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Tina Clarke on resourcing your Transition initiative

Tina Clarke is a Transition Trainer and more recently a REconomy trainer, helping to develop new REconomy trainings for Transition groups.  On Tuesday February 11th between 19.00 and 20.30 GMT (14.00 -15.30 EST), she will be presenting, along with Transition Network Funding Manager Nicola Hillary, a free webinar called Getting Ready to Fundraise - resourcing your  group or projects. This seemed like an opportune time to catch up with Tina to hear her thoughts on resourcing Transition initiatives.

 

How important do you think securing funding is for TIs? Is it essential or can TIs survive and thrive well without it?
 
Transitioning from our dependency on fossil fuels requires resources of many kinds.  To accomplish major infrastructure changes, to shift from industrial production to local-scale and regenerative production, and to reorganize our social support systems to meet everyone’s essential needs, we need materials, labour, gatherings and consultations, research and expertise, and the work of institutions and organizations.  However, the degree to which transitioning requires money is a fascinating question.
 
When a surge of water is coming down the river, threatening to flood our town, do we all stand around expecting someone to pay us to pile up sand bags?  Or do we mobilize, as neighbours, volunteers, as local organizations and government resources, to do the best we can to protect our town using whatever resources we have?
 
It is a question each community will answer for itself, over time, and through experience, asking what mix of funds, non-monetary exchanges, volunteerism, collaboration among agencies and businesses, etc, will move their community ­­forward.
 
Tina presenting a Transition Training.
 
I love the Transition principles and ethos, emphasizing bottom-up and “it’s up to us.”  I see Transition as a conversation to invite everyone into.  When Open Space Technology is used and people are encouraged to give their ideas and resources, a tapestry of voluntary action, projects and resourcing is woven.
 
Transition is wonderfully flexible and unique to each place.  The field is wide-open for each of our initiatives to explore how to best come together and resource our local transformation.  In one community a large coalition of groups, facilitated by Transition initiators, might raise piles of money to create or expand a large, well-funded non-profit network, and a set of local cooperatives and businesses, to help the community systematically and comprehensively move to local food, energy, economy and other essentials.  In another community, volunteers might lead the way, with neighbours organizing a large-scale visioning and action process that convinces government and organizational leaders to shift resources to transitioning, without the initiators needing to raise money directly themselves.  
 
Are there things that need to be in place before a Transition initiative embarks on a fundraising process, and if so, what are they?
 
There are many kinds of fundraising, and some can start right away, such as asking everyone for a small donation at an event, or selling products, or asking an organization if the Transition group can use its space.  Raising money from individuals is the easiest, fastest, and, over the long-run, the most secure method of fundraising.
 
If you want investment capital to start a business, a local bank, credit union, or micro-finance agency might loan you funds, once you have demonstrated a solid business plan and obtain key endorsements.  You want to be very careful and understand the laws in your country.  In the U.S. and Canada, for example, laws passed after the 1929 Stock Market Crash here make it very difficult to obtain direct investment from your neighbours.  Cooperatives provide an option for neighbours to collectively finance locally-owned businesses.
 
Sometimes people new to “social service” or “social change” work don’t realize that they don’t always need to start a business to earn a living in a way that doesn’t damage the earth or harm others.  By raising funds as a non-profit group or project, we can be paid to do good work.  An important resource for Transition is grant money from foundations, government agencies and other institutions (such as a hospital or faith community).
 
To obtain non-profit gifts or grants of funding from donors, government, or other agencies, your Transition initiative needs to have a non-profit “fiscal” sponsor or agent – an organization that is recognized by the government as a legal not-for-profit.
 
Each funder has their own expectations and requirements.  What you need to do to raise money can range from answering a few questions on a single sheet of paper to submitting a huge application.  I would tend to start smaller, testing the waters and learning what aspect of our work is appealing to various funders.
 
Tina ClarkeIf you have done the foundational work to become an official Transition initiative, you’re already a third of the way to being ready to fundraise.  It’s key to have a team of people, and a mission or purpose statement about serving the greater good of society.  (Transition has already identified the big purpose and a set of principles that support it.) 
 
At this point you can either partner with a Fiscal Sponsor (which is a good way to start, just to test things out) or form your own non-profit.  In the U.S., forming a new non-profit can take a couple of years.  It requires legal and financial accounting systems, a “Board of Directors”, and written descriptions of your organization’s work.  So I encourage US-based grassroots groups to find a Fiscal Sponsor who is already a non-profit, and partner with them. In other countries, like the UK, it’s easier and probably more common to establish your own non-profit organisation.
 
On Feb. 11, 7:00 PM (19:00) GMT, Transition Training and the REconomy Project are co-hosting, with Gaia University, a free webinar called ‘Get ready to fundraise’.  We will discuss thethings that Transition initiatives need to have in place, generally, to request funds for non-profit, community-benefit work.  After the webinar anyone will be able to download a simple assessment tool to help them prepare the documentation necessary to start applying for grants. Also, we will soon announce a pilot online training course aimed at groups wanting to raise funds for REconomy-type activity in particular. Doing this webinar first will help you see if you are ready to apply for the course.
 
What are the typical stages of the process – and what problems typically arise?
 
First is identifying potential funders.  Simultaneously you are addressing the organizational questions:  who’s your core team, what’s your mission, who are your supporters and endorsers, do you have a fiscal sponsor or need to obtain nonprofit legal status, how to do financial accounting, etc.
 
Second are program issues:  project concept and goals, program components and plan, population served, objectives and tasks to accomplish, timeline, budget and other resources needed, etc.  At this stage, many groups start raising money.  In fact, a fundraising deadline is often the push a group needs to clarify their program and goals, and get the specifics decided.
 
Third is a deeper level of analysis and greater sophistication that either emerges or is required to obtain more resources:  measurable outcomes, evaluation, strategic planning, clarification of roles and responsibilities, clarification of partnerships, etc.  You do all of this with an eye to the types of funding that might be available to you.
 
Fourth is a depth of awareness and reflection that is rare to find in many established institutions, but which is a hallmark of the Transition model:
  • Reflection on the relationships, communications and dynamics of the overall system
  • Posing critical questions and assessing the work based on Transition and permaculture principles, ecosystem resilience, and the needs of future generations
  • Sharing the insights, critical analysis and learning with funders – inviting them to become partners in the exploration.  In the process, gently asking funders to join us in transitioning our lives and all of society’s institutions.
  • Deepening the “Inner” conversations.  Making time for explorations of decision-making and power, control and flexibility, principles and community agreements to guide our work and life together, and unconscious fear, grief, and other wounds that get in the way of whole-hearted collaboration and inclusion of everyone.
Here are three obstacles that often get in the way in obtaining funds:
  1. Showing the need.  We may be convinced that something is needed and wanted by the community, but funders need to see evidence.  Sometimes that means obtaining organizational partners who write letters of commitment – pledging to help achieve project goals.  Sometimes that means gathering statistical data or stories from the people who will be served.  Sometimes you may want to work with a university or do your own research into community needs and/or the potential of the project.  What will the funder need to see to be persuaded that there is a real need for the program? 
  2. Program planning.  Get together with your teammates and partners and spend some time thinking about what you are trying to accomplish, and how you can together get the work done.  Think through the timeline of activities, and what needs to happen before the next thing can happen.  Businesses often use a GANT chart, or you can do a simple strategic plan.  What are your outcomes?  How will you measure effectiveness?  It’s tempting to get excited about an idea.  Be sure to write up your program plan to address challenges and obstacles you might face and ensure successful completion of your goals. 
  3. Interpersonal Rivalries:  Seeking to Control, Claim and take Credit.  A Quaker colleague, a modest, plain woman in her 50s who had been extraordinarily successful in lobbying Members of the U.S. Congress, told me:  “The more credit you need for your work, the less you will get done.” 
Funders tend to like collaborations.  Most want to see everyone working together amicably.  And, when we figure out our collaborations – how best to divide up the funding resources so that everyone gets some funding to contribute their pieces – we are all in a stronger position to receive funds.  We lose less time to competitive games and can spend more time doing creative work.
 
Does introducing funding/paid work into a mainly volunteer group raise any problems?
 
Here are some ways a Transition initiative can reduce the challenges as they grow from a group of neighbors to a major entity in a transitioning process:
  • Invest in inner work and deeper connections.  Make time to hear about each other’s dreams for contributing, and role(s) they’d like to play. 
  • Invest in regular retreats and periodic strategic planning processes.
  • When the ego comes up (and it will!  In all of us!), consciously choose to be vulnerable about what you want rather than manipulating to try to get what you want or prevent others from doing their piece.
  • Be willing to go smaller.  One of the great woundings for many of us who have had “success” in the world is that we develop an identity around our accomplishments that inadvertently excludes others from contributing their gifts, and isolates us.  If Transition initiatives really want to catalyze “bottom-up” collective genius, we must make it our practice to both offer our energy and encourage the genius around us.  If we see ourselves as sharing Transition income instead of possessing it, and sharing the jobs of facilitating and supporting, rather than being the one to direct things, our work together will be much more fun, fulfilling, and successful.
  • Write clear job descriptions and be transparent about pay rates, recruitment processes and how people get allocated paid work in a fair way. 
  • Regularly reinvent structure.  Like a cell dividing, and an organism growing, what worked at one level of existence and production will not really work as you get larger and more complex.  Welcome growth.  Be a “Learning Organization”.  Grieve losses and welcome the new excitement and opportunities of more complex systems.  (And for a fascinating process that helps organizations clarify roles, tasks and responsibilities, ask Nick Osborne about Holocracy.)

 

What do you see as the dangers of relying only on a culture of volunteering? 
 
The scale of the challenges is so great that we must develop partnerships and collaborations to mobilize the resources to get the transition work done.  We have wind turbines to build, water and waste systems to localize and convert to closed-loop systems, buildings to weatherize, transportation and food systems to de-carbonize, and mutually-supportive relationships to build so that we’re not so dependent upon large, distant or money-dependent institutions.  The scale of the work requires mobilizing large amounts of resources.
 
 
These institutions have missions and resources.  Many are supposed to be doing the kinds of work needed to increase community well-being.  We would be silly to not ask them to contribute to transitioning.  To understand the complexities of institutions, laws and our societies requires people to devote quite a lot of time, and that means having staff and an organization who are working on behalf of the community to understand and sort through the maze of institutions and sorting it all out.  When we set up organizations and hire Transition staff, we can essentially hire and nurture them to figure out the landscape of complex institutions and potential resources.  The staff can identify opportunities to move everything forward and, importantly, to support all the rest of us who are volunteering.
 
At the same time, we don’t want to lose the culture of volunteering and neighbors stepping forward.  We don’t have time for institutions and organizations to work through conventional processes to incrementally shift the system through lots of orderly meetings.  Nor do organizations and government, funders and socially-aware entreprenuers have all the resources needed to usher in the Transition for us.  As you say so well, “The calvary isn’t coming.”  It’s “All hands on deck.”
Furthermore, collective genius conversations keep reminding us that tremendous creativity, new solutions, and community relationships arise not out of organizational “leadership” but out of encouraging people to give their gifts.  One of the reasons I love training people in Transition is that the principles and practices catalyze and support many, many projects and diverse kinds of creative action.  Most organizations end up getting caught up in their own self-preservation at some point.  It’s extremely healthy to have both the structure and the wide-openness of Transition.
 
Many people find it very confusing to both define organizational programs and support wide-open responsiveness to neighbors at the same time.  But in that tension is where the real fun is!  The creativity is when we can, as modern physics suggests, hold the paradox.  By making room for opposite desires (structure and openness), we unleash a lot of genius and support positive connections between people.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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