Thinking Out Loud

September 7, 2017

Crowdfunding “Maybes” vs. Supporting “Already Dones”

Crowdfunding

Driving home on a Fall day two years ago, a radio station was discussing crowdfunding as “the new panhandling.” The hosts were skeptical about the projects, the necessity, the ethics and the fact that it has become all too easy to put your request out there and wait for a response.

That got me thinking (but not out loud, as the drivers in the other lanes tend to worry when the guy in the next car is talking to himself.)

What if instead of crowdfunding people for something they say they are going to do, what if there was a site which allowed people to help someone for something they’ve already done?

Something like, “Last week my wife and I got to participate in a great opportunity to help some individual/group/cause in a special way, but now we are unexpectedly out of pocket to the tune of $3,000 and would like to find others who can share in the blessing of what happened that day.”

The obvious benefit here is that instead of wondering if the trip is going to be funded, the charity album is going to get recorded, the business is going to be launched or the medical treatment is going to be deemed necessary; the thing, whatever it is, is already a done deal. There can be pictures, documentation, links.

It’s a way of saying, “I/we believed in this to such a great extent, that before there was an opportunity to create a web page and ask people for help, we stuck our necks out and wrote the check (or bought the ticket, or booked the flight or studio time or concert hall, or registered the trademark, or started filming). But now we want you to help us in something that is already past the half-way mark in development.” Or, “…something that is already a fait accompli.”

That way you could trust that the project is not a pipe dream or a flight of fancy. You would know that the gears are in motion.

If you’ve ever been unemployed you know the adage that it’s easier to get a job when you are already working. There’s a momentum there, which leads to a confidence. Similarly, I would argue that it’s easier to get people on board for something that has already gained traction, or has already proven itself. Some people like to back a winner; as it stands now, most crowdfunding projects are at best a wish.

What we’re really asking here, is what if some of crowdfunding was about events in the past, not conjecture about a possible future.

Let’s take this further:

  • Suppose for a minute that the person seeking the funding was required to show the project had some substance?
  • What if the person seeking help was asked to prove that they have also put some of their own capital into the request in question?

Wouldn’t that encourage others to get on board?

So what’s a good name for such a website?

images for graphic collage: Plan To Start

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March 4, 2013

Teens With Idle Hands

clock spiral

This weekend I accidentally stumbled on the mother of all teen forums. The discussion boards actually generated a fair bit of traffic both from the UK and the US. Adding it all up, I probably spent more than 90 minutes listening to what the kids were saying.

At this point, you should have all sorts of warning lights going off in your brain, so let me assure you that I wasn’t stalking anyone, didn’t create a login where I pretended to be a teenage girl, didn’t chat or leave any comments, and didn’t set up a time to meet anyone in a public park on Tuesday after school.  Actually, the site seemed to be heavily moderated, and additionally, I got the impression that some teens are selected to act as prefects to find problems the moderators miss.

As I considered what I was reading, I realized there is a root issue about life for the modern teenager in western Europe and North America that we might miss.

Parents, generally speaking, worry about what their sons are watching online, who their daughters are texting at 12:30 in the morning, and generally what activities go on in the school lunchroom, on the school bus or at weekend parties. They worry with good reason. Much of your child’s worldview is being shaped by the internet. Television is no longer a big factor. Magazines are no longer an influence. And radio is… what is radio again?

Some of the online discussions were healthy interaction on concerns teens worry about as they face the uncertainties of growing up. I’m not saying we don’t need this type of website. But peer-to-peer advice is a kind of wild frontier where subject matter is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. No one truly speaks with authority, and everything is opinion; nothing is footnoted or referenced.

Your pre-teens’ and/or teens’ worlds are being shaped by social media platforms arriving so quickly that if I were to name any here, it would immediately render this article dated.  Unless the world experiences considerable alteration, kids growing up today will spend a full 25% of their lives (minimum) sitting in front of a screen. That’s not waking hours. That’s hours, period. Whatever happened to playing road hockey and hoops and yelling “car” every time a vehicle wanted to drive through? Card games and board games? It’s hard to generate interest in a plodding game of Scrabble with kids who grew up playing first person shooters. And most teens would rather debate the merits of keeping suburban lawns trimmed than actually help cut the lawn.

The family agenda and the family core values are set by screens and what the screens transmit. These kids have grown up in a screen culture; have never known a world without screens. So how to pull the kids away? Some people say the kids simply have too much unstructured time. But why do they have this free time?

Simple. In our move from rural to urban life, kids have no chores.

Once upon a time, there were cows to milk, eggs to gather, tomatoes to pick, manure to shovel and firewood to chop.  But now that is not the case.

Once upon a more recent time, there were part time jobs for teenagers. But the reality of the new economy is that those entry level jobs at fast food restaurants and departments stores are now scooped up by desperate people in their thirties, forties and fifties who lost great career opportunities and now fill two or three part time positions that in a previous era would have gone to students.

So… no chores, no jobs.  Social media fills they void and they can stay up until 12:30 texting because they haven’t done anything physically exhausting all day.

What is the solution to this? Soccer, swimming and baseball are good, but many families cannot afford to get their kids into sports; though as space permits in local parks and schools, some informal competitive sports  can happen for those who can’t afford the equipment and uniforms.

If you have the luxury of relocating to what is at least a hobby farm, you would be doing your kids a big favor.  Seriously.  Or at least plant as big a garden as you can in whatever space you have.

Youth groups: Can’t say enough good about this option. Get your older teens into one (or two) high school groups and then get them helping out in junior high groups.

Music lessons: You can reduce costs by finding teachers who do group music lessons. You can reduce musical instrument costs by starting the kids off with ukeleles or budget-priced guitars or starter electronic keyboards.

My wife and I are big believers in summer camp ministry. If you can get the kids in for several years as campers, and then let them grow into leadership training and finally staff positions, your initial investment will pay for itself, and in some cases provide the teens with income at a time in economic history when summer jobs otherwise don’t exist.

Urban chores: Get your teens to step up and do things that you or your spouse might normally have done. If their rooms need painting, get them to do it themselves with a trip to the building store for paint and supplies. Do they need some shelving in their rooms? Get them to build it themselves. Set up a pizza garden where they grow some of their favorite toppings. Allow older teens to help with any home renovation you’re doing, or a minor car repair.

Finally, volunteering: At the seniors home, at the local library, at the community center. It’s not only a great place to meet other teens committed to not vegetating in front of screens, but the volunteer hours can be logged and possibly translate to scholarships in their senior year of high school. Furthermore, you can put volunteer positions on a resumé, which means better prospects for part time jobs that do come available.

The teens in the discussion groups I saw this weekend — especially in the areas drawing the greatest number of views — were fixated on things that are not going to improve their character, their prospects, or their sense of self-worth. The discussion forum itself is a glaring example of teens with too much time on their hands.  They often feed off encouragement toward negative behaviors that can only be described as self-destructive.

They need something else — anything else — to occupy their waking hours.

December 10, 2011

Living in Two Financial Worlds

The large piece of Styrofoam has been put into position in the master bedroom for another winter. 

Measuring about 28 inches across and eight feet tall, it is placed so that it is propped tight against the wall by a dresser, a second-hand dresser manufactured in the 1940s. The two-inch thick giant surfboard’s purpose is to keep this particular section of wall, which has a chimney running behind it, from icing up in the winter.  Our belief is that there was a chimney fire in the house before we purchased it, and the effort of putting out the fire destroyed the insulation at that point. Or perhaps there just never was insulation.

The first winter we noticed that the wall was a large vertical skating rink was disappointing to say the least.  But through years of painting the kids’ rooms, replacing shower tiles, doing retrofit windows in seven rooms, and all the general maintenance homeowners do, we’ve never really attended to our own room.

Most people reading this will never see one of these -- or its equivalent in your country -- in their lifetime

We live a very ‘geared to income’ lifestyle which is complicated by the fact that we have no fixed income. And haven’t for about sixteen years now, which was the time I left the comfort of mixing part-time employment as Worship and Outreach Director for the local Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, with other part-time employment teaching grades seven and eight at the local Christian school, with part-time employment writing a weekly column for two local newspapers, with part-time employment running a mail-order book and music business.

Ah yes, I decided to leave the riches of all those part-time jobs behind and step out in faith, as if we weren’t already living rather hand-to-mouth. No the $35 weekly from the newspapers — as much as it bought all our groceries back then — and the stipend from the school and the honorariums from speaking and leading worship at other churches; all that was too secure and I decided what we really needed to do was open a storefront ministry that would augment the work of local churches, self supporting through the sale of Christian books and music.

I was nuts.

It had all the financial scope of a child’s newspaper route. I’ve seen better profit-and-loss statements from lemonade stands.

But it was my calling, and it became our lifestyle.  With my wife tied up with our then special needs child, we had one income stream, and we tried to keep that income from becoming a negative number.

If one partner wants to do something that is a ministry first and a business second; it helps if the other has something really good going on career wise. We still don’t. We were the subject of a federal audit a few years back because they couldn’t figure out how we were surviving without either under-reporting or doing something illegal. Fortunately, we got an auditor that understood the dynamics of walking by faith in response to a ministry calling.

A few years back my mom sold her home in Toronto and decided to give us some of the proceeds to see if we could learn a thing or two about money from the perspective of actually having some.  I decided that we were going to be good stewards, and reward the faith and trust she put in us by keeping it safe. 

Now we had a miniscule interest income, but we were still afraid to spend it.  The needs of our special needs child had diminished over time, and my wife started doing volunteer work among the poorest of the poor in our community. In many ways, we could relate to their economic condition. Every six months the bank calls to renew an investment, but beyond those phone calls our lives haven’t really changed all that much.

We discovered that money as a concept was something somewhat foreign to us. We could do poverty better than we could do investments and fund management. It’s actually more relaxing being poor, though we don’t want to be like the servant who buried his master’s money in the ground, which, in today’s economy is a fairly good description of what the banks have to offer. So we know we need to step up at some point and get financially creative. I think we’re both watching for the right opportunity that reflects both an entrepreneurial spirit and an interest in Christian mission. So far, we haven’t found it. 

I also have an understanding as to how it is that people of modest means can win millions in a lottery one year and have burned through it all a couple of years later. You tend to school yourself in the relationship to finance that you know from experience. The guy asking you if you’d “like fries with that” rarely knows what the Dow Jones Index doing that week.

In the meantime, the piece of Styrofoam shifts when there’s movement in the room and it can wake you up in the middle of the night. It’s a reminder that at least we have a roof over our heads, which is more than some people have. And that roof is located in what is probably the top 2% of the world’s wealthiest communities, given the state of the world right now.

It does look really ugly, though.

February 7, 2010

Move Your Money

Move Your Money.

It’s a simple, three word slogan that expresses the anger a lot of people in the United States feel right now towards their six largest banking organizations.  The result is a movement that started with an editorial from the founder of Huffington Post, is seeing both individuals and branches of municipal and state governments taking their money out of the large banks and “bringing it home ” to locally owned banks and credit unions.  [Check out this 4-minute promotional video on YouTube.]

Toward the end of the week, the campaign was gaining momentum across the U.S., but a check of the Church and Christianity blogs on Alltop showed very, very few Christian bloggers were commenting on this latest development in the ongoing saga of U.S. bank failures and subsequent recession.

That’s a mistake.   While no one believes more strongly than I in the need for  Christian blogs that will maintain a faith focus, when large numbers of people in our society are moved to collective action, we can’t pretend that it’s more important to write about predestination or baptismal regeneration or the parsing of some text in the ESV.   There is a groundswell of major economic activity poised to take place at the grassroots level in the next two to three weeks, and it’s important for Christians to be part of the overall discussion.

It isn’t easy to disentangle yourself from your bank.   There are all sorts of ramifications for automatic payments, debit cards, direct deposits, bonds, investments, home loans, mortgages, etc., that have to be undone at one end, and reestablished at another end.   There are fees and penalties for early withdrawls.  You have to be really, really convicted about your principles to actually do something like this.

While we’re instructed to do nothing out of anger, we’re also supposed to be people of principle, willing to do something out of conviction. It’s easy to comment on this living one nation removed from the action, in a country where both our banks and the system of check and balances that govern them is solid, and in fact no banks failed.    But what if I were living in the United States?

I think the payment of huge bonuses — the absolute squandering of government bailout money — is grossly immoral.   You can protest, you can write letters to the editor, you can post things on your blog; but the best vote a U.S. banking customer has is the vote they make with their savings and checking (Brit./CDN = chequing) accounts.   Not to mention VISA, MasterCard and all the various debit cards.

To “do justice and love mercy” means that every believer has the potential and the mandate to be an agent of doing justice in a corrupt and fallen world.    It’s wrong to do nothing.  It also raises the questions of the banks being used by Churches and Christian charities.   Ask your Church treasurer where the Church’s deposits are held.

So I would move my money, right?   No.   I would have moved it long ago.   I can’t believe it’s taking Americans this long to wake up to the need for collective action.

March 22, 2009

Church Pastor Asks: Where’s My Bailout?

tent-city-in-sacramento

You’ll want to read the whole thing, but here’s some teasers from NewSpring (Anderson, SC) pastor Perry Noble:

“When the stock market started going down, your god died and you don’t see him resurrecting any time soon … You think the economy has a hold on you when you don’t understand that God actually has a hold on the economy.”

and

“A nation that has consumer debt and obesity as its top two problems, it’s not because we don’t have enough, it’s because we don’t manage what we have well.”

Read the whole piece here.

Photo:  Tent city in Sacramento, CA which the city is considering legalising. Link.

November 10, 2008

Hope In Troubled Times

Environment, wealth-distribution, security, consumerism, global concerns….

In the newsletter which preceded this blog, I wrote a sort of mini-review of a book co-authored by a guy who lives in our local area, Mark Vander Veenen.   Hope in Troubled Times other co-authors are Bob Goudzwaard and David Van Heemst.   This  is not light reading; rather, it’s more reminiscent of my university texts.   I am still picking it up from time to time and pressing on into new sections of it.

hope-in-troubled-timesThe book deals with both the mechanics and underlying philosophy of confronting social, economic and political change.   Reading it in smaller increments, as I am, certainly provokes thought on a number of issues including: national identity, personal security, prosperity and consumerism, resource and wealth distribution, increasing terrorism, modernization, global economies, environmental concerns, etc.

This volume’s beginning can be traced back to Bob Goudzwaard’s book Idols of our Time which Mark translated from Dutch to English where it became a text for many years in political science courses taught by David Van Heemst.    What wonderful company:  the other two authors hold doctoral degrees and the book’s foreword is by Desmond Tutu, no less!

This is a book written by Christians, released in 2007 through a Christian publisher, Baker Books, but don’t expect to find scripture on every page, or any page for that matter.   But you can’t miss the hope for redeeming the world, even in our time.   A great gift for the academic or serious reader concerned about the ‘macro’ issues of our world.

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