This is the fourth post in a series of introductions by Sustainable Community Organizers working in the Midwest. This post is by Patricia Lamas from the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program.
Hello! My name is Patricia Lamas, and I began working with MN350 this September on a project called the “Barter to Cash Network.” We’re developing a new system for creative resource generation and community engagement, and we aim to spread it as a model for nonprofits and to our partners in climate movement. How will it work? Instead of sustaining our organization on direct monetary donations, we are inviting people to offer their diverse skills and resources – truly anything on hand. Maybe Susan has a surplus of cinder blocks, or a knack for home repair. Jim might take his dog to the park every morning, and wouldn’t mind picking up another playmate on the way. Whether or not MN350 can use these contributions, someone else in the community can! The idea is a system similar to craigslist.com, only the proceeds go to funding the work of the organization. This way, donations can be infinitely creative, and just as fun – all while creating new connections among members of the local community.
The Barter to Cash Network isn’t just a way to build excitement among donors, though. By putting the future of MN350 directly into the hands of its everyday supporters, this model challenges the traditional notion that nonprofits must survive on third-party charity. In the convention model, there is a natural divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and wealth only flows from the former to the latter. What’s more, the sense seems to be that nonprofit work is and should be both driven and funded by altruism. People feel good for doing it, and they feel good for supporting it. If you were to randomly give your money to someone else so they could do nice things, where would you choose to put it? Probably in the hands of those who look the most needy – and indeed the most selfless, because you wouldn’t want to be funding any shady self-interest. Right? Unfortunately, this outlook has created a battle for pity among nonprofits. They need plenty of problems to get handouts, and they’d better not get caught looking self-reliant. Without question, this model is unsustainable. Movements for change must adopt an enlightened self-interest that is fulfilled through the thriving of the community at large.
On an everyday level, though, this project isn’t just a new fundraising model – it’s a social experiment. It’s a pilot test for a more vibrant and durable local economy based on sharing skills and using resources that are already on hand. And with each face-to-face transaction comes an opportunity for conversation, spreading the web of connectivity within the climate movement.