Bucket Goes to NASCO
And Reports Back to You!
Monday, November 10, 2008 – Bucket TO
On Friday, November 7th, I attended NASCO Institute and gave a workshop on the Egalitarian Communities Movement titled "The Power of Sharing." My travel costs were paid for by NASCO and the FEC. My labor credits were provided by the FEC. The FEC requires a written report whenever it pays for any FEC member to attend an event. This is just such a report.
NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) is an organization to support and train members of cooperatives, primarily student cooperatives. Each year NASCO holds a conference called NASCO Institute where they hold their general meetings, hold workshops and training missions, and celebrate their collective history and culture. This event takes place in Ann Arbor, MI on the University of Michigan campus.
If you haven't already, I think it is worthwhile for any communard to visit a few housing cooperative. I think you might be surprised by how similar our culture and values are.
This was my second year presenting at NASCO. I personally enjoyed the last time I went immensely. I learned a lot, made some really great connections and was exposed to a lot of new ideas and concepts. There was a lot of interest in both my workshop and egalitarian communities in general. My workshop received a lot of positive feedback. I came back and shared with the FEC and my home community a lot of new ideas.
This year was a different experience for me. I felt rather familiar with the campus and city. I knew many more of the people there and stayed in much more comfortable accommodations. (This year I stayed in the Quaker Friends coop, where I had my own room and soft cushions to sleep on. Last year I slept in the basement of a coop named The Veil with 30 other attendees.)
This year I prepared a slide show of photos to go along with the presentation. Last year people had expressed their desire to have photos and other visuals. I worried that the effort for creating the presentation, hauling a computer up to Michigan, and making sure all the wires and cables were hooked up right would be more hassle then it was worth.
I was also worried that having visuals on a screen while I was talking would provide more of a distraction then a compliment to the presentation. I decided to have just 20 minutes of photos at the beginning of the workshop that coincided with my basic introduction to FEC communities.
At the end of the workshop I specifically asked the audience if they thought the slide show was worth it, and they gave strongly positive feedback. They said it was good to have a visual experience with the dialogue, and that the photos helped give the topic a sense of 'realness.'
I was very comfortable with the format I chose for the presentation. First I did a go-around asking the participants what they were hoping to get out of the workshop. Then I did a brief introduction of myself and spoke briefly on what brought me to community. Then I did a 20-minute lecture (with photos) on the FEC and the basics of how egalitarian communities worked. I then let the participant's interest direct where we went into detail by filling the rest of the time with questions and answers.
The feedback I got from the participants was largely positive, perhaps even glowing. I received 21 pieces of positive written input. Folks who did not attend my workshop told me that they had heard that the presentation went very well. The workshop sparked many good conversations later in the conference. I am delighted to have such positive feedback, as I do not do this kind of work very often and never thought that I would do well with public speaking.
There are several things I would have done differently in hindsight. I did not bring a watch or timepiece with me and did not stay aware of the time. Three unfortunate things happened as a result. First, I went over 5 minutes. Second, I did not pace myself and did not cover everything I had hoped to. Third, I had intended to spend the last 20 minutes of the presentation encouraging those who had not spoken yet to ask questions, but failed to do so.
In this year and last year some participants have expressed desire for more written information to be available for them to take home. In general I am opposed to printed handouts. I think that most of them are wasted paper and end up in the trash unread. Handouts are either heavy to travel with or a hassle to have printed on site. In retrospect, though, having a ¼ page flyer with a logo and a few web addresses would probably be a great addition.
People also expressed that they would have liked to see more members from different FEC communities at both the workshop and at NASCO in general. I hope that we will bring more folks next year.
Things I am Bringing Back From NASCO to You
Commitment to Education:
One of the reasons I believe NASCO is such an ever-growing success has to do with its commitment to educating its members. I was really impressed by the patients and willingness to teach expressed by the leadership and staff. I imagine that it is the fact that NASCO is so closely associated with student cooperatives that makes it so natural that it adopts this attitude. Nonetheless, I think that this commitment to empowerment and education of anyone willing to learn that has allowed NASCO so grow and flourish.
Often I have seen in volunteer and cooperative organizations an expectation that people either come with the skills they need or acquire them on their own. I have also experienced an emphasis on respecting experience and seniority within the organization over new energy.
If we in the FEC & in our communities took on a commitment & culture of training and educating our members, perhaps our organization will have many more empowered leaders. Perhaps if we tried to respect new enthusiasm as much as seniority and experience, people would feel more invested and our organization would grow.
NASCO holds caucuses for affiliation groups that are in the minority or underrepresented. These groups meet and discuss issues that they feel that the larger organization should address. Then they select a representative to go to the NASCO board and present their concerns and requests.
Perhaps this would be a good system for us to mirror, especially our larger communities. For instance we could encourage new members to meet quarterly and discuss amongst themselves (with a neutral facilitator) what issues they are having that they think the community should address. They would then present their findings to the community or relevant bodies within the community.
The same could be done for age-affiliated groups, queer groups, racial minorities, or other affiliation groups as needed. Men and Women could hold caucuses as well to discuss issues relevant to their gender.
Membership = Managership
In one of the workshops I attended, a coop member talked about how hard it was to get new members to take on management and responsibility positions. New members felt unsure of what the jobs entailed, unconfident of their abilities, and timid about their role within the coop. As a result, open jobs were often left un-filled.
Someone from another cooperative told of their solution. Any new positions that came open would automatically have new members nominated as candidates. They also did regular leadership and management training.
I think doing something similar at Twin Oaks would be very useful. Almost every member of Twin Oaks holds some management or responsibility position within the first year of joining. Having a quarterly orientation on the basics of area managements at Twin Oaks is an idea I had after hearing this discussion.
The oreo could provide information on how to check your areas budget and how to check to see how much it has been used. It could also discuss the standard community procedure for proposing changes to an areas policy.
NASCO Properties currently has all its funds tied up in itsexisting projects, yet continually receives requests for loans to start new cooperatives.
It was not hard to hear about interesting projects for our communities to invest in as an alternative to the stock market. NASCO Properties has had marvelous success in the recent past, and their investments have funded on average 1 new cooperative house every 6 months.
Perhaps it might be both ethically pleasing and financially sound for us to invest in cooperative ventures similar to ours, either as an alternative to or in conjunction with our investments in the stock market. I intend to talk about this more with the FEC, the Twin Oaks Econ Team and PEACH.
Acquiring 501c3 Federal Tax Status
One of the most common requests we get from starting communities is for help on incorporating their community and acquiring a favorable tax status with the IRS.
Last year at NASCO I took a course on how to get 501c3 non-profit tax-exempt status for cooperatives. I learned a lot from that workshop but there was a lot to digest and the topic was dense. I have done a lot of research since then and was much more prepared to hear the information this year.
I hope to be better able to field these questions when they come. I also know that Emmas is in the process of trying to get their tax-exempt status worked out. I will see at the next FEC assembly if I can help them out.
Mental Health, Mad Maps, and the Icarus Foundation
I attended a workshop on mental health issues within cooperative communities. The room was double packed. It was very eye-opening to hear about how prevalent mental health issues are in communal living situations.
The presenter was a volunteer for the Icarus Foundation. The Icarus Foundation is an organization ran by and for those with mental health issues. They take a more supportive and empowering approach to mental health issues, rather then a condemning and isolating approach taken by the mainstream mental health institution.
I would love to have someone from the Icarus institution come and do a workshop in my community. Perhaps we can try to organize one.
One interesting concept they have is something called "Mad Maps." In a Mad Map, you make a list as such:
In Every-day Times
|In Times of Crisis|
Things you should do
| Things you should not do
|| Things you should do||| Things you should not do|
|(For example)||(For example)||(For example)||(For example)|
|Bring me herbal tea||Give me Caffeine||Help me find a quiet place||Call my parents|
|Tell me how great I am||Hold my hand|
This list would be available for those who wish to support you in times of sadness or crisis. This seems to me like a great tool for care-teams. It helps people to know how to support you, but it also helps you explore how yourself and what kind of support you need. It also gets you in the mindset of building a support network for yourself.
I think it without a doubt n our interest to continue to send representatives to attend and present at NASCO Institute. NASCO is a concentration of the upcoming and present leaders of the North American cooperative movement, and we should be a part of that.
I think I would like to go next year with one or two other FEC members and co-facilitate the same workshop, with the aim of passing on the workshop to someone else the following year.
I believe that this year, like last year, that we will have a few folks from these workshops end up doing visitor periods at our communities.
Each representative at NASCO comes from a cooperative of 3-3000 other people. When we get our message out them, they could potentially take that message home to their cooperative. These are our people, the folks living cooperatively all across North America. I do not know of a more fertile place for our ideas to take root.
NASCO is a great venue to both recruit members for our communities and to articulate and demonstrate our way of living.