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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?
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Don't forget to make the Warm Showers water bottles and jerseys! Be fun to sport those while touring!
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.
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.
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"
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I agree with Christopher. Even though the idea of showing the extent of financial "commitment", I think it is misleading. I'd even be in favour of suppressing this information at all (it should be visible to the current user however).
As some of you are aware I was adamantly opposed to any type of dues or donations collected. I recalled an old posting where Randy offered up his services for $80 an hour (this was a real thorn in my side). Many people believed and believe Randy owns this site. Whether or not he held ownership became a non-issue once WS became a non-profit organization. I had serious issues with making a donation to WS with Randy either in a leadership role, ownership or holder of a board position. There was an obvious conflict of interest and would throw up huge red flags at the IRS.
Our current Board of Directors (BOD) did a horrible job in communicating to the membership as a whole changes that have been made. Yes, it can be argued it was on a link on a website deep in some dark hole. Frankly, all of these changes should have been placed into a PDF and emailed out to each and every member.
I think Randy and I have gone back and forth on the issue of donations for weeks if not longer. Finally, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
First, Randy is no longer on the BOD. He holds no ownership interest. He is Executive Officer/contract employee for his specific skill sets. This removes an apparent conflict. Unless you clicked on one of those many links you wouldn’t know this.
I also know WS has been around a while and has always been free. There are pros and cons and serious liability issue in running as an organization without legal protections. I am very happy to see the organization to seek and become a non-profit. As a non-profit there are changes/reporting requirements to satisfy the IRS. Someone has to file tax returns and that will cost money. Audits that are likely will cost money. Insurance to protect the organization and yes, you, the individual member from liability in lawsuits will cost money. Up grades in servers and the website will cost money. No body does work for free once it infringes upon their ability to make a living. I’ve done charity work in the past, but I could not take weeks or months off without pay to do charity work.
WS is like any other business. If it fails to grow it will die. There are many moneymaking ventures that must be undertaken in an aggressive manner. There must be clear communications between the BOD and membership. In the mean time I’m willing and have donated an amount of money to get things moving forward. If you are a host and only a host, I stand with you in not making a donation, you’ve made your donation many times over, but if you are a guest please step up and put a few bucks into this very worthy cause. One overnight stay will completely cover any donation. If you’ve got the money to jump on a bicycle and pedal around the world you’ve got enough for a minimum donation.
I miss BOD communication too. but I think this is one of the reasons:
**Edit 1/23/2015: This budget was not accepted by the Board at the January annual meeting. It will be revisited at the board meeting in April. **
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