Thursday, June 13, 2013

Regreening the FIC's New Office

Two weeks ago, the FIC's newly struck Development Committee met. Ma'ikwe Ludwig, Alyson Ewald, and I were in my wife's living room (huddled around a laptop), and Mary Schoen-Clark joined us via Skype, from her living room in Oregon.

We devoted the lion's share of the call to discussing the FIC's capital campaign to raise $90,000 to have a new office built as part of Dancing Rabbit's new common house, construction on which is slated to begin this summer, with occupancy projected for two years from now. FIC raised $14,000 over the winter and still has a long way to go to meet its goal.

The Back Story
To set this in context, DR is constructing a 7,150 sq ft replacement common house (to accommodate its burgeoning population: 75 on the way to hundreds) inspired by the standards of the Living Building Challenge—the most stringent environmental and energy guidelines out there. It will include kitchen and dining facilities, bathing facilities, meeting spaces, and the community library. They approached FIC to buy an office on the second story, both to help with financing the project, and to help solidify the educational/outreach functions that this building will serve. 

As FIC definitely needs better office facilities (to replace an aging '70s era house trailer that has been our office since 1996), we gratefully accepted this offer in early 2012. To be clear, the FIC office will be only 800 sq ft, which is a mere 11% of the total building. Our room will not have plumbing or even internal partitions; we're just buying an enclosed space with bare walls, acoustical insulation, and a door with a lock. 

Thus, FIC & DR are partners in this project but not equal ones. Parallel to our effort, DR has launched its own capital campaign to raise $1.4 million to complete the building. FIC is just the tail on the DR dog.

When FIC agreed to this partnership 15 months ago we were caught in a bind that no one intended, and that no one even noticed at first. On the one hand, DR asked us to come up with half the money by the time of ground breaking. On the other, they didn't want us to announce the partnership until they launched their own capital campaign, which is only happening now. In essence, they didn't want to be scooped.

At first, we didn't think that would be a problem. We had reason to believe we could easily meet our immediate goal ($45,000—half the total we had committed to) through a crowdfunding campaign and a projected windfall. (We had been approached last year by a nonprofit that was expecting to dissolve and was friendly to the idea of turning over its residual assets—around $60,000—to FIC to continue its mission.)

However, things didn't go the way we'd drawn them up on the chalkboard. The Indiegogo campaign fell well short of the $45,000 we targeted, and the nonprofit decided at the last moment to not dissolve, which meant no windfall. Now what?

Development Committee to the Rescue
FIC Board wrestled with this dilemma when it met in early April for our spring organizational meetings. In consequence, we struck a Development Committee, whose job it would be, at a minimum, to:

o  Advise the Development Coordinator (me) on how to successfully complete the Green Office campaign.

o  Draft a job description for a new position, Development Director, who would be separate from that of Executive Director (I now hold the equivalent of both positions, and there was broad agreement that it would serve FIC better to have these two crucial functions covered by two different people).

o  Oversee a campaign to garner enough money ($10,000?) to cover the new Development Director's salary for two years as a part-time position.

o  Oversee the search to fill this position. 

Two weeks ago, this new committee met for the first time.

How One is Better Than Two (in the Eyes of the Donor)

While all four of us have considerable FIC experience, Mary was coming back into the FIC circle after wandering for more than 10 years in the mainstream wilderness. In addition to bringing fresh eyes to the table, Mary is a much more experienced fundraiser than the rest of us, and she had definite ideas about how to restructure the campaign that got us off to a dynamic start.

At her urging, we conceived of combining the two capital campaigns into one, for a number of reasons:
 —From the donor perspective, it is just one building with multiple functions. It relieves donors of potential tension if the same person is approached by both campaigns. In the end, neither group succeeds unless both succeed.
—Two campaigns means a diffusion of energy; by joining together there is the possibility of synergy. That is, donors get more bang for their buck by helping two entities at once.
—It's energetically consistent to have have two entities promoting cooperation to be actively cooperating (duh).
—In separate campaigns there will necessarily some duplication of effort. In a joint campaign we can have people doing what they do best for both groups and achieve better better efficiency and efficacy.
—Combining campaigns gives each group the opportunity to make a stronger case for what this building means in the world, because we can explicitly evoke the benefits for both groups.

Connecting the Dots
While our two Boards contemplate this proposed marriage, here's how I've been inspired to pitch FIC's Green Office under this new conceptualization. I invite you to look this over and sing along at home. See if I've strung the beads such that the necklace hangs together.

o  We want a world in which everyone has a decent quality of life.

o  We don’t have that now.

o  We need a future where we can sustain a decent quality of life—not just achieve it momentarily—without one person's gain coming at another's expense.

o  A crucial element of this is social sustainability, learning how to solve problems cooperatively; we will not turn the corner through technological advances alone.

o  We’ve all been conditioned to compete for what we want, and that’s not sustainable; worse, there is growing widespread dissatisfaction with the way the world functions today, with increasing alienation and isolation.

o  We need to learn how to share better; how to cooperate.

o  Intentional communities are the R&D centers where we’re learning on the ground how to cooperate; where we disagree about non-trivial things and it leads to enhanced relationships, rather than divisiveness and exhaustion.

o  The future that we crave and need is not one built around intentional communities, but it is built around relationships and a sense of community.

o  What is being learned socially in the crucibles of intentional community can be exported to neighborhoods, schools, churches, and workplaces—wherever people are eager to learn how to get along better.

o  What’s being learned in intentional communities about sharing and collaborative problem solving is crucial for our society’s chances for a soft landing through energy descent (the inevitable sharp rise in the cost of energy as we reach Peak Oil and the challenge of achieving and maintaining a decent quality of life on a greatly reduced resource budget).
o  Thus, the need for more community in the world is surging and it's about to get worse.

o  FIC is in the community business, making available the tools and inspiration of cooperative living.

o  We do it through publications (both in writing and online), through events, through technical assistance, and media relations; we do it through being there whenever anyone has a question about community living.

o  We do this without taking sides, or advocating for one form of community over another.

o  We partner with a wide variety of other nonprofits promoting community in the world.

o  We field over 2700 different visitors to our website daily, and that number is growing by 10% annually—the hunger for this information is staggering.

o  We’ve been limping along with a headquarters based in a ‘70s era house trailer since 1996, and it’s time for a better front porch, where people thirsty for community are invited to join us for a long thirst-quenching drink of cooperation.

o  To be ready for the surging interest in community building, we’re turning to collaboration—in this case with Dancing Rabbit, a vibrant 16-year-old ecovillage in northeast Missouri with a strong commitment to outreach and social change.

o  This new office will help us in many ways:

·      We’ll be able to double our efficiency in a clean, temperature controlled environment, both because of better organization and because of better staff morale.

·      DR is one of the most exciting experiments in community living today, attracting hundreds of visitors annually. Now, when people visit DR they’ll also find FIC, and vice versa.

·      DR is the most likely source of FIC staff labor. DR members are well educated, have above-average social skills, and prefer part-time work with a strong values match that they can walk to. We’ll be a perfect fit. This translates to lower turnover and better service.

·      For the first time, we’ll have facilities that are aligned with our core values of sustainability and decent working conditions; we'll be walking our talk.

o  FIC will have an office space on the second floor of DR's new common house, being built with state-of-the-art energy efficient design and materials.
o  This building will cost $1.4 million. Despite the strong commitment to constructing a showcase building, FIC will only be paying $113/sq foot for its office, which is below the national average for new construction; most of the work will be done with local labor.
o  Construction will start this summer, with a projected occupancy of summer 2015.
o  We invite supporters like you—who know why community is crucial—to step up and contribute to a future that works by getting FIC into facilities that work.
• • •
Back in 1971-1973 I held the only 9-5 M-F job of my life, working as a junior bureaucrat for the US Dept of Transportation. Fortunately, I had a great boss, Cliff Parker, who was about 12 years my senior. Among the many things he taught me, was to enjoy the idiosyncrasies that life sends your way. He was fond of a story about a former staffer who worked under him, who, whenever he got on a roll at work would report that he was "really selling potatoes now." 

While I have no idea to this day what that actually meant, I immediately loved the phrase and have adopted it as my own ever since. 

All of which is to say, now that you've heard my pitch for the new office, would you buy my spuds?