How to use cobudgeting for member engagement

by Francesca Pick

January 25, 2021

This is part of a series of interviews with organizations sharing their experiences with collaborative budgeting (cobudgeting).

The Institute for Evolutionary Leadership is a training company and community of thought leaders working towards a more just, sustainable, and flourishing world.

Their activities include events, trainings and other gatherings for clients, the public and members. The institute’s community of practitioners is self-managed — and one of their main focuses is facilitating knowledge sharing and mutual support among colleagues. They have been cobudgeting for over two years now to engage and empower their members.

We talked to co-founder and managing partner Fyodor Ovchinnikov about their experience.

In your words, what is cobudgeting and how do you do it at IEL?

Cobudgeting for us means collaborative management of community finances. Concretely, we have a budget to be spent collaboratively that we distribute to our members every month.

Screenshot of IEL’s Cobudget Group

Cobudget is a wonderful tool to help us track what we’ve done with our budget. It’s a way to allocate money to proposals that our members make, which are mostly activities such as webinars, workshops, educational programs, social events and community-related travel.

Let me give you a concrete example of how this works: members that offer workshops to the community choose their own pay-rate and each workshop is funded collaboratively through Cobudget by other members. Any additional profits from ticket sales are then returned to the members, who decide what workshops to fund and offer next month.

Using Cobudget to manage the money made from their workshops creates a virtuous cycle of resource sharing among members.

The more workshops they run successfully, the more money flows to the community to hire itself. At the same time, they’ve helped deepen engagement and participation in the network and used community funds to organize social events for members and sponsor members’ community related travels.

For example, thanks to community support, one member was able to travel from Athens, Greece to the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in the Evolutionary Future Challenge and eventually she became one of the three recipients of the main prize of the event.

IEL co-founders Fyodor Ovchinnikov and Manuel Manga with ELC member Elizabeth Carney

How do you run this process legally?

Currently the Institute hosts the activities that the community funds with its legal entity and administrative support in exchange for a percentage of the community budget. In the future, the community will probably become a stand-alone cooperative of which the Institute will be an investor-member.

Is the type of work you fund evolving?

Yes, we are currently seeking to expand the variety of proposals we fund to include seed funding for systemic change work. The main idea is to leverage the community of teachers and practitioners who understand deeply what systemic change work is, and delegate funding decisions to this collective mind.

Our next step in engaging our community is to use Cobudget to fund systemic change work.

To fund such projects at scale it would be great to also attract additional external funding. That is why we are currently developing our own impact assessment metrics (with support from our impact assessment partners) and working on selecting pilot projects that we could fund to show the results to potential funders.

Delegating funding decisions to our members would allow funders to leverage the expertise of people doing deep intentional work and who have a practise of distributing money every month. This, in turn, helps navigate the complex field of systemic impact that goes far beyond treating symptoms or our systemic social and environmental problems.

What are some of the most interesting projects you have funded?

We’ve been funding educational initiatives primarily. One of the most interesting was the 22 hour personal development programmeAgile Evolutionary Leadership — Self-organizing Multiple Roles” by Dr. Peter Stonefield — we are currently funding it workshop by workshop.

ELC Member Michael Sillion aka Captain Future

Another one of my favorite projects we funded recently was a series of self-organized holiday parties hosted by our members in six cities across Europe and the Americas.

The events were live streamed and some members even traveled to attend more than one party in person. This activity was a great way to network, build supportive relationships, and introduce more changemakers to the community in a fun and festive way.

How has your organization changed since you began using Cobudget?

When we started with eight founding members, every member had a share of community funds to manage every single month. As we grew, the complexities of life such as your family situation and intensive client engagements started interfering more and more with the ability of some members to do the work of reviewing all the proposals and making conscious funding decisions. Everytime a member missed a funding round, their money went unused.

Being able to offer members direct participation in making financial decisions has increased attendance to workshops, and a growing sense of ownership within the community.

Those members usually wanted to delegate their share to others, but we did not have the process for that at that time. This is what eventually prompted us to design the role of ‘managing members’. What this means is that before every funding round, people can “opt in” to manage their money in that round and if they choose not to spend that money we know that it is a conscious decision. Now that we have over 60 members, usually about 10–20 percent of our members opt in to manage community funds in a particular month (with some healthy rotation of managing members). Overall it’s very sustainable.

What advice would you give to an organisation starting out with Cobudgeting?

Pay attention to culture — Cobudget is great technology and has everything you need but the cultural component is super important. If people do not have experience in distributing funds in this way you need to help engage them. In order for people to feel comfortable to write proposals and fund proposals they may need to have support — so especially when you have a larger community it pays to be proactive and reach out to people and offer them assistance for their first time. A critical mass of people is powerful. And if you bring people together with intention it works.

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