Edit 2015-02-17: Comments are now turned off on this because they got too long. Discussion of all these topics is still encouraged in the new forum https://www.warmshowers.org/forums/general/donations-memberships-fundrai...
To thrive in the future, Warmshowers.org needs to take on new initiatives, features and upgrades, and will have to be able to pay some staff/contractors to accomplish that. Our long-term reliance on volunteer contribution from a few contributors is probably not sustainable. Let’s ask members in the developed world for a small, optional annual donation.
Upcoming Development Challenges
We have a number of routine development challenges, some significant. There are some very important features and a significant 200+ hour migration to a higher version of Drupal. Our many issues are on the issue queue at github but it can be hard to sort out which ones are big and which ones are important.
- Drupal upgrade
- Request more information from guests and formalize hosting request (trip information, etc.)
Continue our transition to mobile (apps, mobile version of site)
Accepting member donations on site/Membership level badges
- Allowing membership to some pay-hosts (like hostels) and differentiating them on the site.
General Management and Sustainability Issues
So far we have survived (and thrived) by depending on a few volunteers. However, we have not managed or motivated those volunteers particularly well, and we probably need to improve our approach to volunteer management and keep sustainability in mind when making long-term plans.
- Routine development
- Member Helpdesk and Administration
- Volunteer Management
- Increased Board activism
Possible New Initiatives
If we are successful in developing funding for the organization, we might be able to say "yes" to some expansion of mission that we've always steadfastly resisted. We've always been very careful to turn down any features that are not tied to our core mission of hospitality. But since we're so prominent in the bike touring area, we have many other possible opportunities that could make a big difference to the community. A few that have been suggested by members:
- Route and Region information for touring cyclists
- Allowing traveling members to find each other and meet
Proposed Funding Experiment
I recommend that we try this:
- Implement on-site donations (currently we just have a form/link to Paypal). This will allow us to know on the site who has donated. Along with this, show a donor badge on member profiles.
- Propose a $10/year suggested contribution from all members in the developed world. We will make it easy to acknowledge with a $0 contribution, so nobody should feel threatened, although some will be angry anyway.
- Help the community to come to terms with this proposal by posting a survey on it on the facebook group and on the site,
- Implement an on-site donation procedure (currently we do all donation processing on paypal) using the current Drupal 6 codebase and some contributed modules.
- After the on-site donation feature is working well, begin to make a specific request when people log in and via email. The request would say "Please make a donation or confirm that you don't want to this year" or something like that.
It’s super important to treat our membership with respect on this, and to remember that this is a fundraising drive, not just "charging for an account". As a result, we might want to modify it by phasing it in gradually, not turning on full pester mode for a while.
There are some pretty easy fundraising motivators:
- You’ve been a guest 10 times, host only once…
- Explain clearly what the money will be used for
- Compare WS membership donation to the average hotel (or even campground) cost?
- Do a 2-minute video?
- Ask FB group for quick testimonials.
We currently have about 46,000 members in the developed world. If 20% of those were willing to donate $10 annually, we would gross $92,000, which is a significant improvement over the $7,000 that we've been getting for the last few years. Of course we could gross more than that (or less).
- Although the response has been favorable when this idea has been floated, there will almost certainly be some who will be offended, and there will be some who figure it’s just not worth it if it costs $10/year. It’s possible that membership could drop as a result, or that membership growth could be limited.
- Some hosts may be offended, thinking "Aren’t we giving enough?"
- Moving from all-volunteer to some-paid has risks in how we see the organization. Will volunteers be unwilling to work if they know that a paid contractor might do the same work for pay?
- We might end up with (possibly less) better-quality members. The extremely low cost (nothing) of Warmshowers has been problematic at times — anybody can sign up without investing anything. In many cases this is not a problem, but there are probably a few people out there who take advantage of the system without investing in it at all. Building in an expected tiny "cost" could affect this. And the badge on a person’s profile showing them as a donor may demonstrate that they have been willing to do something that cost them a little bit (and vice versa).
- Survey: Designed to 1) gather ideas and see what the response is and 2) get people used to the idea in a neutral context.
- Create a Surveymonkey survey
- Get the board and other volunteers to take the survey and give their responses to it. Edit.
- Post the survey on the Facebook group and on the WS front page
- Send out an email with the survey to the entire English, German, and French-speaking membership (requires translation of both the email and the survey).
- Implement a mechanism to accept donations on-site and provide badges on donor profiles (details on github)
- Import existing donor information from our Donortools account where we currently track them (so that existing donors can be properly acknowledged!)
- After we can accept donations onsite, begin the process of requesting that developed-world members donate annually
- Ask people who haven’t donated to do so when they log in
- Send email to people whose membership is not yet current. (Note that membership contribution can be set to current with a $0 contribution.)
I believe that we could have onsite donation acceptance running by early 2015. Rollout of the "pestering" and encouragement of the annual donation might be done over a few months after that.
Implications for Warmshower.org Foundation Governance
- Our income could conceivably jump from the less-than-$10K/year level to $100K or more. This requires increased oversight, separation of duties and careful management.
- Overall board oversight becomes ever more important.
My Own Experiment
I (Randy) am willing to see if I can work full time on Warmshowers development and leadership starting immediately. I prefer to work on a contract basis, billing hourly. I propose that we not draw our bank account below $3600 (a traditional year’s expenses). The idea would be that with our existing bank balance (about $7800) and the near-term increase of contributions we could make this happen. I would bill monthly at an $80/hour rate, with a limit based on the strategy above. This is lower than the $100/hour that I have normally requested, but it’s Warmshowers after all! (We might have to raise it in the future, both for me and other contractors.) I’m willing to do a monthly cap at this point if we want.