[TheThinkTank] Big News From NYC!!!

Angel York aniola at gmail.com
Mon Feb 1 12:45:06 PST 2016

Awesome!  Congratulations!  Add yourselves to the wiki list, too!

The Davis Bike Collective has bylaws that took like a year to put together
because they're consensus-based but designed to accommodate hierarchical
legal requirements (the major takeaway is that if you want to do
consensus-based, have your "board" have no decision-making power and have
them beholden to the core group of key holders).

The Santa Cruz Bike Church has an interesting payment structure.  They
don't have one or a few paid employees and they don't have no employees.
They pay people a bit, not much, to do the tasks that nobody would
otherwise want to do.  If you want a low-hierarchy organization, this seems
like a good way to go.

volunteer roles: post volunteer role descriptions on your website.  this
takes a little volunteer management, but then you have more people to split
the work amongst

One of the major challenges, in my experience, is in cultivating a physical
space that is emotionally welcoming for everyone.  If you don't have clear
shop guidelines for behavior at the outset, you'll find yourself developing
them eventually anyway.  Also, it's better to frame things where possible
in terms of expected behavior, rather than what not to do.  It's good to
get everyone on the same page from the outset.  Look to libraries and other
publicly-owned spaces for expectations of behavior while in the shop.  They
may have a lot of don'ts, but they're there to serve every single person
who comes through their doors for library-type activities.

What are the norms for volunteers at your bike co-op during off-hours?  At
meetings?  How do you feel about drinking?  What about spending the night
occasionally?   These sorts of norms seem to vary and what you choose in
each case will make some people feel more welcome and other people feel
less welcome, so they're probably good topics to consider and occasionally
do a check to see if there's still a general consensus.

When I think of bike co-ops (etc.), I'm thinking of a place where people
can go to learn how to work on their bikes.  Is this what yours will be?
You'll get people who urgently need to fix their bikes.  Having the
mechanical skills to be able to help them is important, but equally
valuable is having the pedagogical skills to be able to help them.  Are you
going to have a maximum student:teacher ratio?  Quality vs quantity of
learning.  Are you going to do appointments, drop-in, or a mix?  Are you
going to have a volunteer-only night?  Will that be for volunteering, or
for volunteers?

Having a few basic snacks available is so so so very key.  When people are
hungry, they get frustrated.  Feed them and they will learn.  Peanut butter
is cheap. Chips and beans are cheap.  Host a CSA (if those are an option in
NYC) and you can get free produce.

A *high-consequence environment* is when you're showing up and your bike is
broken and you don't know how to fix it and you don't know how to get as
much help as you need and you need your bike to get home tonight.  A
environment* is when you're showing up and learning how to fix bikes on a
donated bike.

When you become an official legal organization, they require a board,
usually with a minimum of three board members.  MAKE SURE these members
stay current and active.  Don't let them move away without taking them off
the board AND the bank account.  Otherwise you end up with a bank account
you can't access - careful, this has happened before!

Keep your dirty rags in a fireproof container.  They're spontaneously
If you're keeping heavy things in a filing cabinet or shelving,  bolt it to
the wall.  After years of sitting there like it's no big deal, the cabinet
can spontaneously fall over, and you wouldn't want anyone next to it when
that happened!

It's all good and well to have rules for what makes someone a keyholder,
but equally important is defining a process for what makes someone no
longer a keyholder.  The easiest way to address keys is to get a keypad
door lock.  Otherwise you end up changing the locks every once in a while
anyway because keeping track of keyholders is a bit of a never-ending
juggling task.

How do you identify people in the shop that you can ask for help?  It may
seem obvious to the core volunteers who these people are, but it's not
obvious to the patrons.  One good way to deal with this is to have
teacher-volunteers wearing red aprons (or hats, or something).

OMG I <3 you so much for being bilingual from the get-go.  Double the work,
double the reward.  I haven't seen a gender-balanced collective yet, too.
Consider also ongoing volunteer education workshops.  What populations do
you see a lot of?  Invite an expert to come do a 101.  Which populations do
you want to see more of?  Invite an expert.

If you do a variation on a women's night, carefully weigh the pros and
cons.    Some people who might come to that night who might not come to the
other shifts, but then you have fewer women mechanics with energy for
regular shifts.

Figure out what traditions you're going to develop for regular, ongoing
volunteer appreciation.  Volunteers are a key resource in a bike
collective.  Give them lots of sunshine and water them well.

income: donations of bikes and selling of bikes, stand time, memberships,
donations of money, grants, fundraiser parties.  Are you a fundraiser party
group or a grants group?  If fundraiser, you can get pretty much all the
moving parts donated. If grants, I know Americorps is a good source for
getting a paid person for a year.

Find a mediator that you know you can call on.  Better to have this person
or organization available as a resource in case of conflict **before you
need them**.

FAQ: if you make a label in your co-op's inbox for FAQ, then you can go
through once in a while and figure out what the FAQ actually are, and then
you can post an FAQ page to your website based on actual FAQs.

I've never volunteered at a bike co-op with a great database but omg it
would be so useful for managing inventory and volunteers, and I'm pretty
sure there are some resources out there.

See also:

You'll do great.

-Angel York

On Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 7:38 AM, Josh Bisker <jbisker at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear Think Tank!
> Big news from New York City: it's my pleasure to introduce you to the New
> York Mechanical Gardens / El Jardín Mecánico, the city's first true bike
> co-op. We've been quietly organizing over the last few months, and as of
> Saturday we've reached an agreement with a grassroots community center in a
> church in Brooklyn. We plan to open doors on April 1. Things are about to
> get real in NYC!
> We need your help in a couple of easy ways: follow us on all the social
> medias, and we'll do the same back, and this will help us (a) build a local
> community by sharing good content, (b) demonstrate our viability in some
> weird way to potential funders. We're @bikecoopnyc at FB
> <https://www.facebook.com/bikecoopnyc>, Twitter
> <https://twitter.com/bikecoopnyc>, and Insta
> <https://www.instagram.com/bikecoopnyc/>, on the web at www.bikecoop.nyc,
> and emailable at bikecoopnyc at gmail.com. (Spanish translation is on the
> way for the site, and we aim for all our outgoing materials to be
> bilingual.) We also are eager to see your examples of good bylaws or
> decision-making rubrics -- we don't want to get too far down the road
> without having a structure for making decisions, figuring out membership,
> etc. Finally, if you have an amazing suggestion for a seedling co-op like
> ours about fundraising or soliciting donations or supplies, please share!
> This message is more than an announcement: it's also a love letter to
> everyone on this forum. The Mechanical Gardens would never have started
> planting a single seed here if it weren't for your inspiration, optimism,
> and friendship.
> I'd been convinced for years that NYC has too much going against us for it
> work out here -- chiefly that real estate works differently than anywhere
> else on the planet, and people's time is a different kind of commodity too.
> But I got back from B!B! this year really reinvigorated to start a co-op,
> and more aware of how much it takes a community of people to make a project
> happen. Soon after I returned, I made up my mind to start this story fresh,
> and then found that Sera and Aaron from Rag & Bones had just moved here for
> grad school, and that Courtney and Arnold from Krank It Up were working at
> a shop in town, and that a few other folks I talked to also had co-op
> backgrounds -- or got stars in their eyes when we started talking about
> making one happen here. So suddenly the dream became a team, and then we
> were figuring things out together -- and now we've got a space to start
> working in. Hot damn.
> We can't wait for the first season at the Mechanical Gardens, and are
> filled with gratitude to you for all the lovely fruit our boughs will come
> to bear.
> Big love,
> Josh
> The New York Mechanical Gardens
> El Jardín Mecánico
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