On October 27, Transitioners and collaborative partners from across the nation participated in a National Network Strategy conversation entitled “Resourcing Our Movement,” co-facilitated by Ranae Hanson, Transition ASAP (MN) and Galen Meyers, Transition US Collaborative Design Council.
This conversation explored strategies for funding and resourcing Transition at all levels–from tiny all-volunteer groups, to 501(c)3 Transition groups that are able to provide paid work, to the Transition US national hub. A second theme in the conversation focused on how Transition (and affiliated) groups impact the wider community with activities like investment circles and worker-owned cooperatives.
The discussion from this and other Strategy conversations will be used to refine the strategic direction of Transition US.
Background & Context
In 2019, a nationwide survey of Transition leaders and stakeholders identified several issues that groups face regarding financing their activities and the work of Transition. These included:
- Whether to be all-volunteer, or to hire interns or employees
- Whether and how to become a 501(c)(3)
- Whether and to find fiscal sponsorship
- How to raise funds and write grants
- Access to liability insurance for events
The REconomy section of the Strategic Planning Input Paper (page 16) provided additional context for this call, with a focus on entrepreneurship and job-creation. A grand vision for Transition’s transformational economic work was expressed by Galen Meyers:
“We’d be creating local businesses and jobs that resonate with regenerative principles (or at least represent positive shifts in that direction). We’d be MUCH better at helping people learn how to be entrepreneurs and generate wealth that stays in place in local communities. …Initiatives would be incubation centers for cooperatively owned and locally operated regenerative-leaning businesses in any field.
“And TUS … would be cooperatively owned and managed by official initiatives and would be collecting dues from successful ventures that grew up under our incubation. We’d be helping to provide promotion and distribution for this national network of local, regenerative businesses. This TUS would also act as a kind of aggregator and/or broker of regenerative-based services — especially education, training, and organizational development and group cultural facilitation.”
“Think of Funding As a Continuum”
That was the advice Interim Executive Director Don Hall gave before the co-facilitators invited four organizations to share how they made, and spent, money.
Many local Transition groups are all-volunteer groups with minimal funding, and they do not engage at an entrepreneurial level. But Don encouraged participants to listen for the variety of ways that groups were accessing resources (and not always in the form of money).
Tobin McKee, from Cooperation Humboldt, a 501(c)3 community organization that serves as the official Transition Initiative in their region, talked about their work on the solidarity economy. The organization encourages each of its program areas – food, arts, wellness, resilience, housing, education, economic democracy – to become self-supporting with grant funding, donations and fees for activities. The organization has partnered with Full Spectrum Capital Partners on economic development projects like an ecovillage and housing cooperative. It encourages people with wealth to invest in local projects. And it has a cooperative-incubating function which helps projects/businesses become worker-owned.
Don Hall shared how Transition Sarasota (FL), also a 501(c)3, funds its food-system work with a mix of earned income from events and reskilling workshops, member donations, sponsorships from local organizations with similar values, and local grants. It also crowdfunds projects. Don would like to see the group develop its collaboration with the Slow Money network and host local investment forums.
Sari Steuber, from Transition Media (PA), also a 501(c)3, said her group is funded by donations at events, membership fees for the time bank it runs, contributions it receives from the Free Store it operates, a monthly grant from local government, and a few employer-matched donations. Its economic activities in the community (in addition to the two mentioned above) include operating a local investment club called the Circle of Aunts and Uncles.
Ranae Hanson, of Transition ASAP (MN), said that her group engages members in thinking about how they can move their money from destructive to regenerative investments in their Transition Your Money discussion group. Their Local Dough investment group actively invests in local businesses. Her group operates under the fiscal sponsorship of their neighborhood association and has received grant money from the neighborhood.
Harvest from Breakout Discussions:
Have You Talked About Money?
- “Our group hasn’t talked about money. We are a wealthy community but there is also great wealth disparity. I’d like to talk to people about how they invest.”
- “Our group is largely retired folks who volunteer their time. We talk about how to raise more funds, how to be more sustainable, but we haven’t made much progress yet.”
- “Our group had a year-long program about money, from ‘How can I spend less,’ to ‘How we can spend and invest better,’ to ‘How we can have a bigger impact on our city and local businesses.’ But it was poorly attended.”
- Another group hosts monthly money conversations – Transition Your Money.
- A few groups started local investment clubs and promoted socially conscious and local investing.
- Some participants talked about the value of developing teaching material that groups could use.
How Is Your Group Funded?
Not all groups are funded, especially start-ups and muller groups. Many groups have limited income from donations and few expenses. Others are full-fledged 501(c)3 nonprofits, and a few are entrepreneurial and earn income.
- “We have a bank account and have charged for events, but we really have no sense of making money.”
- One group got a mini-grant from the Post Carbon Institute to fund their initial community meeting. They collect donations at in-person meetings and from the planning team, which cover their low expenses. They operate under a fiscal sponsor.
- “We have had a lot of money talk. We started small with a bank account for donations at monthly events. Then we had to become a 501(c)3 [because we were accepting donations of things for a program] and we needed to make dues and donations tax deductible. We wanted to have volunteer insurance. People were really concerned about becoming formal and corporate and it has been a bit of a struggle, but it was a good decision.” This group receives money from grants, from operating a repair café (working with local students and teachers) and donations from a free store, and from events.
- “Our hub was lucky to receive a grant from a wealthy individual, which paid for staff, website development, supplies and expenses. When the hub staff person has helped local groups do activities, the group gets the money raised.”
- “My group was always on a shoestring. We needed money to do big things. We became a nonprofit and now have a budget of $100K. We help local communities to create partnership agreements with vendors and solar installers [they act as brokers]. We go after private donors.”
Non-monetary resourcing includes, of course, extensive use of volunteers, as well as in-kind donations and time banks.
Do You Rely Only on Volunteers, or Also Paid Staff?
One of the greatest tensions within the movement is between the philosophical positions that this work should be/is best done by volunteers and the view that we should be paying people for their work both in order to grow the movement faster, to engage younger people, and to create jobs in the field of resilience.
- “Discussion of money was a hot, contentious issue. Some people wanted to stay all volunteer. ‘Holy work should be volunteer.’ We agreed not to talk about it.”
- “We had the same difficult conversations early on. Tension between those who were retired and those who were not, regarding volunteering vs. paying people to do work.”
- “We are all volunteers, but some jobs weren’t getting done. We decided to hire two people” to handle administrative work.
What is Your Capacity to Raise and Handle Money?
A few groups had dedicated fundraisers, which allowed them to significantly increase their income and activities. But even if a group doesn’t have that kind of professional help, securing grant money can be done if there are people on the core team looking for opportunities. This does require interest and some expertise.
In order to “step up,” groups need to have – or build – the capacity to deal with money. Several participants identified the need for fiscal sponsors, access to liability insurance, and fundraising help.
Don mentioned a collaborative year-end fundraising campaign featuring Woody Tasch from the Slow Money movement, which local Transition groups could do alongside Transition US.
He also talked about the practical and legal challenge of Transition US operating as a fiscal sponsor for groups in other states. Laws and responsibilities vary by state. Transition US could work to identify fiscal sponsors in each state.
There was concern about relying on philanthropy. “Philanthropy is a big problem – the hunger games of funding. Philanthropic resources are very concentrated in [our community], which malnourishes the social system outside of the city. We’re not interested in philanthropy.”
Collaborations and Partnerships
Collaborations and partnerships may be the perfect Transition-like solution.
- A Vermont participant said her group collaborates with the local library, which has access to grants.
- A Minneapolis group collaborated with their city health department on a community engagement project for climate preparedness.
- Another Vermont group partners with a local waste management business to handle an e-waste collection day, for which they receive $500.
Thinking Big: How Do We Reach Into the Community?
“Watch for the wave you can jump on to advance your group in the eyes of your community, to showcase what you have to offer.” That was the advice of Carol Hays from ReGenerate Illinois. “Look at what is happening locally as a result of the pandemic and see how the community is being impacted. Are there gaps that a local group can fill with skillsets and creative thinking?”
“People are living in fear … To the extent that your local group can stay in the creative space and be the source of ingenuity and innovation – even if just the container for it, that is a great contribution to community and increases your credibility.”
“What I am seeing in this moment is people looking to relocalize their lives… Figure out how to be better together locally, people will be very attracted to that.”
Many groups are doing just that, looking for ways to adapt to the pandemic, economic difficulties, job losses and instability, and climate change.
- Transition US staff member Marissa Moummaerts supported the REconomy working group for several years. She raised up the opportunity for entrepreneurial activities, such as regenerative micro-enterprises. One Vermont group is a good example of that: they are partnering with the local Grange to create a commercial kitchen so local food producers can make value-added products.
- “Our Free Store is temporarily closed,” said Sari Steuber from Media, PA. “We’ve been thinking about another revenue stream, of starting some kind of worker-owned cooperative. We’ve also raised money for a small-business funding group. We give out low-interest loans to people in disadvantaged communities.”
- Most climate adaptation work is being done at the government level. “Government organizations would benefit by engaging Transition groups in bringing the community to the table to do this work,” said Leslie MacKenzie (MN). Both Transition Longfellow and Cooperation Humboldt have received climate-related funding.
- Noting the financial strains people are under now, one participant suggested teaching home economy for self reliance. Time-banks and work-trades are another example of projects that address unmet needs.
- A group in California is working to find funding for cohousing and an ecovillage.
- Cooperation Humboldt wants to create institutions that form the infrastructure for a solidarity economy. They are advocating for public banking in their state.
- Transition Your Money groups can help people think of how to use their retirement funds to achieve regenerative/equitable goals.
Don Hall acknowledged that not every Transition initiative wants to go down the path of becoming a 501(c)3, but he invited everyone to think of how they could expand their capacity to better resource our movement.