Community Barter Builds Local Self-Reliance and Fosters
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A New Kind Of Money
The Future of
Building a New Economy
with Volunteer Credits
Using Spiritual Currency and/or Values Of
Cooperation & Mutual Aid
by Derek Brownlee
- spiritual currency - introduction
volunteer credit systems
trouble with money
what is a win-win economy?
creating a win-win economy
SC2 DEVELOPING VOLUNTEER CREDITS: FIRST STEPS
- volunteer credit options
- volunteer credit inventory
- human capital
- enhancing the value of VH
- donors and voting shares
SC3 SPENDING CREDITS: TIME DOLLARS
- Time Dollars
- should volunteers be allowed to spend their credits?
should clients earn credits?
some agency worries about spendable credits
difference between barter and volunteer credits
SC4 INVESTING CREDITS IN ORGANIZATIONS
volunteer hours as investments
setting volunteer hours free
volunteer credit transfers
accepting credit transfers
who owns volunteer credits?
SC5 COMMUNITY SERVICE REQUIREMENTS
spending volunteer credits on health, education and welfare
government and community service requirements
non-profits and community service requirements
community service credits reimbursed by the government
agency services reimbursed by the government
safeguards against corruption
community service and volunteer hours
SC6 THE FUTURE OF VOLUNTEER CREDITS
volunteer information service
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and global aid
self-help in the third world: the last shall be first
can the win-win economy replace the rule of violence?
a voluntary system
volunteer credits must work in the present
- spiritual currency - introduction
- volunteer credit systems
- trouble with money
- what is a win-win economy?
- creating a win-win economy
- spiritual currency
SPIRITUAL CURRENCY -
The volunteer hours recorded by many agencies are an undeveloped
resource. They can be developed using win-win principles to bring new
benefits to volunteers, agencies and the community served.
We need to develop volunteer hours as a new kind of currency to address
the growing needs left unmet by the money economy. Government agencies
at all levels are starting to look at community service schemes to make
ends meet, but they can't afford to create and supervise the service
jobs. This is an opportunity for the non-profit sector.
"Spiritual Currency" describes how to develop volunteer credit systems
from the bottom up, so that community values are served first, and
community service credits are generated for reimbursement by government
and other funding sources.
Volunteer credits are much more than a means of attracting funding.
They are a prototype of win-win currency, held jointly by volunteers and
agencies, and created at the grassroots to carry the shared values of
involved. These are win-win values, closely identified with spiritual
values, or, for the secularly inclined, values of cooperation, mutual
personal development which lead to general abundance.
If we can put these spiritual or win-win values into our volunteer
credit system, not only will they help our community directly, but the
will follow. Furthermore, such a system functioning on the local level
be a model for creating a win-win economy throughout the world.
VOLUNTEER CREDIT SYSTEMS
To develop volunteer hours (VH) we will look at them as win-win
currency, bringing credit to both the volunteers and the organization
records them. We will also be looking at VH as win-win capital,
accumulating over the years as the total contribution made by each
volunteer and each organization to the community.
Another example of win-win currency is academic credits. Academic
credits are earned by the student, are kept in the records of the
measure the performance of the teacher and school as well as the
They accumulate towards a degree, a kind of academic capital which the
graduate keeps for life.
If the schools agree, a student can transfer credits from one college to
another, and we will be looking at this kind of mobility for volunteer
In fact, convertibility will be a way of validating VH as currency and
maintaining standards for the organizations that produced them.
Bringing this kind of rigor to volunteer hours may qualify them as
community service credits which can be exchanged for government
benefits. And VH that are standardized and mobile can act as an
alternative currency, tying together non-profit and voluntary groups
into a win-win economy.
VH can help to run a volunteer information network, bringing the wealth
of information to those who need it most. Those in the volunteer economy
need never be information-poor. Vice President Albert Gore has promised
us an "information superhighway," but looks to the non-profits to
grass-roots delivery systems.
We will be looking at VH as investments that volunteers can make in the
causes they support; VH as voting shares in member-run groups; VH as
insurance for help in time of need; VH for donors to give them a
interest in the volunteer economy; VH as the basis for other win-win
This vision takes us far beyond our concept of volunteer hours today,
when, if the hours are recorded at all, they may perhaps be worth some
matching funds for the agency and an awards luncheon for the volunteers.
Their full potential remains unknown and undeveloped.
TROUBLE WITH MONEY
Currency is whatever is in current use as a medium of exchange. Oh, how
temporary that sounds! Money sounds more solid and stable -- at least
we look at it closely -- and we shall use the word money for traditional
Win-win currency stretches the definition of currency. Credit might be
a more accurate word. Whereas money comes from on high and is passed
around anonymously, win-win credits are created at the grassroots by two
parties who have both their names on them. Circulation and exchange are
much more limited. But the idea of currency can help us understand these
strange new critters.
And we'd better, because money is in trouble. It needs help. It's not
doing its job. It can't keep up with the changing times. It can't do
everything and it needs some other kind of currency to take some of the
load, to fill in where money doesn't reach.
We still love money. It's doing remarkably well, considering that all
the value has been taken out of it, it's no longer backed by precious
and all that's left is magic. Pure faith. Our belief in each dollar
And that dollar tends to go to the rich. There's not enough money for
the poor, since the value of money rests on scarcity. Money is created
the top of society and trickles down only so far. The creation of money
credit is an unearned bonanza for rich banks and financiers, not for the
people who need it most. There's a need for some kind of currency and
credit creation at the bottom of society to fill this money void.
Meanwhile the money economy is busy painting itself into a corner,
thanks to automation. Computers make products cheap and workers
redundant. The results: lower prices and less spending money. The money
economy is in danger of contraction, a process that could lead to
Faced with this danger, the money economy is struggling to find new ways
to expand. The demand is there, from the growing needs of the poor. Now
only the poor had some kind of currency...
Requiring community service credits in exchange for government support
is a move in the right direction. Beyond that we'd like to see these
acquire value in their own right and trade directly with the money
Community service requirements can give volunteer hours the boost they
need to get established, but the point is not just to distribute aid
efficiently. The goal is to build a new economy with these volunteer
so that aid will no longer be necessary.
WHAT IS A WIN-WIN ECONOMY?
The economy started out from a Greek word meaning good housekeeping, and
expanded into the complex system of inputs and outputs, mediated by
money, that holds us in thrall today. Economics has generally been
applied to scarce resources -- land, labor and capital -- following the
win-lose model, which says if I have something, you don't.
Win-win economics is possible when we deal in non-material values,
typically the things money can't buy. A win-win transaction might be
a conversation or playing together. Both sides gain in the process. In
addition, they build up friendship or informal credit with each other, a
of win-win capital.
Back before money, the distribution of work and rewards depended on
friendships and informal credit, as well as kinship and brute force.
in the worlds of business and politics, this informal economy continues
Business and politics are communities of a sort, but those of us who
deal only in money find our community ties broken. That is one reason we
may turn to volunteering: to recover the traditional non-monetary
relationships and sense of community.
Win-win economics is not entirely new. It's based on something old and
familiar. In a sense, we understand it already. And it's from this
traditional base that we will build something new and powerful, leap-frogging
over money to provide a higher order economy for the next millennium.
CREATING A WIN-WIN ECONOMY
The traditional informal economy of human relations has no currency, and
we like it that way. Why would we need a win-win currency?
We need a win-win currency to extend our economy beyond the people we
know and to build a win-win economy that can play a part in running the
world. We don't need a currency to relate to our friends, but we will
one to relate to institutions and the wider world.
And we find that both the institutions and the currency of a win-win
economy already exist. Which institutions currently address those needs
neglected by the money economy? These are the non-profit agencies,
churches, charities, voluntary groups and government services.
The non-profit economy is already in place. It's a local and global
network, with offices, staff, funding and a major production and
system of goods and services. It's already focused on the areas left out
the money economy, both the people without money and the values ignored
by the economy. And it already generates volunteer hours in substantial
quantities in every community.
The elements of a win-win economy already exist. Our thinking isn't
there. . .yet. It's an adventure in consciousness to create a win-win
currency, and each chapter will unfold a new perspective. Our values and
beliefs form much of the subject matter, for these are more important
components of a currency than accounting techniques.
So this is the first product of the win-win economy: learning something
new and transformative. For everyone, the win-win economy starts with
education. Before any change occurs in the world, a change occurs
What is spiritual currency? The term catches the imagination. It
suggests something that embodies higher values and win-win principles.
invokes fantasies of a world run on those higher values, producing peace
and abundance for all.
Can we create a spiritual currency? The question rightly points at us.
We must provide the values for such a currency, or get them from our
spiritual source. It's our job, our responsibility, to create such a
And that's a radical idea, to create our own currency. We are
accustomed to look outside for money, and accept whatever values it
What is spiritual currency? Is it the same as win-win currency? What
do the participants in a win-win transaction gain? Where does it come
from? These are vital topics for discussion.
The details of the wins will vary, of course, but the participants
usually feel good, and gain some energy from the transaction that is
by the same name in both religious and secular traditions: spirit.
Spirit has adjectives "spirited" and "spiritual". The secular
"spirited" is a simple observation of energy appearing and is
uncontroversial. "Spiritual" refers to the unobserved source and
of spirit and causes endless argument.
Volunteers work for both spiritual and secular purposes. No particular
belief system is required, and the volunteer ethic and the win-win
are held in universal high regard. Volunteer hours should prove to be a
worthy medium for those who wish to manifest spiritual principles on
as well as for those who just want to make the world work.
SC2 DEVELOPING VOLUNTEER CREDITS: FIRST STEPS
volunteer credit options
volunteer credit inventory
- human capital
enhancing the value of VH
- donors and voting shares
Volunteer credit systems can be developed in stages. Each organization
can decide which options to adopt at its own pace, and may even test out
options on a project or subprogram. It is important to secure the
of everyone involved before making changes. Thus education becomes the
first stage, with workshops and discussions for volunteers and
administrators on the principles involved, and how to implement them in
the organization's particular case.
Education takes time. Minds don't change in a hurry, and the win-win
potential of volunteer credits takes a while to grasp. Developing
credits is an evolutionary process, studying and applying each step in
while getting a better view of the goal where these steps are leading.
The first stage is looking at what exists, the present and past
contributions of volunteer hours. These can be given new recognition and
value, knowing what they can become, and will become a factor in
Next comes the experimental stage, where specific options are tested out
on a new project or program. These options will include: clients earning
credits; volunteers spending credits; credit transfers and networking
other agencies; voting credits; credit for donors; community service
The experimental stage may start with one organization but will develop
as a cooperative project community-wide, where different groups test
different options, interact with the networking options, and learn from
other which options work.
Then there is a consolidation stage where groups extend their options,
leading to a commitment stage where they make all their credits
transferable, and adopt businesslike accounting procedures for volunteer
There are costs and benefits at each stage, which each group can
evaluate and decide how far to go and how fast, where to stop and what
future potential may be.
VOLUNTEER CREDIT INVENTORY
Today many organizations put their records of volunteer hours to use as
one measure of the group's contribution to the community, for the
securing funding and facilities. Thus VH records are already a factor in
non-profit economy, and actually generate income.
Some organizations are leveraging their volunteer hours to get grants.
Some say their volunteers are worth $10 an hour for matching funds.
are the beginnings of viewing volunteer hours as an economic resource
tradable currency. It's a view still rooted in the money world, valuing
volunteer hours in terms of money. We have yet to tap the win-win values
that are potential in volunteer hours.
But that's OK. The fundraising value of volunteer hours is an essential
part of the cost-benefit picture, and will serve to lift VH from their
present obscurity and pay for their early development.
If VH can generate income, they can also be viewed as capital. The
agency can claim, "23,000 volunteer hours contributed to the community
since 1979." The volunteers will also enjoy seeing their individual
produce these numbers, the organization must conduct a volunteer credit
inventory. This can be done by following the records back as far as they
and then asking the volunteers and administrators to fill in the gaps.
This simple first step will demonstrate how each such step adds value to
VH. The agency gains an aditional statistic for fundraising. The
gain an additional measure of recognition. The volunteers will feel the
hours they log are more valuable. That is a motivation to work more
hours or stay with a job rather than quitting. And more VH means more
The value of volunteer hours can also be enhanced by assertion -- by
saying that they are worth more than previously thought. Part of this is
promise that VH will be developed to produce future benefits. And part
is recognizing the intrinsic nature of volunteer hours and volunteers as
embodying a higher value system and worthy of our attention and regard.
If we value volunteer hours, we value the volunteers, we value people.
We value people who serve. These people become the source of the values,
the creators of the currency. There is no shortage of this currency.
Anybody can create it by working an hour.
Volunteer work, by definition, is not done for reward. The volunteer
instead gets credit. This credit builds up and represents the value of
volunteer in the community. Volunteer credits make people the source and
repository of value. The credits accumulate as human capital.
In contrast, money values machine capital. As machines replace people,
the machines earn the money and the people have none. Money is becoming
an alien value, dedicated to keeping the machines alive.
ENHANCING THE VALUE
OF VOLUNTEER HOURS
If a group completes a volunteer credit inventory, it can share the
results with its volunteers, showing each individual's accumulated
This can be followed by regular statements to all active volunteers,
how many VH they earned in the month and how their totals have grown.
Earned? That's a new concept for volunteers. It implies that VH are
some kind of permanent credit or currency that the volunteer now owns,
that this accounting entry is somehow equivalent to the hours that were
The regular statements reinforce this idea over the months. Previous
totals are preserved and new hours added to them. The statements look
likebank statements, making VH look even more like money.
The volunteer can now feel ownership of the credits, see them mounting
up, feel good about them, feel good as a person, being worth that much.
It's like a bank account, maybe the first for someone who's young and
unemployed. It introduces a sense of time and progress. And all this
before adding any explicit value whatsoever to the credits.
It is a leap of consciousness for volunteers to see their hours as not
disappearing into the ether, but preserved in these accounts. The
even have the same name: volunteer hours. The volunteer will tend to
these symbolic VH the value that went into the original hours.
This is a crucial shift, a major input of value to VH. It doesn't come
from the agency or any incentives or uses for VH, but from the
themselves. If future uses are promised, this may facilitate the
But the principal early input of value to VH can come from the
themselves, identifying their credits with the energy and ideals that
It may seem illogical to give value to a symbolic quantity. But we do
it every day with our dollars.
DONORS AND VOTING SHARES
Now we get to some controversial uses for volunteer hours, which each
group can debate whether to adopt.
One is whether to give VH credit to donors. Volunteers will say, no
way, they didn't work any hours. But if the rate is set very high, say
or $100 an hour, the volunteers may feel pretty good about it. They may
have much earning power in the money economy, but in the volunteer
economy their hours are worth $50 or $100.
This sets the tone for VH, as being somehow more valuable than ordinary
commercial hours. As we develop volunteer hours as a win-win currency,
we may find that this is so.
Why should donors pay so much for VH? Well, they were going to donate
anyway. The rate doesn't matter to them. The volunteer hours are just a
But they're more than that. Donors will get a statement at least once a
year showing their VH balance, and they may be encouraged to volunteer.
VH are treated as voting shares it gives donors a stake in the
And donors will also have access to the future uses of VH that may be
Offering VH to donors is a fundraising incentive and it involves donors
in this experimental new value system, as well as giving them a
interest in the groups they assist.
VH as voting shares is an option that may suit some groups. It will
encourage members to show up to meetings, to exercise their power. It
recognizes the workers in the group and gives due weight to seniority,
to the people who have accumulated credits over many years. Not that
long-established groups would adopt such a radical change of governance. This
is more likely to appeal to new groups starting from scratch.
But all groups should consider expanding their definition of volunteer
hours. Officers and others who show up for business meetings should get
credit for their time. Telephone time and travel time should count. If
we're creating a new currency, let's create as much as we can.
Building a New Economy
with Volunteer Credits - continued