Any advice for grassroots groups handling money?

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A good number of grassroots climate groups have experienced issues when they receive any amount of funding. Since they are more or less horizontal and volunteer-based, there is no clear decision-making structure and money just amplifies any pre-existing power issues.

This has led to a kind of paralysis when it comes to making decisions around how to spend funding amounts. Tricky questions that can arise from this include paying some people for work in an environment where everyone else is a volunteer. Also, since money=power, any decisions on how to spend it put those in charge of decisions in a position of authority, a dynamic that doesn’t sit well with the otherwise horizontal group structure.

Any examples of how groups have dealt with the above would be appreciated!

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Asked on March 8, 2021
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I'm Betsy, I work for The Social Change Agency in the UK that Sho very generously talked about. I could literally talk about this all day - and would be happy to do so in a more appropriate forum if it would be helpful. But long story short I absolutely agree with BFC and Kati that decision making structures that reflect your values, routes to participation, AND transparency is the key to accountability on money matters in grassroots groups/networks/movements (or any organisation for that matter). Our little whistle-stop tour on that is here.

We do serve as fiscal hosts for over 200 groups, each has their own decision-making structure that is posted as an expense policy on their page - we just do the admin.  While we are currently only hosting groups in the UK, the tech that supports the fiscal hosting and enables full transparency is opencollective.com is operational worldwide. You can see it in action on our page here: https://opencollective.com/the-social-change-nest

The issue around unpaid and paid labour, who gets paid, when, for what, and the impact on the power dynamics of the group is a very sticky one. In my experience, there is no easy answer and will look different for every group. Could add lots more, but if you have any specific questions happy to keep talking.

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Answered on March 30, 2021
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Here is one simple way forward for an volunteer-run organization with very limited resources:

At your next full team meeting,  create a working group which has the task of developing a simple budget and a process of how incoming funds can be spent. Have them present the draft budget and draft process to the next full team meeting where it can be discussed, amended and then adopted by a majority or through consensus.

Here are some ideas for a very simple fund allocation process:

  1. Create a Finance Committee made up of 2-4 volunteers. Decide whether any decision by the Committee is made by majority or consensus.
  2. Agree to a dollar amount (eg. call this the Trigger Amount) for which the Finance Committee can make decisions without consulting the broader team.
  3. When funds are below the Trigger Amount, the Finance Committee has full discretion to spend money as set out in the budget.
  4. When funds are above the Trigger Amount, the Finance Committee develops a proposal for how to allocate the funds -as set out in the budget- and takes it to the general members for approval.
  5. Revisit the Budget and Process after x months to evaluate and adapt, as required.

I hope this helps.

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Answered on March 19, 2021
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We got another great answer via twitter from Amara Possian :

The fundamental issue here is that there isn't a clear decision-making structure. All groups have structures and they run into trouble where those structures aren't explicit. jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny

That's not to say they need to have a centralized or hierarchical structure, just that they need to have a way to make decisions and members of the group need to know how decisions are made.

There are some good resources here: reinventingorganizationswiki.com/theory/decisio
Also Swarmwise and The Starfish and the Spider.

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Answered on March 12, 2021
Totally agree with this answer. Transparency is a key to financial decision-making, whether you have a big group or a small one. Also second the rec for Swarmwise.
( at March 22, 2021)
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There are some suggestions about money-management for grassroots groups here in this Social Change Agency analysis of the Mutual Aid groups that popped up in the beginning of the pandemic (funnily enough, they took their inspiration from climate grassroots groups like XR). Some of this is stuff you could do yourself, some of it requires more sector-wide collaboration (like 'fiscal hosts/sponsors') and some of it may be unique to the UK, but hopefully it helps: https://thesocialchangeagency.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Mutual-Money-How-innovation-enabled-community-led-COVID-19-responses.pdf

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Answered on March 9, 2021