Sharing Time, Skills, and Experience: How Time Banking Benefits Organizations

January 5, 2011
Merith Weisman

Many people understand how individuals can use a time bank to exchange services (in case you don't, check out this 58 second video). This blog post focuses on how organizations can use a time bank.

I have a personal account at the Sonoma County Time Exchange (SCTE) for my personal sharing (I am saving up Time Dollars (TD) by sharing editing and Cantonese mah jong lessons for a future hand sewn flag for my boat, Apsara. I will pay $US for the fabric and other supplies). I also have an organizational account for the Sonoma State University (SSU) Center for Community Engagement (CCE). For example, writing this blog post has taken more than two and a half hours so far, so the CCE will be charging the SCTE TD2.5 for this work. We currently have a Minerva Project pro bono consultant assessing some of our service-learning programs who we are paying in TD, so we need to charge time dollars in order to pay our time dollar bills.

There are several benefits of time dollars for organizations. One is philosophical in that it allows organizations to practice what we preach; Time Banking is a social justice model that builds community. It dismantles the charity model by recognizing that everyone has needs and everyone has something to give. This authentic reciprocity radically defies the concept of those with resources and power giving "selflessly" to those without and those without or with less humbly accepting. Instead, we're all sharing.

Perhaps because no one likes to feel like a charity case, some organizations have found that when "clients" and "volunteers" are less distinguishable, there is more loyalty to the organization. Social service organizations find that the folks who benefit from their services and those who help provide their services are more likely to support them when times are tough (like now). No one gets anything for nothing and no one gives anything for nothing. There is no shame in sharing and exchanging. Instead there is pride in community building and a celebration of our affluence and resourcefulness.

A second benefit to organizations is that time banking can be an important tool for measuring and developing sustainability. Perhaps you've been thinking about a triple bottom line budget. We have so many tools to measure the economic bottom line and more and more for the environmental. But how do we measure the social bottom line? The Time Bank can do that accounting for your organization!

A third, more immediately practical benefit of time banking is in the volunteer program management arena. Many nonprofit organizations spend a lot of time (often compensated by $US spent to pay professional volunteer program coordinators) collecting time sheets, counting hours of volunteers, etc. Because the Time Bank provides "volunteers" (anyone not being paid $US) an incentive to communicate with you about what they've done, this can free up so much of professional volunteer program managers' time that they can do a new level of professional work providing some organizations with a substantial return on investment (ROI). Dane County Time Bank, the closest model to what we're doing here in Sonoma County, says this is the case there (but there are no numbers to show just how great the return on investment is -- it'squalitative at this point). In a year or two when we're better established, the SCTB will ask a Minerva Project pro bono consultant to do an assessment of ROI for volunteer program coordinators -- in exchange for time dollars, of course.

As budgets shrink and expenses grow, it's time for us to use the many wonderful assets of all residents; increasing sharing of unmet needs and unused resources. Almost any volunteer program manager spends a fair amount of time recruiting volunteers. The Time Bank can be part of that plan. The Time Bank is a tool that matches individuals who have something to share with individuals and organizations that have needs.

Of course, while organizations can start sharing time dollars before they earn them and it's ok for both individuals and organizations to have negative TD accounts, eventually you will need sources to earn time dollars. There are many ways to do this: organizations can charge time dollars for events, orientations and trainings. You can also ask people to donate them (a great way to recognize folks who want to give from "the goodness of their hearts, as true volunteers" is to encourage them to donate time dollars back to you!). You can also raise time dollars in exchange for the time it takes to make crafts or foods. Donated items can be shared for time dollars priced in time it took to get the donation or repair the item. Thrift stores can charge time dollars for donated items. There is no problem with charging $US or time dollars or a combination for the same event or service.

Traditionally (and legally according to US Labor Law), only governmental and 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations can use volunteers. According to The New York Times, "The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay (volunteer) interns properly...The rules for unpaid interns are less strict for non-profit groups like charities because people are allowed to do volunteer work for non-profits." However, many other types of organizations do work for the common good including advocacy groups, for-profit medical facilities, small local farms, co-ops, social entrepreneurial companies, and hybrid organizations. Because the Time Bank is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, it can be used as a pass through for compensating the shared time, skills and experience of community members with these kinds of organizations.

To learn more about Time Banking, check out No More Throw-Away People by Edgar Cahn , the book that lays the whole time bank system out. Cahn is an attorney who started charging his pro bono clients in time dollars.

Other resources include:
PBS news story about Maine Time Bank
Sonoma County Time Bank on Facebook
LinkedIn Time Bank Affinity Group