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Preparing for sustainable operational management of Warm Showers

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Preparing for sustainable operational management of Warm Showers

Warm Showers is an online global website with close to 60,000 participants who share an interest in traveling and touring by bicycle. Over the last two years the site has seen significant growth, extending to doubling of the participants, and large growth on Facebook of over 13,000 participants. If growth continues at its current rate the membership could rise to over 100,000 participants by 2017. The community is now larger in Europe than in the founding country USA, has active participation in 150 countries, and the site is translated into 15 languages.

Whilst growth is positive, it has stretched the resources of the small volunteer management team. There is an increasing backlog of operational website work tasks, and challenges about how the organisation can deliver increased benefits to the community. In short, Warm Showers cannot sustain it's growth and management under the present volunteering operational conditions.The Warm Showers Management Board are now seeking to explore how growth can be managed and funded, how the community can enjoy future sustainability, and how we can achieve these goals whilst ensuring alignment with our existing values.

The community has been built on the basis of no financial cost to participants, and much of the communities success is due to extensive goodwill of a small team of volunteers, the goodwill of hosts and cyclists, and the generosity of a small amount of members who donate funds. The positive goodwill of the community is probably the cause of the organisations success, therefore any changes in relation to fundraising will require careful consideration on impact to this goodwill.

Importantly, Warm Showers is a not for profit organisation and fundraising can only take place within a not for profit context. Warm Showers will remain a not for profit organisation for the benefit of touring cyclists and hosts, and will NOT be seeking to commercialize its operations or activities to a for-profit company.

As in most successful community based organisations, costs will normally be incurred and work activities will increase. For sustainability of the organisation to occur, operational costs and work activities must be managed and resourced into the future.

On behalf of the Board I would like to invite members to discuss how we can, in a not for profit context, create funding mechanisms to deliver operational sustainability.

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Raising operation funds

Maybe the time has come for transaction fees or membership subscriptions. I'm sure you have worried this over and over but you could have the guests pay the organization a fee per night of hosting services. A dollar or so won't hurt anybody and it's not enough to lose any members.

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I'd rather pay a small annual

I'd rather pay a small annual membership fee than to pay per night. Besides, it would be difficult to keep track and do the accounting.
However one problem I see with membership fee is how much to charge? A fee in US $ does not have the same value in other countries.
Another idea could be, like with Firefox, run an annual funding campaign to receive donations? Would enough of us be ready to donate?

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Requiring payment would drive

Requiring payment would drive away a huge amount of people on the site, for a variety of reasons: 1) many people signed up for WarmShowers out of idealistic hospitality exchange reasons, where the overnight stay and friendship is expected to be free and outside monetary exchange; 2) many members are in developing countries, a membership base that site admins often find hard to monetize; 3) $1/night may be cheap, but it’s still more than wild camping, etc. Plus, who is going to develop the significant site infrastructure for measuring nights stayed and for extracting payment?

You might grumble that members who don’t want to pay are welcome to leave, but it’s not just exceedingly frugal travelers we’re talking about: you would in fact be losing a lot of active hosts too, because those frugal travelers also open their homes when they aren’t on the road.

Far better just to do occasional fundraising drives like BeWelcome.

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The Free Memberships are available to all

I want to make perfectly clear that we are well aware that many members are unable to donate for a variety of reasons: Their country may not have connections to the international banking system, they themselves may not have banking or card capabilities, or they may not have money. That's why we made the free "Free Trial" and "Hosting Only" memberships. We hope that every member will sign up for *one* membership, whether involving a donation or not. But we will always include members who are unable to contribute financially.

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Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to respond to this important issue. Your ideas have been noted and will be presented to the Board. In time I think we will develop an appropriate method of solving this challenge.

Many many thanks, Russell

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Asking for a donation to

Asking for a donation to cover administrative expenses is entirely reasonable. Servers and database administrators require money, and you want good ones. This would let the board and volunteer staff focus on the core mission.

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I don't get it. Dale & Nina,

I don't get it.

Dale & Nina, you wrote: " Servers and database administrators require money, and you want good ones. This would let the board and volunteer staff focus on the core mission."

That statement assumes that the board and volunteer staff cannot concentrate on their core mission because they are distracted by server and database administration work. So why not pay for servers and hosting and other such "outsourced" things, and get enough volunteers to do each of the other types of tasks?