Should we raise dues to recognize volunteers?

Note from Kim: These replies were in Joel’s candidate questions thread, and I think we got far enough off topic into new ideas that we were distracting form the point of that thread, which was supposed to be where Joel’s candidacy. There are ideas we don’t want to lose, so I’m splitting the thread. The overarching issue is that we have a few members, especially area leads, doing a LOT of work, and the majority of members who are not contributing their time as volunteers to help keep this place running. What do we do?

I think a monthly cookout that includes everybody would be really great. I think raising dues so we can pay our leaders would be really not great. I think waiving dues for a certain group based purely on their titles is also not great.

Let’s just all agree to pay $25 a month, that way nobody’s pointing fingers or trying to get the insiders discount? This is working. Our growing population of members trust us because they know we’re committed keep their dues at $25. Yes, it means you have to help fix things, clean up, fundraise and volunteer, but that’s good because you are learning. We are not a business, a tool rental shop, we have no us vs. them, no “behind the counter” and no “front of the counter”, that’s what a collaborative co-op is. We’re all in this together. I know it takes some getting used to, but stick around and you’ll see the value in it.

Also MakeICT does not “take” your instructor fees, we withhold 25%, so when I say teachers get checks they get those checks and they do not have to pay anything back. I would highly recommend that you teach a class and see how it works, it’s a really great way to give back to the space and the student fees can easily offset dues if you’re worried about the $25.


I find statements like “we are not a business” and “we’re all in this together” to be sadly naive. To me Joel’s desire to apply some basic business sense to MakeICT is a refreshing change from the norm.

As we continue to grow, without any clear carrot or stick to encourage people to volunteer their time, we move more and more towards having just 5-10% of our members doing 90% of the work, yet not getting much recognition for their efforts. As a result we keep burning out our hardest working members who are the ones keeping things going. The many shouldn’t be allowed to live off the oversized generosity of the few.

Here’s an idea: what if we raise our dues by $10/month and put the extra funds into a “volunteer recognition” fund. We can keep a list of essential volunteer activities that any member can do in order to earn back money from the pot at a rate of say $5/hour. If it’s true that we’re all in this together then everyone ends up working a couple hours a month and earning back the extra $10 they paid in. But if only a small percentage of our members, including area leads, end up doing most of the work then they will get duly recognized. This way we won’t be paying someone, as you describe it, “based purely on their title”, but for actual work done. This could also allow us to get out of giving away memberships to people who can’t afford our dues, since they can do 5 hours of volunteer work a month and offset the cost of their dues indefinitely.


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That’s more along the lines of what I’m thinking. I said in my answers that we really need a simple volunteer tracking system for recognition and succession planning. LaDeana and I started checking out some apps and asking for suggestions, but like all things, we could use help. I first pitched the idea in January, got some pushback, Kez started a form but I think we need something even more simple. We haven’t had tons of time to look into it, but picking the system is step 1. I wanted to give lockers as incentive for turning in your volunteer activities but for that to happen we need the studios cleaned up and the lockers re-positioned to wherever they’re going next, which needs fab lab approval and I have to make sure Christian’s okay with it. $5/off membership might be doable too but that’s a budget thing that’d need to wait until December.

There’s actually a lot of Apps/Websites that do this type of thing…

It’s a matter of what you want to pay for it.

You can get the basic free version (doesn’t do a whole lot but gets you started) or the $1500 a year version that will basically run itself…

I’d say go with the best one if it’s only $1500 a year…that can easily be paid for by MakeICT and it will get you started on the right foot…but that’s also how I think.

Because messing with the lower ones a lot of times gets you in a spot where you need to have more details but don’t…especially with what you’re wanting to do.

Anyways, I’m pretty good at setting up stuff like that…just would have to get people to agree to do it.

@curt.gridley - Agreed

We definitely don’t have that budgeted this year, but it could certainly be a proposal at budget time in December if there’s enough interest.

Or someone could do a separate fundraiser for it, but we’ve asked our members for a lot of special funds over the past year.


I think there’s a couple key points where your ideas differ from what I suggested. As I understand your thinking, you’re suggesting taking $5 off our current $25 monthly dues for someone who does designated volunteer work.

I see two key differences between my read of your ideas and what I’m suggesting:

  1. I don’t think we can afford to reduce our current income stream to pay for volunteer rewards. I proposed raising our current $25 dues by $10 (maybe $5 would be enough) in order to fund volunteer rewards. I’m a huge fan of our low $25 dues, but this issue is important enough to seriously consider raising our dues, especially since we will also be giving members an opportunity to “work it off” or even earn extra cash.

In fact, if anyone questions why something isn’t working or some task hasn’t been done, I’d remind them that we are an all volunteer organization and ask if they would be willing to pay $5-$10 more a month so that we can afford to reward people for doing such work. If they say no, then I’d ask them if they would be willing to to do the work for free. If they say no to both then I’d point out to them that is exactly why things aren’t getting done: we can’t afford to reward people and not enough members are volunteering.

  1. The rewards should be roughly proportional to the effort. Someone who does 20 hours of work around the space should get rewarded proportionally more than someone who does 2 hours of work. And how will we estimate the value of each task in a fair way without a lot of hassle and disagreement? The oldest way for resolving pricing/value issues is the open market system. We can list all the tasks we’d like to get done online and take offers or bids from members for doing the work. If the low bid seems too much then the work doesn’t get done but at least it will be clear to everyone why that is. Plus it will make it much more visible who is actually doing all the work to improve our space.


There’s really only one problem I can see with everyone’s ideas to incentivize volunteerism. Where do you draw the line regarding things that are paid, and things that are beneath pay. For example, if someone is paid $3.00 for vaccuuming, $7.00 for cleaning bathrooms, $5.00 for managing Facebook events… how much is taking out the trash worth? How much for changing the toilet paper roll? Obviously, those are important tasks, but nobody wants a W2 for the time they cleaned the popcorn kernals out of the couch.

I like rewarding people for consistent volunteering, but I have found few consistent volunteers in my area. I’ll think someone’s doing great, but then I won’t see them for a month.

That’s why our “elite” status seems to be working okay in the Woodshop. The Hazardous material training seems to have served that purpose pretty well. Participants from those classes can usually be counted on to go a little extra, because they get something for it. And it encourages them to help police the area, since it is a shared space.

And I have stopped getting shocked when someone leaves a tool messy. I like to remind members to leave the space better than they found it.

But there ARE some jobs that deserve financial recognition, so a hike ($5) might cover that. I’m thinking, plumbing, electric, carpentry, HVAC… Those are jobs that COULD be done by members who know what they’re doing, that COULD be much cheaper than paying contractors.


Another option is tiered membership. $25 If you volunteer 5 hours a month on average. You can volunteer 50 hours in the first month and not volunteer again for 10 months if you want.

$40 per month if you just want to be left alone and use the tools.

Just a thought.

Another consideration is tracking and verifying all of these time/money/credit transactions. I know that Joel has suggested some software to deal with volunteer tracking, but even aside from the cost of the software, it would still require someone (read:Treasurer) to integrate all of these credits for individuals into our normal bookkeeping system, which is not trivial. I’m not saying we can or can’t or should or shouldn’t, but I am saying that we need to be sure to pay proper homage to The Law of Unintended Consequences­™ (due diligence) before we make such a committment.

I’m not sure how many folks realize it, but with our increased membership over the past year or two, auctions, tag sale fundraisers, showcase items, increased class registrations, increasing number of instructor payments, collection boxes in the various shops, plus requests for donations for purchases such as the new 3D printers and laser, our sheer number of transactions to deal with has ballooned substantially. Every single one of these items has to be tracked, classified, and recorded. I intend to have the numbers for that in the Treasurer’s Report that I give at our Annual Meeting, but the numbers may be higher than you might imagine.


But David, remember we’ll be able to pay a volunteer to do all that extra work… :wink:

From where I sit, what we’re doing now isn’t sustainable, so something has gotta change…

Harvard University, et. al., have done studies showing that compensating for previously volunteered labor or charging fines for bad behavior oftentimes backfires by discouraging volunteering and giving people a “pass” for doing the wrong thing.

I volunteered a lot with no expectation for any reward except some recognition and personal esteem. I spent hundreds of hours in the classroom, textiles, ceramics, screenprinting, and other areas like the little second bathroom fixing and building things. I bought into our mission and community, those were my motivations. If there was some type of compensation program in place I more than likely would not have done the work unless it was for a good percent of market rate (or perhaps at full market rate) and I sure wouldn’t have been as enthusiastic about it. To quote the study “Pay enough– or don’t pay at all.”

A corollary: charging more to avoid volunteer work is going to lead to the phenomenon of people leaving messes, breaking things, etc, in which the mindset is “I paid extra for this privilege”. Harvard found that late-pickup charges at a daycare increased late pickups since people felt they could “buy” extra time. Adding insult to injury, the late pickups got worse when they discontinued the fines instead of reverting to their previous level. The takeaway is that we’ll go to the gym membership model and won’t be able to go back if it doesn’t work.

If our members buy into our mission and our organization, and we offer meaningful work, show genuine gratitude and recognition, the tasks will get done.

Logan | Past President


If you want to depend on some kind of “mission” thing then someone needs to get out and evangelize - spread The Word - hold some revival meetings and do some shakin and shouting…

Otherwise, we should be talking about incentives - carrots and sticks. That old saying comes to mind - “praise the lord but pass the ammunition”.

Like I said, I’m not prepared to weigh in on that, just that whatever we do, we do it thoughtfully.

Thank you all for bringing up this subject. It has weight heavily on my thought for a while. I have spoken about it before. I don’t know for sure where we should go.

In my view of things we currently operate from a a core group of < 50 people that do most of the work, and they come and go, but the supply of people with time to spare and care that things are done is not infinite. I am occasionally part of the group that helps out. I know where the the trash dumpster and recycling bins are. I don’t personally need recognition or monitory compensation, but it pisses me off that someone can empty the trash.

I have thought like Erik of a tiered system, pay or work. It is simple in theory, but how do you track it (sorry David/next treasurer). Pay or help. I am sure there is a point where you drive off the gravy members that spend one day a month here and continue to pay $25/mo but don’t help out?

I would suggest you start with the cost of the activities. Cleaning, trash, repairs, ect… for fair market or member market prices to do these activities then work your way back to what extras you would have to raise dues to pay for extra services.

What would it cost all members to pay for these services and put a price $25 vs $XX. either help or pay…

Did you notice how Dallas maker space dealt with this issue?


@tom.bloom, I don’t recall ever discussing it with Dallas.

Doug, can you describe the woodshop volunteers you felt were consistent?

Almost all my time is spent in the wood and metal shops. The biggest problem I encounter is clutter on shared workspaces. Surfaces are cluttered to the point of being unusable. What is the standard, protocol, policy for this? If it is that I should put away tools, put materials in scrap or trash, and clean off the surface, I will gladly do it. But I’m never sure what to do and have never heard a policy.

The extension of this is, of course, that when you leave the shop you should put everything away and take or store your materials, because they won’t be there when you return. But again, I have never heard any policy on this.


I always clean up and empty trash and sawdust as needed. No one knows it because I am there early and no one else is around. I have never recorded it. I understand the importance of reporting it, but I’ve never heard how to do it. I’ll be glad to do it online or on paper at the space. But if it’s more than I report for my other volunteer job, which is date, time, and area worked, I probably won’t.

I’ve never been compensated for volunteering but I’ve never been part of an organization with a facility like this and no staff, so I don’t know. When reporting for nonprofit documentation, everything, including simple, daily cleanup and helping other members should be reported. It all contributes to the function. But if I spend 15 minutes showing someone how to use the bandsaw, because I happened to be there and they asked, do I get paid for that? It’s a critical part of making this organization work and it absolutely is volunteering. Again, I don’t know, but reporting would get more complicated for me.