighbor”! 

Neighborhood #1 (name)   

Neighborhood #2 (name)  

Neighborhood#3 (name) 


We don’t have recommendations for what population size you should shoot for when sprouting. All of your groups are going to start out with different base population sizes, based on when your original group was created, the percentage of people in your community who have joined, and if your group has sprouted before. Just keep in mind that we recommend new groups start with populations between 10,000 and 35,000 members. If your current group has a population of 75,000+ you may want to consider sprouting into more than just 2 groups.

Other factors in deciding how many groups to sprout into include racial and socioeconomic factors, the geography of your group in terms of where the major roads or natural barriers are, how many people are in your current group, how active your group is, and what your current growth rate is. A rough guess is that two-thirds of the members of your current group will move to the new sprout groups.

If you are sprouting a group of 800 people and gaining 100 members a month, then sprouting into 2 groups may mean 300 people in each group with a growth rate of roughly 50 a month. If you are sprouting a group of 1,400 people and gaining 150 members a month, then sprouting into two groups may mean 475 people in each group with 75 new members a month. The sweet spot for sprouting is usually between 800 and 1,000 members and sprouting more than once a year is rough on group cohesion and community. So sprouting into more groups now may mean a longer time until your next sprout and thus more time for the community to build.


Capped & Overlapping Groups

Capped Groups

Capping means that you close group membership at a certain number of members and any future members who want to join in your area would need to create a new group. This can be an alternative to sprouting if you want to keep the number of participants in the group at a reasonable size without sprouting. It is also something to consider if you want to keep the diversity of a group if sprouting into smaller geographical areas would separate different social or socioeconomic groups of people. Keeping the number of members from growing larger will help with many of the issues we’ve seen with larger groups. If you decide to cap after seeing signs that your group is getting large, the membership numbers will not decrease and so you may continue to see those same issues. We recommend capping groups with no more than 1,000 active members. That is the point, in most groups, where we start to see changes related to group size.

You can find the Capped Group Description for capped groups on our website. We also recommend changing the name of your group to reflect that you are full, Buy Nothing MyTown, TX (full). The description will direct members wishing to join a group in your area to either start a second group or join the second group if one is started.

Please change your description when capping your group. If you don’t give prospective members information, they will search elsewhere for it and end up messaging the Buy Nothing Project or neighboring admins about what is going on. That creates a lot of extra work for the rest of us. 

And remember that if you choose to cap your group and then later decide you want to sprout, that’s fine, too. 

Overlapping Groups

There are a few reasons that overlapping groups are created. In the case that a group gets capped, we do want to have an option for people in that area to join a Buy Nothing group. Groups can overlap entirely and share the same boundaries or may just overlap partially. Each member can still only join one local group, provided neither group has changed that rule, even if there are two overlapping groups that cover their home.

Another instance where overlapping groups may be helpful is if you are starting a group in a small area that is surrounded by other groups and you don’t feel it is quite large enough to start a new group. You may choose to overlap one of the existing groups and give members a chance to pick what areas they frequent and join that group.

There are other reasons to start overlapping groups as well. If someone chooses to start a group overlapping your group that can feel uncomfortable and cause worry that your group won’t thrive. It may be because of a style or personality difference in how your group is run. You are welcome to reach out to the other admin and discuss the situation. But ultimately your sphere of influence is your group. Model the behavior you want and post to engage with your community. If you create the group that you want you will attract other people who also want that type of group. And whether or not another group is created, you will have a group that fulfills its goal of creating community. Focus on that goal. Consider modeling an abundance mindset, rather than a scarcity mindset. You can even show your community that you welcome multiple gift economies in your community, and share a link for all giving groups in your region with your group members. The more gift economies that are available to community members, the more we’ll instill sharing behaviors in our everyday lives. This is the ultimate goal of the Buy Nothing Project, bringing about widespread behavioral change. 


Continuing to Grow

Growing your Group

Often, as groups grow larger we see that some people prefer larger groups. Continuing to grow means more stuff for everyone, right? In large groups even the unique or bizarre ask may get fulfilled because there are so many people. The odds are higher that someone will have what you’re looking for. Continuing to grow the group also means that you don’t have to figure out if you want to cap or sprout. 

The downsides are that the focus becomes more about the stuff and less about the people. The groups are so large that you don’t know the majority of the people in them and there is less of a feeling of trust. As people don’t know each other, they start to no-show for pick-ups as they don’t “know” that person and it doesn’t feel so bad to forget. There is less consequence of them forgetting because they can just choose not to give or receive from that person again. There are plenty of other people to give to.

It may be hard to see, but some participants will feel overwhelmed with such a busy feed and will stop posting or using the group. This is why we see sprouted groups becoming more active, if you count all posts from all of the newly sprouted groups, versus the original group. The people that weren’t posting will come back when the group gets smaller. 


© 2021 Liesl Clark, Rebecca Rockefeller, and Jennifer Lansdowne  
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