Our popular Meet the client series reveals the inside story on the organisations we support with legal services. This time, we caught up with Deron Beal, Founder and Executive Director of The Freecycle Network. He shares his inspirational story of building the largest nonprofit international gifting community and keeping over a thousand tons out of landfills and incinerators each day.
Name and job title
Deron Beal, Founder and Executive Director of The Freecycle Network
What is it your organisation does and who do you work with?
The Freecycle Network is the worlds’ largest international gifting community. We have over 9.5 million members in over 5,000 local communities covering over a hundred countries and 12 languages. Our goal is to make it easier to give something away than to throw something away. People can join a local Freecycle gifting group and either ask for items or offer them. Generally, items are older and/or used items cluttering up garages, lofts and sheds. By enabling people to regift, Freecycle is keeping over a thousand tons a day out of landfills and incinerators. Reuse and recycling is beautiful!
The Freecycle Network has also been (and continues to be) a boon for individuals and families during the current times of high inflation. All items exchanged on the network must be free and it has helped people find a safe alternative to shopping in stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tens of thousands of items are gifted every day on Freecycle.org on a globally local basis. Each local group is monitored and moderated by a local team leader and volunteers who ensure that postings remain family friend and free of scammers and spammers. In this way, we empower individuals to help each other, and to build community on a globally local basis.
What inspired you to start your organisation and how has it evolved since?
I was working with another recycling nonprofit called RISE Recycling. We employed locals in need to pick up recycling from downtown shops and businesses where there was no space for city recycle bins. In the process of doing so, businesses also offered us any number of items which were not actually recyclable, e.g. desks, PCs, shelving etc. So, on May Day 2003 I decided to set up a listserv in Tucson for regifting these items. It simply took off like wildfire and let us to set up Freecycle.org to enable other communities to do the same.
It’s since grown from one community and about a thousand members to over 9.5 million members in over 5,000 local communities globally.
Deciding to set up a nonprofit organisation takes a leap of faith but in my experience, you can be a successful founder of an organisation although you may not make a dime. You have to be really dedicated but the beauty is that you’re not beholden to any investment pressures and you can make beautiful things happen and make a real difference. The only limit is your own passion. With a staff of two and a global network of 3,000 volunteers, I’m working each day with people who are entirely dedicated to what they do and that inspires me to keep going.
What have been the biggest recent challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest recent adjustment for us has been the COVID-19 pandemic as cities had to lock down. However, the challenges turned into a beautiful storm as some local groups pivoted to offering community health info like local vaccination sites or local testing sites. People also began offering homemade masks and such things. We quickly saw about a 50% increase in posting of items during this period as people were wary of shops and many cleaned out clutter as they worked from home – giving and needing more at the same time. We’re seeing another exponential increase in postings of free and wanted items now due to the financial pressures people are feeling with increasing fuel costs and inflation – but as needs become greater, people are pulling together and building communities.
What are your hopes and goals for the next 1-3 years?
We’ve recently launched Friends Circle, a personal network for gifting and lending of items with friends and family. No one has cracked the idea of a system of lending and borrowing effectively to others yet, so we are working on empowering people to do just that within their own circles.
We’re also working on a new App together with college students that we are excited about. At the same time, we’re continuing to refine our new website, which we rolled out last year.
Aside from that, our main aspirations for the foreseeable future are to continue with community building through our online web communities and our fantastic global group of volunteer moderators.
What has it been like to work with Harper James and how has it benefited your organisation?
Lindsay Gledhill and the legal team at Harper James have been an incredible support during a time of significant growth for us as an organisation.
In addition to providing services to us as an Intellectual Property solicitor, Lindsay had also been a volunteer moderator in her local community so nobody knew us better! She was able to advise other local group moderators about the Climate Change Bill. Later, she was able to help us defend our charitable nonprofit’s registered mark when others sought to make use of it without our permission on competing, for-profit platforms. That was a huge relief. Lindsay achieved this for us not just in Britain but she was able to also point us in the right direction in France and Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Being able to work with a knowledgeable professional like Lindsay, who is also personable and able to explain issues to us in an area far afield of our area of expertise in charitable gifting, has been a real blessing which we greatly appreciate.