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Increasing Warmshowers Income Through Annual Member Donations

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WS Member ユーザー Warmshowers Administrator の写真
Increasing Warmshowers Income Through Annual Member Donations

Edit 2015-02-17: Comments are now turned off on this because they got too long. Discussion of all these topics is still encouraged in the new forum https://www.warmshowers.org/forums/general/donations-memberships-fundrai...

Executive Summary

To thrive in the future, Warmshowers.org needs to take on new initiatives, features and upgrades, and will have to be able to pay some staff/contractors to accomplish that. Our long-term reliance on volunteer contribution from a few contributors is probably not sustainable. Let’s ask members in the developed world for a small, optional annual donation.

Upcoming Development Challenges

We have a number of routine development challenges, some significant. There are some very important features and a significant 200+ hour migration to a higher version of Drupal. Our many issues are on the issue queue at github but it can be hard to sort out which ones are big and which ones are important.

General Management and Sustainability Issues

So far we have survived (and thrived) by depending on a few volunteers. However, we have not managed or motivated those volunteers particularly well, and we probably need to improve our approach to volunteer management and keep sustainability in mind when making long-term plans.

  • Routine development
  • Member Helpdesk and Administration
  • Volunteer Management
  • Increased Board activism

Possible New Initiatives

If we are successful in developing funding for the organization, we might be able to say "yes" to some expansion of mission that we've always steadfastly resisted. We've always been very careful to turn down any features that are not tied to our core mission of hospitality. But since we're so prominent in the bike touring area, we have many other possible opportunities that could make a big difference to the community. A few that have been suggested by members:

  • Route and Region information for touring cyclists
  • Allowing traveling members to find each other and meet

Proposed Funding Experiment

I recommend that we try this:

  1. Implement on-site donations (currently we just have a form/link to Paypal). This will allow us to know on the site who has donated. Along with this, show a donor badge on member profiles.
  2. Propose a $10/year suggested contribution from all members in the developed world. We will make it easy to acknowledge with a $0 contribution, so nobody should feel threatened, although some will be angry anyway.
  3. Help the community to come to terms with this proposal by posting a survey on it on the facebook group and on the site,
  4. Implement an on-site donation procedure (currently we do all donation processing on paypal) using the current Drupal 6 codebase and some contributed modules.
  5. After the on-site donation feature is working well, begin to make a specific request when people log in and via email. The request would say "Please make a donation or confirm that you don't want to this year" or something like that.

It’s super important to treat our membership with respect on this, and to remember that this is a fundraising drive, not just "charging for an account". As a result, we might want to modify it by phasing it in gradually, not turning on full pester mode for a while.

There are some pretty easy fundraising motivators:

  • You’ve been a guest 10 times, host only once…
  • Explain clearly what the money will be used for
  • Compare WS membership donation to the average hotel (or even campground) cost?
  • Do a 2-minute video?
  • Ask FB group for quick testimonials.

Possible Revenues

We currently have about 46,000 members in the developed world. If 20% of those were willing to donate $10 annually, we would gross $92,000, which is a significant improvement over the $7,000 that we've been getting for the last few years. Of course we could gross more than that (or less).

Risks

  • Although the response has been favorable when this idea has been floated, there will almost certainly be some who will be offended, and there will be some who figure it’s just not worth it if it costs $10/year. It’s possible that membership could drop as a result, or that membership growth could be limited.
  • Some hosts may be offended, thinking "Aren’t we giving enough?"
  • Moving from all-volunteer to some-paid has risks in how we see the organization. Will volunteers be unwilling to work if they know that a paid contractor might do the same work for pay?

Benefits

  • We might end up with (possibly less) better-quality members. The extremely low cost (nothing) of Warmshowers has been problematic at times — anybody can sign up without investing anything. In many cases this is not a problem, but there are probably a few people out there who take advantage of the system without investing in it at all. Building in an expected tiny "cost" could affect this. And the badge on a person’s profile showing them as a donor may demonstrate that they have been willing to do something that cost them a little bit (and vice versa).

Development/Rollout Steps

  1. Survey: Designed to 1) gather ideas and see what the response is and 2) get people used to the idea in a neutral context.
    • Create a Surveymonkey survey
    • Get the board and other volunteers to take the survey and give their responses to it. Edit.
    • Post the survey on the Facebook group and on the WS front page
    • Send out an email with the survey to the entire English, German, and French-speaking membership (requires translation of both the email and the survey).
  2. Implement a mechanism to accept donations on-site and provide badges on donor profiles (details on github)
  3. Import existing donor information from our Donortools account where we currently track them (so that existing donors can be properly acknowledged!)
  4. After we can accept donations onsite, begin the process of requesting that developed-world members donate annually
    • Ask people who haven’t donated to do so when they log in
    • Send email to people whose membership is not yet current. (Note that membership contribution can be set to current with a $0 contribution.)

Timeframe

I believe that we could have onsite donation acceptance running by early 2015. Rollout of the "pestering" and encouragement of the annual donation might be done over a few months after that.

Implications for Warmshower.org Foundation Governance

  • Our income could conceivably jump from the less-than-$10K/year level to $100K or more. This requires increased oversight, separation of duties and careful management.
  • Overall board oversight becomes ever more important.

My Own Experiment

I (Randy) am willing to see if I can work full time on Warmshowers development and leadership starting immediately. I prefer to work on a contract basis, billing hourly. I propose that we not draw our bank account below $3600 (a traditional year’s expenses). The idea would be that with our existing bank balance (about $7800) and the near-term increase of contributions we could make this happen. I would bill monthly at an $80/hour rate, with a limit based on the strategy above. This is lower than the $100/hour that I have normally requested, but it’s Warmshowers after all! (We might have to raise it in the future, both for me and other contractors.) I’m willing to do a monthly cap at this point if we want.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Moving forward

Upcoming Development Challenges

Items 1 and 3 I can't help with. Items 2 and 4 should be fairly well accepted. Item 5 may be a bit tricky but is worth exploring.

General Management and Sustainability Issues

Volunteer management and Board activism are the top two items, in my view. Routine development goes back to the Drupal / Apps issue. I'll need clarification on the helpdesk / administration issues before commenting further.

Proposed Funding Experiment

Yes, let's move forward on this soonest. If we find ourselves having to deal with increased oversight due to a flood of donations, so be it.

[Randy's] Own Experiment

If you are comfortable being a contract employee AND a board member, do so under the conditions you laid out. Seems to me that even if we hire an outside contractor you, Randy, would still have to check the work.

------

Thanks for putting this together and moving it forward. Do we need to define a point at which we need to implement these things?

Mark

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Funding brainstorm

Just some ideas; I have no idea whether they would would work or not. The primary onus for funding should be on the guests, not the hosts because the hosts are already paying by giving resources and time to the guests. I'm sure there are many generous hosts who would be happy to help fund the project as well, but the main focus should be on those who receive the most from the service. Ideally this would be truly reciprocal, guests are also former or future hosts, but we know that doesn't happen.

It may make sense, then, to let guests know what portion of the cost of the entire enterprise they have incurred and ask them after a while to help pay for it. Simply noting every x requests that it costs x¢ per request to keep the lights on and that only 0.5% of guests contribute to the site, it would be really helpful to donate x¢/0.5% to ensure that the service remains available.

Another idea may be to structure the whole thing more like a co-op where guests pay in what they feel they can based on the value they feel they received from it and the proceeds, less development and on-going costs, are then divvied up among hosts in proportion to the guests they accommodated with the option of returning that payment, which is likely to be exceedingly small, back to the general development and operations fund.

To encourage donations, another option may be to set a funding goal and state that a large proportion of any donations received after reaching the goal will be donated to hosts and/or some mutually agreed-upon charity (although WS is a charity itself now!)

Finally, there's always the option of adding paid sponsors (i.e. ads) to the site.

I'm not actually advocating these ideas, but they might provide further ideas. The truth of the matter is that there are significant costs involved in developing, maintaining, and running an organisation even if the core services from the perspective of the average member appear to be free.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks for the good

Thanks for the good thinking.

  • We're talking here about supporting the community, not paying for hosting. So while the value is obvious to guests, it's really about the community, not just about hosts. However, I do think there are possibilities for guests, such as possibly not allowing hosting contacts before donating.
  • We won't be doing ads, as we've always committed to being noncommercial. Unobtrusive sponsorship could be possible, but would require a major marketing effort and expenditure. I'm probably a bit against because it seems like the members of the community can easily support it.

Thanks as always for your contribution to these discussions!

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Donations

I've been a Warm Showers member for several years. I've hosted more than having been hosted. I can state it has been a pleasure 99.9% of the time on either side.

The notion of asking me for a donation on top of the donation I'm making as a host is going way out of bounds. For me, don't ask or even suggest that I donate, I donate through action, by being a host and hosting numerous cyclist each and every year.

As for your need to operate, I have no issues with that. What I have seen over the years is there is a large group who decide to take a bike tour and see Warm Showers as a cheap way for a couple of meals and a roof over their heads. In and of itself, no problem; isn't that what's it all about? It would seem so until you look a little deeper. There is a large percentage of takers in this world and the bike touring world is no different. They sign up and begin their tour. Once they complete their ride they either delete their account, don't respond to requests and will never host.

So here is my suggestion and an easy fix. If someone who is currently a member and has never hosted, but has been hosted require a $100.00 donation per year until they act as a host and can prove it. If they don't donate, remove them from the membership. For new members just joining require them to host for one-year before they can make a request to be hosted or pay the $100.00 fee/donation. Require the $100.00 fee/donation each year until they begin to act as host and give instead of receiving.

This eliminates the suggestion of "developed nations" give and those living in an undeveloped nation do not. I've stay as a guess with those who have money and those who did not.

Sincerely,

Harvey Surrena

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your valuable feedback, Harvey.

However this comes out, please make sure to note that it would be an *optional* donation, so if we go this route and you don't like it, just opt for the $0 donation rather than being upset.

Thanks, and thanks so much for your hospitality!
-Randy

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Donations

Randy,

How about posting feedback in an email as the one I received alerting me to this proposal. It would be good for the membership as a whole to get involved in this discussion. Let the membership see what the feedback is and encourage them to add their thoughts pro or con.

Thanks again,

Harvey

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks Harvey - You are one

Thanks Harvey - You are one of a pretty small number signed up for the Warmshowers daily emails (they were not working for a few years).

However, we plan to introduce this gradually and invite everybody to comment. There will be postings in the Warmshowers.org Facebook group, more requests on the site, and eventually an email to the entire membership asking them to comment on the process.

Of course we know that we can't make everybody happy, and that there will be many diverse opinions.

Thanks!
-Randy

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Funding Warm Showers

Dear Randy and staff,

With the huge numbers of Warm Showers users, I recommend at $10.00 or $15.00 or $20.00 annual fee for users, but not hosts. Create a fee that covers your expenses. The fact remains: we've hosted and we've been users. This venture is SO good for national and international relations, that we must maintain it.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,

Frosty

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks Frosty - Many of us

Thanks Frosty - Many of us are both hosts and guests; My own opinion is that hosts think the community is valuable enough to not fuss about a small voluntary contribution.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Hi Randy I had concerns about

Hi Randy
I had concerns about this proposal. I have watched several organisations grow to a point where they need to take on staff. Usually there's a decline in member input. Staff and board members tend to keep decisions in house rather than reaching out to members for help. I have also met staff who feel their contribution and opinions are more valuable than members. If Warmshowers is too big to handle, I'd rather limit its size or split it up than turn it into a valuable commercial entity.

I wouldn't mind supporting the contracting out of specific specialist tasks, such as updating the website, but day to day management could easily be handled by a team of volunteers. In relation to website upgrading, wouldn't it be better to employ members/contractors in developing countries rather than the first world where wages are so much higher?

The other issue I have is with a proposed compulsory donation. I don't mind donating. I think I do so whenever a request goes out. I'm a bit weird like that. But I don't want to become the hostel manager for people who think they have discovered some super cheap version of AirB&B. Once people are compelled to pay for a service they develop expectations of what the service will be.

Peter

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks for your good

Thanks for your good thinking, Peter!

You are definitely right that there are risks in growing past volunteer-level, and you definitely name some of them. There are others, as I list above as well. There are also significant risks of *not* growing out of the all-volunteer organization. (One of the key things I've been working on for the last few years is getting Warmshowers to where it could live without me. We now have a board, separate accounting, separate bank account, are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, etc.)

"Day-to-day management could easily be handled by a team of volunteers": You're presuming that my hundreds of hours a year are "easily handled". That may be true, or it may not. Motivating volunteers is a fine art, and we have a long ways to go before we do it well. I'll be writing more about what the 30+ active volunteers are doing behind the scenes over the next couple of months, and maybe that will help.

"wouldn't it be better to employ members/contractors in developing countries rather than the first world where wages are so much higher": Well, it's actually not that easy. I've worked with teams from India many times, and mostly it's been on unsuccessful projects. Software development tends to be more about good communication than about technology, and having distance and language in between can be a big problem.

"proposed compulsory donation": There is no proposed compulsory donation. It's very clearly stated as an optional donation.

"Once people are compelled to pay for a service they develop expectations of what the service will be": That is definitely a risk. Remembering, of course, that we're not compelling. But still, once people participate by paying, they may have higher expectations. I'm not sure that a voluntary $10/year gives *that* much trouble, but I'm sure that some people will disapprove and leave, and some will not join because of that.

Again, thanks for caring and thanks for putting your thoughts here.

There *is* no compulsory donation in this proposal.

-Randy
Warmshowers.org webmaster

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Thanks for all your work

Thanks for all your work Randy.

I'd be happy to volunteer to help if there's a part of your role that you could carve off for me to do.

I wonder whether a company like Surly or Kona would come to the party with a prize that could be offered as part of a raffle/donation incentive? That may help raise the $$$ necessary to fund the project.

Peter

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Increasing WS income

Randy and the board,
I just read through the ideas and feedback. I think lots of people would have no problem with a $10/year donation. For those who do, they don't have to. I'm thinking it may be worth a try to see what you generate in revenue during the first year and then based on that make suggestions for possible changes in process if the revenue doesn't match need. My concern is for those who host but don't tour. We have stayed with several in this situation. Every one of them says they get a lot out of hosting (otherwise they wouldn't do it), but it should be made clear that the focus for revenue is from those who tour and stay with hosts. One issue I had with responses from Harvey is that many members are never asked to host. They can't be penalized for that (they may live in an area that isn't traveled by bike tourists or live in an area where there as so many warm showers hosts they never get asked). We host as much as we can but we typically get only 2-5 requests a year and sometimes we are on tour when the requests come in (if we've forgotten to adjust our profile). BTW, we have made donations to WS for several years and will continue to do so regardless of what decisions are made. What we have received from both hosting and being hosted related to life experiences and friendships cannot be compensated for monetarily and isn't that truly what WS is all about.
Thanks to all who put forth so much time and energy into making Warm Showers what it is.

Aaron and Janet

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks for the good thoughts

Thanks for the good thoughts Aaron and Janet.

I personally doubt that hosts in the developed world would have much trouble with a small optional donation. But some will be annoyed.

Thanks for your hospitality and support!

-Randy Fay
Warmshowers.org Webmaster

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Hosting

Aaron/Janet,

I'm aware there are many members who will never get a request to host because they live off of the beaten path. Perhaps if all requests should be done via email or followed up with an email then it would become crystal clear who is hosting and who is using only! I'm also aware of large numbers who are just here to use and never donate.

When I host and do several times each and every year, I provide a evening meal, drinks, private room, laundry, breakfast and transportation to and from bike shops or any other locations my guests need to get to. Where I live nothing is close and a round trip to a bike shop is 100-miles. I've traveled miles to pick up stranded cyclists who have broken down or run into other issues along the way. I expect nothing from a guest. I do hope they are true in returning the favor to another cyclist down the road at another time. I strongly support the cycling community in every way I can, but I'm not paying to be a member of Warm Showers. I absolutely resent the notion of being ask to donate based upon "living in a developed nation." Who is going to determine what a developed nation is or not?

There are other options available for earning money. The website to advertise bicycle related items for a touring cyclist much like Crazy Guy does. Crazy Guy makes a request for donations, but they are offering a service for the user. On Warm Showers, I'm providing the service. Therefore; if you are not hosting, never have hosted and strictly are here to use then I would strongly support requesting/requiring a fee for the use of the Warm Showers website.

If you and others think it's something you wish to do, go for it. Send your money and bless you for doing so.

Harvey

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Curious

Randy,

Is there any way to pull from the web sight the number of members who have no feedback, host only feedback, guest feedback, and guest and host feedback. The numbers might be useful.

K

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Statistics

Yes, I've been doing some statistical analysis on that lately. It's very interesting in how it estimates annual hosting events. However, not having received feedback is not really indicative of anything - it most often means that either there hasn't been any hosting or that feedback didn't follow. (We don't have an idea how often feedback doesn't get left, except that this year there were 1000 more feedbacks on hosts than guests.)

I'll PM you a link to current statistics work. There will be lots for the annual report.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
-

I’ll share here my own opinion, of this proposal, and how I think WS has to be careful on how it affects the users and community.

I understand the need for more funds to the organisation considering the amount of work that will need to be done soon enough. Web design, among other things, is expensive money and time-wise. For sure, some of this can be done by volunteers (it’s been so far), but realistically, some people spend a lot, lot, of time volunteering for this project. There could also be more volunteers, but at some point someone is going to have to recruit, to manage and organise them. It’s my opinion that most volunteer/charity organisations that get to a certain size will need full-time staff at some point. Although that doesn’t mean it can’t be transparent to user. And as much as people will want to convinced themselves that it’s getting too big, and how it was better before, WS.org is growing for all the good and bad, so this has to be dealt with.

Funding.
While I think getting more funding is essential, I’m not convinced by the annual donation approach. Or the way it will be presented. It’s my opinion that if people get under the impression that they should be donating every year to use warmshowers, even if it's possible not too, it will be bad for the community. In these time of suscription-based services like Netflix, Pandora and others, how will people see such a move? Very small actions can change the way people look at your business/organisation. Especially for people who are part of an hospitality network.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done in some kind of way. I think that donations could be increased significantly without reporting to such a measure.
I think the first step towards this is to integrate on-site donation. From there it would be possible to push donation ‘publicities’ more with on-site banners and more frequent reminders, without annoying the ones that have donated already. I think a lot about how Wikipedia did this recently. It wasn’t annoying, but it did remind you clearly that their service is free, without ads, and made you feel a bit guilty. From there, when people make it to the donation process, I would then propose a default annual donation of say 10$. And an option for a single donation.

I just feel irritated by putting a system that would force the user to ‘refuse’ to donate. Is this really the message that WS wants user to receive? In my opinion, it’s no correct.

Will not enforcing this result in less donations? Maybe. The key would be well communicated messages, not annoying users, and easy payment. Again, easy payment. The smaller the amount of ‘clicks’ to a donation, the more people will do it. Donations on all platform too. In-app purchases on mobile? Fast and easy. I personally think it is extremely important. How many times did I want to pay for something online, and abandoned because the process was too tedious. Let’s just put 0$ then, not worth the hassle..

About on-site donation. It is my opinion that creating badges for users who have donated will create more problems then good.

  • Will this creates sub-classes that users will use to discriminate others?
  • How will hosts-only type of users feel when they don’t have a badge themselves, even if they correctly consider they contribute enough? (Sure there could be badges for them too, but then how much hosting is worth how much donation? I don’t want to have to answer that)
  • How will cyclist from the lesser developed country feel if they don’t donate?
    Do I really want to receive an answer to a request with “I’m sorry you can’t stay here because you haven’t donated this year.” Will this not make WS a paying service?

I think that compacts my idea of this proposal. If we get users under the impression that they should pay annually for the service (even if they don’t have too), won’t this give the impression that WS is a service you have to pay for? It’s a lot in the wording, a lot in the idea you project to the users. It’s not about lying to users and luring them into paying thought donations neither, it’s more about making them understand they can help the community. The realities of it.

New Initiatives
As Randy mentions it, WS has succeeded in staying focus on it’s goal, without trying to over-expand. I think that ideas that profit directly for the member base of WS are interesting, like a ‘member finder’ to find cyclists on the road. Altough stuff like routes and region informations aren’t directly revelant imo, and could be left to other groups to develop. They could still be promoted and maybe integrated in some ways like the Adventure Cycling routes.

Membership to some pay-hosts
I think this would denaturate the site, and mostly could be considered as publicity. There is already plenty of website and apps dedicated to these. Also on the organisation side, it opens a big door for a new type of, and more abundant complaints and problems. Money and contracts lead to conflicts, and little staff to deal with all of this.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Great Post.

I've been thinking about this proposal for a few days - you (and Peter, above) have articulated most of my thoughts better than I could. Not much left to add other than I disagree with any 'targetting' of 'non-hosts' - no matter how we try to define 'hosting members' that group will always be a minority and yet I wouldn't mind betting they would donate more than the rest of the members combined. Why exclude the most invested, conscientious members on WS? I for one don't look on my hosting as a sacrifice (unless my guests are total boludos) or a service to WS, it's something I get out of the site.

Let's just make it a whole lot easier to donate directly from the site and make users aware of the costs and the volunteer hours that go into making this site possible.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks Paul - I agree with

Thanks Paul - I agree with you that both guests and hosts will participate, and don't think this will be as disruptive as some people think, as long as it's presented respectfully. We learn as we go along.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Thanks for your opinions

Thanks for your opinions Jeff!

As far as membership presentation, what I'm envisioning is a "Free membership" that you just click for, along with several other levels, including the "recommended" $10/year.

-Randy

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
No worries. My point is, and

No worries.

My point is, and it's just my opinion, that the concept of 'membership' itself is somehow negative and won't be well perceived (In a way that membership, even the 'free' option is juste another type of the 'paid membership'). That it will create the problems that I'm thinking about, and change the perception of what is Warmshowers.org for people.

Even other hospitality website such as couchsurfing, which have their own size, money and user problems haven't got to that point yet. (Although I don't consider couchsurfing.org to be an example to follow).

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
I agree, whatever extra funds

I agree, whatever extra funds this approach garners may well be offset by the negative consequences in terms of public perception of WS. It may not have the membership of other sites but Warmshowers has built a unique relationship with its members through years of just doing what it says on the tin without any sideshows, scandals or dramas. Years pleasingly devoid of infighting, dodgy verified member schemes, selling the work of its community to venture capitalists, ego tripping founders not wanting to let go of their baby, censorship, questionable legal/tax practices etc. That capital of trust and goodwill is hard to win back once it's been tarnished.

I think the Wikipedia approach would be a useful template to employ as a starting point.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Baffled

I have to admit I'm baffled why it's a problem for members of WS to provide the funds to help it operate. Also baffled why you would say all those nice things about the 9 years we've operated the site to your satisfaction, but you'd be resistant to such a simple approach by the same people you're complimenting.

Also baffled that you'd want wikipedia style campaigns with huge "please give now before we go under" banners on top of the site every month or so. (I'm a big fan of Wikipedia and generally give when they have their campaign. But I'd much rather just give $10 annually and be done with it.)

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
attempt to de-baffle

Nowhere did I say it's a problem for members of WS to provide the funds to help it operate. What is being discussed is how this is done, the subtext of these different approaches, and the consequences in terms of the perception of WS and its relationship with its members.

I mentioned Wikipedia as a template - it doesn't have to be crass - what that campaign did was make a lot of people stop and think how valuable Wikipedia was for them and how it was all being provided for free. That may seem obvious but people have a very different relationship to services and content online and are often oblivious to the amount of labour and costs behind the scenes. This approach of raising awareness in the community (along with making the donation process accessible and easy mentioned already) is what I was highlighting.

I read this article a few months ago about commons attempting to cope with the challenges of scale, it's worth looking over:

http://bollier.org/blog/lessons-corporatization-couchsurfing

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Taking a step back

Thank you all for caring about the future of Warmshowers (WS). Anyone who has taken time to share an opinion on this topic is surely showing that (s)he cares about the future of the organization. At the very least, amidst our disagreements, we all share the investment in Warmshowers; this wonderful community that we have become a part of.

I have read all the comments on this thread, as well as posts on the Facebook group and an email thread including board members and developers of the Warmshowers website. I’d like to identify what I believe is our gravest problem, and make some follow up recommendations based on that observation.

Warmshowers would not exist without Randy Fay

Randy, and his generous volunteerism, while admirable, is a problem. He is our SPOF]. I can speak quite confidently as a board member and developer of the website for 6 years now, that assuming this configuration will last forever is a disservice to the community we all care about. It’s very reasonable to assume that Randy’s volunteerism has limits. Due to his care and investment in the community, Randy has tried to point this out to us on many occasions over the last few years.

In my opinion, inaction rather than a respectful and sensitive approach to fundraising, is far riskier to the long-term sustainability to the organization. Therefore, I recommend the following:

We come to an agreement on and publicly state the organization-wide needs

It’s important to communicate well the breadth of skills and amount of time required to keep the online community of WS running. Having this information visible to the community, and frequently updated would serve as insight into the internal workings and needs of the organization, as well as justification for the request for funds to improve organization sustainability.

We decide as an organization how we allocate our funds

Since many services in addition to website development are needed to keep WS running, they should also be considered to be future paid-for-services. We should consider NOW what this looks like BEFORE funds grow substantially.

We hire a non-profit fundraising consultant

An outside and objective perspective on what are effective fundraising methods would be invaluable information to ascertain at the outset of this endeavor. Upfront investment here will likely pay for itself many times over.

We strategize holistically HOW we raise funds

Randy poses one option of fundraising, but there are many methods out there. I happen to be in favor of what he is recommending, however, not everyone is. Investigating other techniques with our consultant and discussing as an organization seems to be wise before committing to a specific method.

We architect a fundraising strategy

Armed with the information and input from the consultant, we can now set an agenda of how we carry out strategy that includes a schedule, the players, and goals.

We execute the resulting fundraising strategy

We evaluate the effectiveness of our strategy

Given that our ability to raise funds will dictate whether or not we’re able to carry out the work we’ve scheduled, we ought to have an evaluation period where we revisit our effectiveness. I’m open to input on what would be a reasonable period for this phase.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration to what I’ve written. I look forward to discussing with those willing to put in the time and effort to take Warmshowers to the next level,

- Chris Russo

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Wow . . . that's really well thought out

Thank you, Chris, for pointing out the SPOF problem. You are correct in that it takes a great deal of time, effort, and - perhaps most importantly - knowledge, to keep WS up and running, much less to bring it up to speed in the ever changing digital world of constant updates.

As a board member I couldn't agree more on the importance of this. We, as an organization, are at a critical junction. The sooner we get to work on laying out the needs of the organization and finding our way to the solutions, the better.

Mark

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
a idea

As a host I would have no problem paying a small fee, have you ever though of setting up a store at cafepress.com? You can pick shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and so on, there is no cost to pick items and set up your own artwork, you set the price people would pay an they do the rest. They only print something when there is a order and they collect and ship then send you a check I believe monthly. You promote it to the email list or on free websites. Maybe a tshirt could say Warm Showers Host and put the website. I would buy and wear them plus I think the cyclist would also, if nothing else its a way for more people to learn about you thru seeing the name and talking to the wearer. I know a lot of neighbor hood associations use them to promote themselves without a outlay of cash. Its a great fundraiser tool.

I have another idea for a fundraiser, if the board is interested in hearing about it, please email me.

Thanks
Jim

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Jim, there's a project afoot

Jim, there's a project afoot to try the t-shirts, with a design already maturing.

Warmshowers depends entirely on volunteer effort, so if your idea is something you can implement and maintain yourself, and if it's financially sustainable, please flesh it out and propose it!

-Randy
Warmshowers.org Webmaster

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Logo Wear

Don't forget to make the Warm Showers water bottles and jerseys! Be fun to sport those while touring!

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
about new method of DONATING

Hi Randy,

there is some planned survey (about donating) mentioned in this post. has been done any about and I missed it? or is it planned for the future?
I mean a survey in the site not in Facebook.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
No survey I can remember

I don't remember actually doing a survey, although "Giving people an opportunity to express their feelings" was definitely done, starting here in this post, and in several other places. I imagine that's what the intent was.

Please note that we respect the needs of people who aren't connected to the banking system and also those in the developing world for whom even the smallest donation would be a problem, and we'll always try to make sure they don't feel any pressure.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Conflict of interest here

I was quite unhappy with the way in which the new fundraising attempt has been set up (hitting up individual members for cash upon login, and then displaying on their profiles if they did or didn’t pay), and I said as much in the Comment box on that screen, adding that I would prefer a more general fundraising drive communicated through newsletters or the top of the screen like Wikipedia and a number of other alternative travel communities do.

I then received an e-mail from Randy waving away my protest, claiming that “WS has to make money” (and yet my comment recognizes that fact, I simply think there’s a better way). In a later e-mail, Randy pointed me to this forum as if everything is now a done deal, settled with the support of leadership and community.

So, I was surprised to find here that other members have already brought up the very same reservations that I have, and Randy has simpy discounted their comments as well. It seems as if no complaint can be made without Randy immediately rebutting it, putting on an air of authority. Does WarmShowers not see a conflict of interest in all of this? The fundraising mechanism is being pushed by the very same person who benefits from it financially.

As long as Randy has a financial stake in WS fundraising, I would suggest asking him to keep out of the debate and to stop countering the complaints of other users. While Randy’s volunteer work is all very good of course, WS leadership might consider heeding membership views about fundraising and only then deciding if the expected volume matches this particular volunteer’s (or other perspective volunteers’) demands for payment, instead of allowing this one volunteer to override the wishes of the membership.

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Dues

I attempted to make the case against dues on Facebook. I was made out to be an angry old man. I simply gave up. I've made my views crystal clear on my profile page who I will and will not host. I'll also will never pay a dues
to host or be hosted with the number of folks I've hosted.

I got an email from a buddy of mine who I talked into hosting. He does not even cycle, but does hosting at my encouragement. I saw the email he sent to Randy telling him to "piss off." Knowing my friend, I know he was being very restrained in his words.

Once you bring money into anything greed comes out.

An "ANGRY OLD MAN"

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
perhaps he does not want to

perhaps he does not want to hear more about this matter.
“You cannot wake up someone who is only pretending to be asleep”
I don't want to criticize Randy. he is somehow the owner and can do what he think is better.
in fact I am sad. you know, what you feel when you see good people choose wrong way.
the problem is not the question " how to get some money for WS?" problem is how this question is answered.
I just hope I make a mistake in my prediction and WS essential does not change more in future, and the sincerity that exist now do not decrease.

As most of us knows, Randy is a great guy. plus that I own WS and him for meeting some unique and noble people.
I really miss WS.

Good luck Randy
Goodbye Warmshowers

EDITED BY AUTHOR:

Randy in reply #43 says " I don't own Warmshowers.org in any way". and the phrase "in any way" depicts that my sentences (Randy is somehow the owner) is not correct. I apologize for my misunderstanding.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Support

I am saddened by the negative responses concerning this donation topic. I have met several cyclists who may never host. I have also met several hosts who never cycle; but they host for several benefits. Maybe their children or parents are cycle touring, maybe they have children at home and they wish to expose them to people of different cultures, or maybe they just want to meet new people themselves. No matter why someone hosts, I would hope it would be because you get something out of it. I know I have enjoyed each of the 35 people I have hosted. While I have fed and housed them, taken them to dinner, kayaking, hiking, and to Disneyland, they have inspired me to cycle more; to go to places I have never dreamed of going, and to see the world from a different perspective. Since all I have gained from this enrichment, I have no problem making a donation to help keep this experience alive. And it's tax deductible in the States!

As a cyclist, I am more disappointed in all the "dead profiles" I have found while touring; people I have contacted who have never responded. I am hoping that my donation will make the site more organized and that the dead profiles will show differently on the map (if at all).

I just hope we can all remember all of our wonderful experiences are due to the Warm Showers site, and to help support the site so that we have many more wonderful experiences in the future!

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Ken, you might want to read

Ken, you might want to read this thread more carefully. People who are complaining aren’t stingy people who don’t want to donate. Nearly everyone here believes that donations are vital for keeping WS going. The problem is the particular way that WS now solicits donations, with users pushed to select a membership tier and then that information is displayed on their profiles without their consent. This is not the strategy used by other alternative hospitality exchange communities to which WS is most comparable.

This particular system appears to have been pushed by one single member who has a financial interest in this, and who has been trying very hard both on this forum and through private e-mails to quench any criticism of it. I await some comment from the WS governing body about this.

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Dead Profiles

Ken,

Although we will not agree on donations and the labeling of membership we can agree on "dead profiles." There is a quick fix. WS locks out every account until you log on and acknowledge life. In addition WS would send out an email requiring them to log on within 30-days or their account would be deleted. I'm certain a few would not get the email, but if they want membership again all they would have to do is sign up.

In the end there would be a true picture of who is active and alive and who is not.

Good Luck,

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
FYI we delete members every year

Hi Harvey - Just wanted to let you know that we have always deleted members every January who haven't logged in for the previous year. We pester them for a while in advance of that. This year, assuming we get funded for new features, we'll add the ability to filter members based on responsiveness, and will also warn people based on responsiveness, and probably make them "not available" if they're unresponsive. One of several important features on the list.

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Dead Profiles

Hi Randy,

Well done.

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Pickle Barrel

Randy,

You know I'm opposed to donations as it stands today. That aside, I caught grief from several cycling friends of mind for my position. I've read your proposals, comments from members and I try to state my objection without making it a personal attack. There was something I read months ago that made me oppose this approach as stated. I'll refer to it later.

First is there are comments posted here you "own" Warm Showers. Maybe you do, and maybe you developed it. Once you gained a IRS tax-free status I do believe the issue of "ownership" ran out of the barn. Warm Showers ownership is the property of the membership and not any single individual.

The stated goal is to collect 60K for the year 2015 to cover expansion, operational costs and pay for contract labor. You stated the following on this very page:

"I (Randy) am willing to see if I can work full time on Warmshowers development and leadership starting immediately. I prefer to work on a contract basis, billing hourly. I propose that we not draw our bank account below $3600 (a traditional year’s expenses). The idea would be that with our existing bank balance (about $7800) and the near-term increase of contributions we could make this happen. I would bill monthly at an $80/hour rate, with a limit based on the strategy above. This is lower than the $100/hour that I have normally requested, but it’s Warmshowers after all! (We might have to raise it in the future, both for me and other contractors.) I’m willing to do a monthly cap at this point if we want."

This screams of a conflict of interest and something I foresee the IRS taking a very hard look at.

Every one who knows you and has met you state you're a good guy with the best of intentions. Most of us don't know you nor have we ever met you. If you can figure this out so there is no image of conflict; not only will I donate, but I'll advocate for donations.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Randy is staff, no longer on board, responsible to board

Harvey, as a result of the plan that we undertook, I had to resign from the board of directors of Warmshowers.org Foundation because of the conflict of interest issue. So I am no longer on the board, am no longer the president of the board. In order to make this happen I took (at least) a 20% pay cut and no benefits or guarantee of an income as an experiment to see if we could get WS to a place where it wasn't so far behind the curve and so completely dependent on me. The annual meeting was public and all were invited, the minutes are online, explaining the decisions that happened.

So... I'm the first staff member of the Warmshowers.org Foundation, I serve at the discretion of the Board of Directors. As the Executive Director I certainly influence policy, because I'm the one working full-time.

It's quite normal for a nonprofit to have to make the step from all-volunteer to having staff. It's always a scary thing, as it is for us.

Note that I don't own Warmshowers.org in any way. It consists of its members. The hosts are the amazing thing that makes it all work, but the website connects the community. It's governed by a board of directors, like most nonprofits. I did turn WS into a website back in 2005, when it had about 1000 members, and have shepherded it 2005-2014 as a volunteer. My take, agreed by the board, was that if we didn't figure out how to move to staff and appropriate funding, we'd never escape the dependence on me.

Now, this is a very standard setup. I'm staff, I report to a Board which sets policy. The Treasurer of the organization cuts checks monthly when I submit a bill based on our contract.

So you say "If you can figure this out so there is no image of conflict; not only will I donate, but I'll advocate for donations.". Does that mean you're on now promoting donations?

Unregistered ユーザー anon_user の写真
Good Enough

Randy,

I'm satisfied with your answer and explanation. My money is forthcoming. This information you've given to me needed to be posted front and center and not buried in a link. I'll be joining the Facebook page again, making some amends and attempting to lay out an open framework of why donations are needed. I suspect many people believed you were on the BOD, and many thought and believe you owned Warmshowers.

Sincerely,

Harvey

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Randy, you are being

Randy, you are being disingenuous. There is certainly a conflict of interest here. You are a paid employee who seems very insistent that the money must keep coming in according to the fundraising system that you personally prefer. A person can't help but suspect you're trying to look out for number one. As I said above, it would be best to keep out of any debate, not respond aggressively to every complaint from well-meaning members, and simply accept whatever is ultimately worked out between membership and leadership.

I've followed communities like WS, and NGOs and non-profits in general, for a long time, and I've rarely seen a paid employee given such free rein to discourage dissent among the membership. I have rarely seen a paid employee allowed to send messages to people off-site to tell them that their concerns are in vain. I do know that major scandals that led to fractures in other communities, loss of members and a sense of idealism, have begun with actions not very different from yours and (through at least tacit acceptance) the board’s.

And ending with this: “So you say ‘If you can figure this out so there is no image of conflict; not only will I donate, but I'll advocate for donations.’ Does that mean you're on now promoting donations?” is simply creepy. You not only rebut the poster above, but you try to badger him into following through with bringing cash in.

WS Member ユーザー @wsadmin@ の写真
Employee doing the work? Seems normal.

Hi Chris. I don't think that your comments would stand here, or that the long, very controversial thread on Facebook would have made it so long if I were "given such free rein to discourage dissent among the membership". I would have deleted dissent in that case. Instead. we're trying to learn from people who are upset like you are, by engaging you. So all your comments have remained here, and people's responses to them as well.

As an employee of the org, it's one of my duties to engage about the org on the site and in social media, to explain the choices the board has made, etc. I may not be doing that well enough, but I'm definitely trying.

I also do some of the work on the helpdesk. I believe your comment that came into the helpdesk was assigned to me and I answered you. It's a normal thing that I'd be working the helpdesk. I would really rather have made you happy with my reply, but apparently I didn't.

I'm sure you know that it's impossible to please everyone when making a change, and really hard to move from all-volunteer to staff. And it's also impossible to do everything right when making big changes like this. I'm sure we'll look back and see ways we could do better. We've already adjusted based on the things we hear. There is now a completely separate "Hosting Only" membership that seems to help some folks feel better.

Honestly I'm trying to learn from your reactions and your suggestions, so will appreciate specific approaches you can suggest. If you'd like to correspond directly via email, I'm randy@warmshowers.org, if you'd like to talk on the phone, I'm at +1 970.462.7450. And of course you can get me a dozen other ways if something else works better.

Thanks,
-Randy Fay
Warmshowers.org Webmaster and Executive Director

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
No, Randy, I'm not interested

No, Randy, I'm not interested in communicating with you directly, in a closed manner where you can simply wave away any concerns I have. I'm interested in participating in an open forum like this where people who share the same concerns can see they are not alone, come to advocate as a group, and try to get the rest of the membership involved.

Suppressing dissent doesn't require deleting posts. It can be as simple as an official employee of the organization arguing against each and every post that threatens his bottom line. You have an overbearing manner that makes it appear as if you're in charge (it’s no surprise that some think you own WS), that whatever is done is irrevocable, and that individual members have no voice and will only get the answer “Everything is fine, don’t worry about it.”

While it may be your duty to represent the org in certain things in social media, it remains the case that as long as you have a direct financial interest in WS fundraising, you should delegate that responsibility to someone else when it comes to fundraising discussions.

There are quite a few members here who have watched a similar drama play out on other hospitality networks, where members’ concerns were downplayed, and there was a sudden emphasis on raising of large sums of money and mysterious "expansion of mission". On Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing, for example, these members managed to raise a cry among the community, setting up blogs off the site for free discussion if necessary, and lead many people to alternatives. My experience with all that tells me that WarmShowers is on the edge of the same big rupture. I know that I will be sharing my concerns with my peers here from those times.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
I checked the page of board

I checked the page of board member names.it has been said : for general contact use contact form.
perhaps its better WS members have an option for direct connection with the boards member.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
new approach

I am sure someone like Randy deserve 100/hour or maybe more for the work. but there is a question: does WS need an expensive specialist for every job or it can use a usual engineer with lower wage. then a more professional specialist like Randy can supervise him. this cost WS less money( or even free "it's warmshowers after all" !)

I have read some place that making WS more independent and not rely 100% on Randy is one of the goals. ok this approach goes nearer to that goal.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Great plan....

I think the two biggest things we need to do as we roll this out is to:
1. Stress that this is a donation not a requirement.
2. Very clearly show the benefits vs the very small donation.

At some point we can take this to a required membership fee but I think that is too by of a jump right now. We would need to implement a larger benfit like route finding or something on that order.

WS Member ユーザー WS Member の写真
Another thing that needs to

Another thing that needs to be implemented posthaste is disabling donation status from appearing on profiles if the member doesn't wish it. Other hospitality exchange communities have offered such a feature for that section of the membership who does not agree with visibly separating the membership into those who donate and those who don't. Those who want to show off their status can, those who want to keep it private can too.

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