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The Gift Economy Experiment is Working!

In March 2014, I started a Circle of Support for those who wish to help me to give more and more of my work away. This page gives a lot of background about how I came to this idea, what it can look like, how it’s unfolding, and how you can join the Circle if you feel so moved.

In my January 2015 newsletter, I wrote:  I have created a Circle of Support, which is a group of people who are contributing a regular amount of money every month in support of my work. These are people who have the means to contribute (some barely do and still contribute, I know about it, and I am so moved!) and who are choosing to dedicate some of their resources in this unconditional way. In 2014, in a little over eight months, $7,400 came in from 38 individuals. In 2015, the monthly commitment is $1,250, and the circle continues to grow every month. What an amazing vote of confidence right there – both in my work and in the power of the experiment!

In parallel, I began to gift some of my offerings. Not on a donation basis – purely as a gift. At the one that was in person, I actively discouraged people from giving money; I wanted them to take in the gift of unconditional receiving. Unconditional giving and unconditional receiving – that is the circle of generosity that I am so elated to be part of.

And it gets better. Because, when I look at the first year of this experiment, it is evident that many more people attended these events than ever before (for similar events), even though it has always been an option for anyone to attend without giving money. And, in addition, the amount of money that came in through the Circle of Support far exceeded the amount of money that ever came to me for the totality of these events when people were asked to give money as an exchange.

I hope you see by now why I am so excited and why I wanted to share it with you [those who receive her newsletter — which you can sign up for in the right hand column of this page] and not only with those who participated in the Circle of Support or attended the events. I truly believe that every one of you is part of this experiment, including in particular those of you who didn’t participate at all in any direct way. It is a deep article of faith of mine that gift economies are truly gift economies only if the gifting is voluntary. If everyone contributed, I would have a much harder time trusting that the gifting was truly voluntary.

Over 225 people took part in the gifted Fearless Heart Seminars and 90 came to the workshop last summer; fewer than 20 of those people also gave. A huge part of my celebration is precisely about how much the givers and the receivers are not the same people. 

So what comes next? Scroll down in the January newsletter to read my gift economy plans for 2015.

Early 2014: Starting the Experiment

Although I have been dreaming of a shift to gifting my work for a while, the decision to move towards it now came only recently, when a friend expressed her astonishment at how much I hold and attend to. I told her that part of the responsibility that is really challenging for me is generating the revenue for the salaries of all the people that support the work I do at BayNVC, including myself. She moved uncomfortably on the couch, and with a smile that broke into laughter, she made a most unbelievable confession. She told me that until that moment she thought I had rich parents who were supporting me.

2014 Projected IncomeSince that evening, I have been telling people about the financial picture behind my work, and discovering again and again that people have no idea that I have no trust fund, no big donors, no sponsor. I am finding a spontaneous generosity that arises in people as they hear it.

I am blessed to have enough interest in what I offer around the world that I can generate sufficient funds through my work to cover so much. It’s truly a miracle, because so much of what I do already is pure gifting or close to it. I want to name it, because enough people don’t make all the connections about the effort that it takes to make it all happen.

My Current Areas of Gifting

First, my writing: my blog, which weekly offers ideas, practices, reflections, and more to anyone who wants to have access to it, along with writing that I do in other venues. (I have been mostly taking a break from the blog while the new website has been under construction, but now will be back on a regular basis.)

Second, everything that I offer directly through BayNVC is essentially available to people regardless of means. Hundreds of people have attended my workshops, retreats, and other offerings without contributing money. I want everyone to have access to resources.

Third, I do many projects at low or no cost. For example, I support a local urban farm community with training and facilitation on a monthly basis. Given their choices about money, they are not in a position to offer me anything monetary. It’s exciting for me to be able to offer the gifts I have been given to those who apply them in ways I applaud, and often such groups are precisely the ones that also need financial assistance.

Strategies to Support Further Gifting

To become more and more able to gift my public workshops, I have previously thought, and am in the process of implementing, the following strategies:

  • Increasing the work my colleagues and I do with organizations, which provides both more leverage in terms of contribution and more sustainability per hour worked;
  • Producing learning tools that both extend my presence into places where I may never be and provide income that doesn’t depend on my working as hard as I do;
  • Getting foundation support for projects that could never be funded by fee for service, such as the work I have been doing in Minnesota; the work I am beginning to do in the Middle East; and more projects that are in the pipeline, waiting only for funding.

All of these are in process. My current estimate is that it will take about two years to move to a new level of functioning in all these areas.

The Idea of a Circle of Support and the Experiment in Gifting

gifteconI was previously thinking creating a circle of support that would allow me to offer my teaching as a pure gift to the world could only be a longer-term dream. In the dream, there is no charge, no request for contribution, no “ask,” and no “donation box” in any of my public events (aside from covering the room and board costs for retreats). All of that work is funded by people like many of you, who love the work that I do and who want it to be available to everyone, whether or not they ever have attended or will attend any of what I do. Some time after each workshop, class, talk, or any other event, each person will receive a request for feedback and an opportunity to join the circle of support. Then I gradually realized that there is no reason for me to wait until the other strategies are in place. I can begin to experiment, in a small way, with offering some things completely as a gift, and inviting people to begin to form the circle of support.

I chose to focus on the Fearless Heart teleseminars as the first such offering because I am quite confident that a number of people are not joining because the cost has been a barrier. I want so very much for anyone who wants to be part of this budding community that explores questions deeply to be able to do so, no questions asked about money. I also chose it because it’s so core to my heart to be able to have this community, to have enough people as companions on the journey. Please consider joining us monthly for the calls.

So I started, and am continuing to build the circle of support now, even if the beginning is very small. Ultimately, I can envision a circle of thousands of people. With such numbers, even if each person contributes a small amount every month, the totality still assures a significant baseline that allows me some relief from the relentless grind of finding enough paying work to sustain the operation.

Think about it: can you contribute $10 a month without much effort? If you live in North America, that’s about two cups of latte. Don’t ever think that any amount is too small to matter. It’s clear to me that the number of people counts more than any one person’s size of contribution. (Sadly the software doesn’t allow you to choose less than $10, so if that’s too much please give us a one-off donation when you can, or choose a quarterly donation instead.)

Budgets and Projections 2014

For those of you who have a desire to understand the financial and budgetary details, I want to provide a bit more information about those aspects. Currently, what it takes to support the work I am doing is about $183,000. This includes salaries for myself and the people who hold the organization with me, most of them part time ($174,050): Dave, our creative projects manager, who’s been editing my books, researching and implementing strategies for publishing them, and a host of other tasks; most of Adriana’s work, who is our operations coordinator and project manager for our marketing efforts; part of Rose’s work, our bookkeeper; part of Roxy’s salary, our Executive Director; and other people who work on specific projects from time to time. It also includes some of the rent and a variety of other expenses ($8,400). Beyond this, the production of the new self-study guide and the marketing efforts are invested, primarily through a loan, and not recovered through current income.

Future-Vision-piechartThis pie chart  shows how I hope to structure the income some years down the road so that all expenses are paid for without the workshops. This vision is for a pie that is more than four times as large. It represents a fully staffed operation, likely including a program director, development director, and executive director, none of which we have now, and working with several associates who, with my guidance and leadership, can manage projects and provide services and allow me to focus even more fully on where I could provide the most leverage. This is the level of operations that would allow us to create the ripple effects in the world that we believe to be entirely possible.

I am hoping that these numbers inspire rather than confuse you. Click here for the total numbers for BayNVC for 2013. Hopefully that will provide clarity and inspiration about how we do what we do in the world.

Join the Circle of Support to contribute to making possible the continued and sustainable work towards our dreams.