Sharing the success (profit, revenue, etc) of a community

I think a lot about building sustainable communities. (Even more so since the rise of Web3 and such an emphasis on ‘ownership’.).

And in fact, not only have I thought about it, I have acted upon it with a previous community I founded, Ministry of Testing.

Sure, it doesn’t have the member ownership angle. I had at times considered setting it up as a ‘social enterprise’ (where there needs to be a social angle and there are rules for keeping certain amounts of profits within it) and also as a coop.

But tbh, I had no idea where or if the community would become a thing. I honestly thought it wouldn’t become anything of significance. And when I think about it, I think this is crucial — most communities will fail and to expect to have things figured out upfront is unrealistic.

Here as some things we did as a way to keep it community focused as a business:

  • It has 3 main owners, me, my husband (tech founder) and Richard (the current CEO)
  • you might not think that 3 owners are community focused, but actually the comparison, of perhaps, selling it to some big company, then you might change your mind. Staying indie protects it.
  • we pay our employees fairly and have a great work culture
  • community members grow with us and get compensated equally when they do things like hosting, speaking, writing.
  • as owners we are not greedy, we reinvest back into community projects and keep profit back to keep the community going (this was actually a big saviour when COVID hit)

And why do I share this? Because Tweets bring me inspiration.

Convertkit is not a community, but as an indie/bootstrapped business they put thought into how they distribute the profit. This stuff is not easy and takes lots of thought and action, which in turn often takes years. YEARS. Just let that sink in.

I do think that overall community-driven businesses are not very community-driven at all. Especially ones that are funded by VC.

We can make them more community-driven, but that does not need to mean that everyone deserves ownership. We just need to find real ways to give back and be as open and transparent about it as we can.

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Hey Rosie, can you please tell a little more about this part? How does it work in your community?

Meeh, still have to add some additional symbols just to prove that I really want to ask a question, and like is not enough!

Generally speaking we pay them like freelancers are paid. There are either clear costs that are covered or specific fees for helping out with certain things. Not everyone gets to do it, we work closely with chosen members, or if it is for speaking opportunities then anyone can apply, but we’ve always aimed to hire from within the community.

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Is there any special form where each member can apply to create some content and get paid, or do you have some guidelines on choosing a good fit, or is it kind of your and other founders’ internal feeling? How to become a paid member? And what do members feel? Isn’t this way of working creating transactional relationships?

We’re always putting the word out about ways people can apply and contribute.

It doesn’t lead to transactional relationships, there’s such a misconception around that. Infact it leads to greater diversity and commitment. Volunteering is great, but it’s also rife with lack of accountability, many people often don’t show up to do the work when it’s purely volunteer based. It becomes the first thing they drop from their lives when life gets overwhelming.

However, when you pay people, you are not only respecting their time, there is an agreed commitment where they have to show up to do the work. The community is relying on them.

Also, the less fortunate who may be unable to justify ‘free work’ because they have lots of commitments in life, can now prioritize helping the community. This is why we always covered everyone’s expenses for conferences, not just ‘keynote speakers’. It meant money wasn’t an issue for not speaking and this opens doors to many other people so that it’s not just an all white male attendance.

The other aspect to consider is spending money where it’s clearly a loss maker, but it’s the right thing to do. For example, we had a creche at our conference, to encourage mothers and families to travel to conferences. We definitely lost money on it, we didn’t have to do it, but it was the right thing to do.

I don’t think money creates transactional behaviour (after all, I was paid for years to lead the community, how else are they supposed to run fairly?), it’s when people do things only for the money, or with the focus to profit unfairly.

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