[TheThinkTank] How Were Your Organizational Transitions?

momoko saunders analyst at bikefarm.org
Tue Jun 23 16:10:18 PDT 2020

Hi All,

I wanted to chime in on this conversation as someone who is personally
opposed to making the transition from "all volunteer" to a "signal paid
staff supported by volunteers" model. With the caveat that I'm eager to be
challenged in this thought. I guess I should say I'm on the fence, although
I lean towards keeping an all volunteer run model if it's "working".

I think the biggest/hardest thing to define is "working". Bike Farm (Bike
education collective where I volunteer) has operated as all volunteer for
13 years. We have tended towards 5-6 days a week of open hours, for about 4
hours per day. The shifts are pretty well attended all year long and quite
packed in summer. We have a solid Women & Trans night and started a
wheelchair maintenance night this last year. We were in the process of a
night for spanish speakers pre Covid, but this is on hold at the moment.

We have a large 4000 sf warehouse and generally have been able to make
rent. Pre Covid, we had enough savings for 7 months of operating expenses,
largely because we don't have staff. Due to Covid, we were able to do a
successful, but relatively small fundraiser to cover 4 additional months of
operating costs. We were however unable to attain PPP loans and many grants
are built around how many employees you have.

I say all this to show that our present model is "working". Although I also
see the pitfalls and how it doesn't work. Mostly, I see our all volunteer
model as very difficult to hold people accountable for the behaviour in our
shop. We have been endeavouring towards more equity and diversity
conversations in the last year. While these conversations have been helpful
and educational, I've noticed that not everyone attends and those that
don't, might be some of the folks who could really use the space for
healthy/helpful conversations. If it were staff, we could of course mandate
it. Of course, if we had staff, it would likely only be one person so maybe
that point is moot.

Still, it's hard to hold volunteers accountable, especially if the org is
dependent on their free labor. Accountability around racist or sexist
actions isn't the issue (for a later topic, it is of course still hard and
in all reality a big issue, but not what I'm specifically referring to
right now). But we have a hard time with upholding the rules of the shop,
consistent pricing, sudden call outs that leave shifts unable to operate
for lack of key holders, ect. Sometimes operations fall too heavily on the
shoulders of a few and this often leads to burn out and the loss of solid
volunteers. At the same time, I tend to see the loss of one important
volunteer as opening up growth opportunities for others. So long as the
volunteer leaves on good terms and it's just due to lack of energy/time and
not because of harassment or bad experiences with the org.

That cycle of volunteer engagement leads to one of the main reasons I
support an all volunteer model. When it's all volunteer, the skills needed
to operate a business are spread out and people learn and are empowered to
try out new ideas for improvements to the shop. I myself learned most of
what I know about running a business through Bike Farm. I would not have
learned it if I didn't have to. And I have heard from countless other
volunteers about how they have learned so much more than simply how to fix
a bike. They learn how to facilitate difficult conversations, read about
the rules that govern non-profits, engage with wholesale ordering of parts,
inventory management, scheduling people, creating systems of operations to
reduce complexity, ect.

But the biggest pitfall of the all volunteer model is that these lovely
opportunities are usually (although certainly not always) reserved for
those with privilege. Those with the privilege to volunteer their time.

That's why, if I was ever to support a paid staff at Bike Farm, I would
want the requirement that the person has a lived experience that is diverse
so that we might make space for a person who would not usually have the
privilege to be able to volunteer. I would also want the position to be one
that is supported by volunteers who have experience in operating the
business, and it would be one of teaching, not just shouldering the burden
of all the stuff volunteers don't want to deal with. In a way, I think the
only paid staff position I'd like to see is one of an intern.

Anyhoo, that's a long post. I would be excited to hear others thoughts.

On Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 1:54 PM Laura Brooke <birenlaura at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi all,
> So timely, as always! We at Freeride Montpelier are in the process of
> discussing a transition from all-volunteer run to a worker-directed
> non-profit community bike shop. This is essentially a hybrid between a
> cooperative and non-profit, which is pretty much what we're hoping for as
> we'd like to keep our collective/cooperative-type values. Here's a resource
> on this idea, for anyone who is interested:
> https://www.theselc.org/worker_selfdirected_nonprofits
> We're still in the beginning phase of this process, so this thread is
> really helpful to see! Some of the reasons why we're transitioning:
> - We'd like to be able to serve the community more, and having some paid
> staff would help with the shop being open more
> - We're in need of some more processes in place (especially with COVID and
> having new volunteers who may be interested in helping out at the shop)
> - We've had 1-2 people volunteering and doing the bulk of the work.
> They're interested in getting paid for this and the core volunteers thought
> that this idea (compensation) made a lot of sense, especially as sales have
> exponentially increased!
> Best,
> Laura - Volunteer from Freeride
> On Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 2:54 PM Audrey Wiedemeier <audrey at bikelibrary.org>
> wrote:
>> Hello All,
>> Great thread. The Bike Library went through a rough transition about 5
>> years ago when we hired our first full-time staff member (and Executive
>> Director). Many volunteer mechanics left, but in my opinion it was for the
>> best. In the last year we have hired a 2nd staff person who serves as the
>> Volunteer Coordinator and works 25 hrs per week. I can't tell you how much
>> it has helped, and I am so glad we did it last Nov so that she was
>> trained-up for Spring. We went from having aprox 30 volunteers working on
>> various tasks 7 days a week to only staff working after covid started. We
>> are in the process of transitioning volunteers back into the shop, and we
>> are grateful to have them. I think we could better serve our community if
>> we were to hire another paid staff (thank you for this thread because it's
>> really got me thinking about bringing this up). After visiting with folks
>> from BICAS at BIKEBIKE and hearing more about how they operate I am much
>> more interested in the coop model vs traditional non-profit, as well as how
>> well they are able to serve their community with their paid staff. Our
>> volunteers are wonderful and we value them tremendously.
>> Peace & grease,
>> *Audrey Wiedemeier* (She/her/hers)
>> Iowa City Bike Library, Director
>> 700 S. Dubuque St, Iowa City
>> *COVID Hours: *Tues. - Thurs. 10 AM - 5 PM; Sat. 10 - 3 PM
>> Need something? Set up an appointment by email.
>> Want to donate? Drop off anytime during these hours. Thank you!
>> BikeLibrary.org
>> C: (515) 450-1651
>> On Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 10:14 AM Jean-François Caron <jfcaron3 at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> The AMS Bike Co-op & The Bike Kitchen at UBC in Vancouver went through
>>> two such transitions.
>>> One was a transition on the Bike Kitchen (DIY social enterprise bike
>>> shop) from worker-run to having a formal manager.   The transition was
>>> forced by the volunteer board of directors of the AMS Bike Co-op
>>> (student club under the university's student union) who officially have
>>> authority over the Bike Kitchen.  It was not a friendly transition, but
>>> it was deemed necessary since the business was basically failing.  There
>>> was not enough coordination between stocking supplies, parts, scheduling
>>> shifts, and pricing policy.  We (I was one of the directors) made the
>>> seniormost existing mechanic into a manager, and some mechanics left as
>>> a result.  IIRC they left explicitly because they only wanted to work in
>>> a worker collective context.  Since then, a new manager has been hired
>>> as a joint effort between the outgoing Bike Kitchen manager, employees,
>>> and the AMS Bike Co-op.
>>> The other transition was on the AMS Bike Co-op side.  We're still
>>> technically a student club under the university student union, but in
>>> addition to the volunteer board of directors, we have now had permanent
>>> paid staff for many years.  We initially only had temporary student
>>> labour paid out of grants, but at some point we passed a student levy
>>> that greatly increased our funding.  Our initial move was to hire an
>>> "Executive Director" permanent employee.  The title was just chosen
>>> because that's what we saw other non-profits using, but it turned out to
>>> be a problem because it implies global scope and it gave directors the
>>> wrong idea about what their job was, and the contract was too vague so
>>> everything became their job.  We renegotiated a contract with the title
>>> changed to "Programs Manager" along with other terms to make it more
>>> clear what was the scope of the job, and things went pretty well from
>>> there.  The Programs Manager managed the various outreach, volunteer,
>>> and collaboration programs, and also hired other permanent staff as
>>> needed.
>>> My little summary probably grossly oversimplifies things.  If anyone
>>> adds further details that contradicts some of what I said, I assume
>>> responsibility for misremembering.
>>> Jean-François
>>> On 2020-06-19 8:39 p.m., Carlyn Arteaga wrote:
>>> >    We are paid-staff-run but still consensus-based and mostly still
>>> > sales-via-donations sustained. I wasn't around during the transition,
>>> > though, so I can't help much on that front. But happy to answer any
>>> > specific questions about how we make it work.
>>> > ~Carlyn
>>> >
>>> > On Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 1:29 AM Dennis Wollersheim <dewoller at gmail.com
>>> > <mailto:dewoller at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>> >
>>> >     I would also like to hear about this.  Our organisation is trying
>>> to
>>> >     hire a manager for the first time, and I can see it will be
>>> >     difficult for the board / senior volunteers to let go of control.
>>> >       I get exasperated when the board spends an hour discussing the
>>> >     wording of a social media post.  In my view, these should be
>>> >     procedural issues, dealt with by the manager.  It will be a painful
>>> >     transition, I reckon.
>>> >
>>> >     Cheers
>>> >     Dennis
>>> >
>>> >     On Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 9:13 AM Thomas Butler
>>> >     <thomas.unavailable at gmail.com <mailto:thomas.unavailable at gmail.com
>>> >>
>>> >     wrote:
>>> >
>>> >         I’m interested to hear from people whose organizations made
>>> >         transitions from:
>>> >
>>> >         volunteer-centric to staff-centric
>>> >
>>> >         all-donation to grant-(or retail-)funded
>>> >
>>> >         consensus-run to exclusive/majoritarian board (or something
>>> else)
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         In particular what were peoples’ objections to the transition?
>>> >         What problems or pitfalls were there? Did the shop lose its
>>> >         independence? What net-negatives were there (even if
>>> >         overwhelmingly outweighed by all the positives?)
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         Please feel free to reply to my personal email here if there’s
>>> >         something you don’t want to put on blast:
>>> >
>>> >         thomas.unavailable at gmail.com <mailto:
>>> thomas.unavailable at gmail.com>
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         My interest is not regarding articles of incorporation or how
>>> to
>>> >         fill out 501c3 paperwork. (there are threads on those topics in
>>> >         TheThinkTank archives
>>> >         <
>>> http://lists.bikecollectives.org/pipermail/thethinktank-bikecollectives.org/
>>> >
>>> >         if anyone is curious). Your testimonial is likely more relevant
>>> >         if your organization's incorporation is far in the past
>>> relative
>>> >         to its transition(s).
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         Thank you all so much for the work you do in your own
>>> >         communities and for the work you do in this community of ours.
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         Thomas Butler
>>> >
>>> >         he | they
>>> >
>>> >         Austin’s Yellow Bike Project
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >         ____________________________________
>>> >
>>> >         The ThinkTank mailing List
>>> >
>>> >         Unsubscribe from this list here:
>>> >
>>> http://lists.bikecollectives.org/options.cgi/thethinktank-bikecollectives.org
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >     --
>>> >     --
>>> >     -------------------------------------------
>>> >     Dennis Wollersheim
>>> >     -------------------------------------------
>>> >     ____________________________________
>>> >
>>> >     The ThinkTank mailing List
>>> >
>>> >     Unsubscribe from this list here:
>>> >
>>> http://lists.bikecollectives.org/options.cgi/thethinktank-bikecollectives.org
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > --
>>> >
>>> > *Carlyn Arteaga*
>>> >
>>> > /pronouns: they/them/theirs/
>>> >
>>> > Youth Program Coordinator____
>>> >
>>> > *BICAS____*
>>> >
>>> > 2001 N. 7th Ave. | Tucson, AZ 85701 | Shop: 520-628-7950__
>>> >
>>> > carlyn.arteaga at bicas.org
>>> > <mailto:carlyn.arteaga at bicas.org> |www.bicas.org
>>> > <http://www.bicas.org> | Facebook
>>> > <http://www.facebook.com/bicascollective/> | Instagram
>>> > <http://www.instagram.com/bicastucson/>
>>> >
>>> > __ __
>>> >
>>> > /Through advocacy and bicycle salvage, our mission is to participate
>>> in
>>> > affordable bicycle transportation, education, and creative recycling
>>> > with our greater Tucson community./
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > ____________________________________
>>> >
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>>> >
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> --
> Laura Brooke
> *she/her/hers or they/them/theirs*
> ____________________________________
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