[hackerspaces] How to make money to sustain a hackerspace

Alan Fay emptyset at freesideatlanta.org
Sun Dec 14 15:29:49 CET 2014

This is one of the best posts ever written here - it's 100% spot-on and
reflects a deep understanding of hackerspace group dynamics.

On Thu, Dec 11, 2014 at 10:25 AM, Nathaniel Bezanson <myself at telcodata.us>

> Ed covered this pretty well, but I wanted to elaborate a bit more on the
> multiple-dues-levels idea, and some thoughts and observations from
> experience.
> Portray dues as tit-for-tat payment for a service at your peril. To put it
> in "Predictably Irrational" terms, when people apply market norms to a
> situation, they become very value-minded, and want to feel like they're
> getting their money's worth, getting a bargain, etc. That's sensible, but
> it means that when people aren't around the space very much, they'll want
> to drop their membership because they're not getting much use out of it.
> Try to keep things in the social sphere, so members focus on the group's
> overall goals, the social good their dues are accomplishing, and the
> warm-fuzzy feelings of supporting something that furthers goals they find
> worthy. Members should feel proud to support the group whether they set
> foot in the building during a particular month or not. (There will always
> be some absentee members, for various life reasons. They can still be
> strong advocates and supporters from afar, if you structure it right.)
> We did one thing right, which was to offer multiple dues levels, to
> accommodate people who could only afford so much, while allowing folks who
> could afford more to contribute financially at a higher level. This worked
> pretty well when the system was first devised. However, we felt that we
> needed to differentiate the levels somehow, so we decided that the $89
> members got a vote but the $39 members didn't, and the $89's got unlimited
> use of the large tools whereas the $39's were supposed to explore but not
> make heavy use of the large tools. (We also considered offering member
> storage, versus having to take your project home every night, as a
> differentiating factor, but ultimately decided it would be too much
> administrative overhead.) As time went on and more members joined, the
> nuances weren't adequately explained, and a lot of people thought of the
> affordable-tier memberships as "less valued", and this contributed greatly
> to, ahh, how to say it... member disharmony?
> In retrospect, I think this makes perfect sense. Communication in our
> group is less than perfect, and without a strong message to reinforce the
> warm-fuzzy everyone-is-valued aspect, people saw a differentiation of
> payment, a differentiation of services, and applied market logic to the
> situation. It's no surprise that people who didn't feel like they needed
> the vote would drop their memberships to the lower level even if they could
> absolutely afford more, because they saw it as payment for a service they
> weren't using. Also, a lot of people (it turns out, after some careful
> survey work) perceived much greater differences between the two levels than
> there factually were. Still can't figure out where those ideas came from,
> but people held them and acted on them.
> We ended up discontinuing the two-level concept, and going to a single
> unified dues level, because we were financially able to, and because it was
> easier than re-educating a bunch of not-very-connected-in-the-first-place
> members. (I mean, in practice, if folks had gotten the wrong idea already,
> there was clearly a communication mismatch somewhere. Fixing nuance through
> the same already-dysfunctional channels just wasn't gonna happen.) This is
> my fault as much as anything -- I underestimated the difficulty of sharing
> a nuanced vision with dozens of individuals.
> If I had it to do again, I'd recommend having a whole lot of
> closely-spaced dues levels. Maybe $10, $20, $30, $40, $50, $60, $70/mo or
> something. The lower ones wouldn't necessarily include a key (which means
> that people contributing at that level wouldn't have to endure the
> substantial keyholder orientation), but otherwise I'd make it clear that
> they're exactly equal and the only difference is how much support you feel
> you can give to the group. Emphasize the notion that dues aren't
> tit-for-tat payment, but rather, an ongoing contribution of support for the
> group and its goals and the social good that comes from it, regardless of
> whether any given member is able to come to the physical space very often.
> I think if that's clear from the beginning, you could sidestep some of the
> perceived-inequality troubles we had.
> And emphasize the heck out of the "ongoing" notion -- I can't overstate
> the importance of recurring automatic payments. If the default action when
> someone does nothing, is that you don't get dues, you've got something set
> up wrong -- make it automatic, incentivize that, profusely thank people who
> ease the group's overhead in this way, etc. If you're writing or
> integrating membership-management software, I think the single most
> important feature, for the financial health of the group, is that it is
> *easy* and *obvious* to sign up for recurring dues payments. Cash or other
> one-time methods should be seen as a band-aid, not a way to conduct regular
> operations. (And if you've got cash-only people, which I understand, offer
> a 12-for-10 program or something, because seriously, are they really gonna
> miss 0 payments during a year? Paying a bunch of months in advance is less
> overhead for everyone.)
> One thing we've never adequately pursued, I feel, is the notion of a $5/mo
> or $10/mo "supporter" level, where people get the warm-fuzzy of being able
> to call themselves supporting members or something (terminology gets
> tricky), but which is *only* available as a recurring commitment. We
> currently have 638 people signed up for the i3detroit-public discussion
> group, so if even just a small fraction of them signed on as supporters, it
> would bring in a substantial chunk of change, basically forever. They'd get
> to brag about the thing they're contributing to (loyal supporters from
> afar, remember?), and I'd happily teach 'em all how to cut their own
> hackerspace bumper stickers or something to further extend their pride and
> reach.
> Workshops and classes, in my experience, can bring in enough cash to cover
> their own expenses and maybe buy the instructor breakfast. But running
> enough of those and charging enough to cover the rent, would turn the group
> into a full-time school, and I don't personally like that. (My feeling is
> that we exist for people to DIY, not to be spoon-fed in a classroom
> environment.) Others may see it differently, but it's still very difficult
> to make the numbers work. Dues, dues, dues. Recurring dues.
> -Nate B-
> (another one of i3detroit's founding members)
> Edward L Platt wrote:
> Without the details, it's tough to make a specific recommendation. In
> general, if dues and workshops aren't paying your expenses, you probably
> need to change something about your dues structure and/or spending. I
> wouldn't recommend trying to cover ongoing expenses with grants, it's not
> as sustainable.
> In the early days of i3 Detroit, we were having trouble covering our
> expenses. A few of us got together to figure out how to solve the problem
> (call it a committee if you'd like). We found that our expenses were low,
> but we just weren't brining enough money in to cover them. We had a lot of
> interest from potential members, but it wasn't translating into paid
> memberships. The two recurring themes we heard were "I just want a place to
> work on my crafts, or sit and code. I can't justify paying for access to
> large machine tools." and "I live far away and can only make it out a few
> times per month. I can't justify paying for 24/7 access."
> Because there was interest and we had unused capacity, we chose to *lower*
> dues to bring in more members. Specifically we went from a $100/mo flat
> rate to $89 for full voting members, and $39 for crafter/coders or starving
> hackers (honor system). We almost immediately doubled our membership and
> haven't had trouble meeting our expenses since, even after moving to a
> larger space. About a year ago, we switch back to a flat rate at $49 to
> simplify things for the treasurer, and that seems to be working well.
> Happy hacking,
> -Ed
> On Sun, Dec 7, 2014 at 1:23 PM, Joshua Pritt <ramgarden at gmail.com> wrote:
>> You can do a pig roast bbq tech expo type event. $5 for a plate and all
>> you can eat. You have each member bring something like plates, cups, food,
>> etc. And while people eat you can show all the projects everyone works on.
>> If you advertise it enough like on the local public radio and put up
>> attention getting flyers with bright graphics all over town you could bring
>> in a few hundred dollars.
>> On Dec 7, 2014 12:10 PM, "Florencia Edwards" <floev22 at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> What do you do in day to day activities to earn money for the
>>> hackerspace? We have memberships and workshops but its not enough to
>>> maintain it. We are in crisis. Do you sell electronic kits, our kits you
>>> make there? Any idea is good. Thanks
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Discuss mailing list
>>> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
>>> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
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> --
> Edward L. Platt
> http://elplatt.com
> http://civic.mit.edu/users/elplatt
> http://i3detroit.com
> @elplatt <http://twitter.com/elplatt>
> This electronic mail message was sent from my desktop personal computer.
> Please forgive any long-winded, overly-prosaic ramblings.
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
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