Our ongoing research with groups, as we try to keep
our contacts up to date, brings to our attention, with specific
evidence, a number of issues about how organisers have been
managing their groups. One important issue is the charging
of sterling subscriptions, and renewing them on an annual
Paying a subscription demonstrates a degree of commitment
and "loyalty to the cause". At the same time it
is an ideal mechanism for keep numbers manageable, ie keeping
the group exclusive for those who value what it provides.
Some organisers feel there is an ideal size for a group. One
LETS organiser even told us: "we want to keep the number
down to 65 so that they all fit on one page". It looks
as if others systematically exclude members from joining who
"do not fit into their ethos". But what about inclusivity,
making the benefits of LETS available to those in real economic
need who don't have the confidence to fit into this kind of
Many individuals value their membership of a LETS more as
a way of gaining a circle of friends than for economic benefit.
This is just as much a justification for LETS as anything
else - in what other context do you sit in a room giving attention
to a group of people, not drinking, and not sharing your troubles,
but offering your skills, and sharing your needs? In the course
of trading, the tendency is for long-term relationships to
be formed so that people evolve from polite strangers "playing
the game" to everyday friends just doing favours for
each other. So if they receive a renewal demand, or are phoned
up and asked if they want to stay in the group, they may let
it go, especially if the person asking the question also seems
to be making an emotional demand. So there is an argument
for constantly "turning over" the group.
But we are also seeing the phenomenon of some groups winding
down. One group has account numbers up to 129 and yet only
14 of them survive. Another group has account numbers up 940,
yet there are only about 180 on the books. What happened to
the others? A few may have died or left the area, but that's
a massive turnover.
In these cases, the diligent bureaucrats in their quest to
manage the sterling budget, whilst claiming local currency
for doing so, have usually ignored the much more important
issue of substantial credits and commitments. Sometimes these
are simply being "left on the file", or even worse
they may be carefully removed from the balance sheet. Typically
those who stay on are "in credit" which has to be
balanced out by an ever sinking system deficit, whilst members
with commitments have melted away. We wonder if those who
were so casually excluded were asked to balance their account
to zero - as "the rules" say you are meant to do.
And what does this ever-decreasing circle do for the morale
of those who soldier on playing by "the rules"?
How do those who have worked hard over the years to keep the
system going, or who provided food or valuable services, feel
about the marketplace which they entered in good faith being
eroded to the point of inevitable failure by this kind of
management tactic? As well as shooting ourselves in the foot,
in these days of credit crunch, such procedures do not bear
examination in terms of "banking" practice - how
would you like it if your local building society folded your
account because you had not accessed it for a year?
Meanwhile life has moved on. Nobody expects to pay for accounts
on Facebook and Freecycle for example. The business models
have changed: in one case your data is an asset to the organisation;
in the other case the organisers volunteer from a sense of
mission to reduce the volume of landfill. Many people who
look to join LETS now assume it is online, they probably don't
even expect to pay, and when having found a contact online
it points them to something leftover from the eighties, it
really puts them off.
The good news is that going online - YES we can help you
do this - substantially reduces sterling costs, and takes
care of all those administrative chores that may fascinate
our aspergic brethren but drive most long-suffering organisers
into burnout - so that's recommendation number one: GO
ONLINE. This brings many benefits in terms of convenience,
immediacy, flexibility, coolness, relevance, and is a sine
qua non for engagement with the younger generation - who invariably
assume that LETS is already online.
An interactive website enables participation over a defined
area which might be a county, a postcode, a geographical area,
or a community of interest. Contact details can only be accessed
by logging on with an individual password. Once inside the
site, members can find others who live near them, but at the
same time a a wider market can develop. Local groups can be
semi-autonomous but are supported by some functions being
centralised. Members who are not online are given access and
support by a buddy, and this can be turned into a positive
feature by making it an excuse to bring a group together.
Meetings are an excellent way for members to meet up, but
since anyone can see who else lives near them, the initiative
of setting up meetings may be devolved to local organisers,
who can become official local contacts.You don't have to be
friends with everyone in the scheme - just like in real life
you can form your own sub-groups and use LETS for what you
need whenever you need it. So an online system can give rise
to a looser form of participation that could be part of everyone's
Once your data is online, anyone can print any part of the
directory off whenever they like, so your central printing
and postage costs will be substantially reduced. Therefore
the cost of maintaining inactive but available accounts which
can be re-activated at will, is negligible - the software
can even be set to make unused directory entries disappear
after a specified interval. So our recommendation is that
if you feel you have to charge a fee to join your LETS as
a sign of commitment, please just make it a JOINING FEE
- the software we provide then enables a small monthly
fee to be taken in local currency to support central administrative
Subscriptions are not the only way to raise funds. One alternative
is to MAKE EXCHANGES. This can be a way of engaging
with someone who doesn't have time to do any work. Such "cash-rich"
and "time-poor" individuals can earn currency by
means of sterling donations and spend it on services that
they might otherwise have paid for in cash, thus supporting
the group in a very practical way. On trading days a "Bureau
de Change" can accept sterling in exchange for local
vouchers that are used for trading inside the market place.
At the end of the day traders can keep them, or hand them
in and put the value of them into their account. Vouchers
can also be used to calculate a commission, instead of charging
traders for their stall.
On a more formal basis, eg when dealing with funders, you
can "match" the sterling funds with local currency.
This could be a way of topping up your sterling account and
your local funds at the same time, but this leads into a discussion
about projects, which is another big topic. Meanwhile any
more ideas or comments that organisers have about the above,
please contact us.
© Mary Fee: February 27th 2009 - admin-at-letslinkuk.net.