Freecycle: “Changing the world one gift at a time”

This month we’ve been lucky enough to interview Deron Beal, founder of the Freecycle Network – a global movement supporting people gifting each other with items rather than sending them to the landfill.

The numbers reflecting the Freecycle Network’s success are astounding: over 9 million members in more than 5,000 local groups in 110 countries with over 732 million pounds of used items being gifted and re-gifted.

This success shows that Freecycle isn’t just one website, it’s a global network of millions of people, all sharing in the mutual value of giving. Talking to Deron it became very apparent that shared values are at the heart of the freecycle network. Deron has injected his passion, light-hearted nature and humour into his work, and it’s reflected in this global and swelling movement.

The root is in shared values

Deron Beal: “There is a moment, when someone comes by to pick something up and they thank you profusely for something you might have otherwise thrown away. That moment… it’s a sort of a small paradigm shift. You realize what fun it is giving stuff away and helping others in a lovely little personal way…if people weren’t basically good and giving, then freecycle wouldn’t work”

The Social Change Agency: The freecycle movement is staunchly rooted in shared purposes, values and experiences – the core components of the Movement Building Canvas. Beal highlights the intensely personal nature of the global movement, that sense of community that you feel when you personally hand over an item to another person. Despite the fact that freecycle relies predominantly on the internet to facilitate the movement, the final step is the element of personal interaction which binds people together in an act mutually appreciated: giving.

Empower your people – it’s their movement after all

Deron Beal: “Freecycle is globally local — Each city has volunteer moderators and a unique email group. Anyone living in that city is then welcome to post items to be given away or to seek items which they might be able to use. The biggest factor contributing to freecycle’s success was empowering people to get things going in their own communities. If you have one person in each town who believes, they can make it work and grow the concept with thousands of others locally. Such a wonderful way of planting those seeds and seeing them grow.”

The Social Change Agency: Freecycle have acknowledged the limitations of Freecycle HQ. Ultimately one office is not responsible for the global expansion of a movement – people are. And if you, as Freecycle did, tapped into the shared values of those people and offer them meaningful ways to engage, then the movement will swell itself. Beal’s emphasis on empowering people in their own communities highlights the fantastic ‘globally local’ nature of Freecycle. The movement is not micromanaged by Freecycle HQ, rather it’s left to be shaped by each community.  Letting go of control and allowing the movement members to take ownership of the movement is why Freecycle has been able to expand to 110 different countries.

Keep evolving

Deron Beal: “We’re working on re-coding our entire website front and back end. It’s a Herculean task for such a small nonprofit. We have one engineer and 66 servers and tens of millions of page views a month. It’s difficult math.  Thankfully we have a couple of tech volunteers also helping out. But extra help is always appreciated…”

Freecycle are consistently having to evolve their technology in order to keep up with the huge amounts of traffic that come through the website. This is where the final elements of the Movement Building Canvas are so crucial. Things like sustainability, CRM and data and organising, need to be continually revised and tailored to your ever evolving movement. As the freecycle network expands even further, they’re looking into new ways to embed themselves in local communities.

The Freecycle Network is armed with volunteers to help the global movement run smoothly. If you’d like to volunteer with Freecycle, you can email them at

It was a delight to hear about how Freecycle started with just one man and his bed, and has transformed into a global movement rooted in the shared value of giving. We’re excited to see what they do next!

Start mapping out your movement with the movement building canvas

Free resources

Movement Building Canvas

The Movement Building Canvas is a practical framework and printable worksheet to help you or your organisation design and build a social movement.

Power Mapping Canvas

The essential, practical tool for campaigners – If you want to influence change you need to understand who holds the power.

See more resources