Managing funds - Structure & Stakeholders

Feedback needed

We are debating several possible forms that the Fund could take, each with different implications for where and how the money is stored, what projects or properties are funded, and who participates in the Fund's decision-making process.  It is vital that we receive input from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that the structure of the Co-op Start-up Fund is built to meet the needs of Boston's cooperative and housing justice communities.

Explanation of potential key stakeholders and players:
  • CFNE - The Co-operative Fund of New England is local financial institution that offers low-interest loans to cooperative houses and businesses in New England.  They have offered to manage our account for us-- they would hold onto the money, while decision-making would rest with our structure.  CFNE only accepts money in $1000 increments, and so we would need an interim account to hold smaller sums.
  • BCC - Boston Community Co-operatives is a 501c3 non-profit that both owns homes (well, at this point, just one house-- Seedpod) and can operate as an umbrella organization to handle funding for other co-op housing ventures (see below).
  • The Collective House Assembly - The Assembly is a regular, open meeting of co-opers in the Boston area to facilitate collective living projects, communication, and community.  The Fund idea is being developed through the Assembly.
  • Housing justice organizations (for example, City Life) - Existing grassroots movements and groups working on housing justice and tenants' rights in Boston should play a large role in directing the Funds' structure because of their knowledge of the specific housing needs and priorities in Boston; their connection to a wider community of people invested in affordable, accessible housing; their experience working with housing issues; and to respect the work that has already been done on housing rights in the area.
  • Community Development Associations (for example ABCD and Somerville Community Development Corporation) - Like grassroots housing justice groups, community development organizations bring with them a wealth of local knowledge and experience about needs, priorities, and practicalities of housing issues in Boston.
  • Student groups - Student housing cooperatives and students living in co-ops make up a large portion of the collective living community in Boston, so students' needs and interests should be represented and supported in the Fund's structure.
  • Co-opers and people who want to live in collective houses - Ultimately, this is the group of people whom this project is meant to serve-- the Co-op Start-up Fund needs to include people who already live in co-ops to integrate their enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge, and to be flexible and responsive to the interests of those who want to live in co-ops but face barriers to doing so.
  • Donors and investors - Donors, including the Boston co-op community, foundations, and individuals, will all have a stake and an influence in the work of the Fund.
Co-op Start-up Fund Structure
We can of course mix and match some of these ideas
.  The main distinctions and questions to consider while evaluating these different proposals are:
  • Decision-making power - How do we keep decision-making both accessible to a wide range of stakeholders and yet accountable to the principles we set out for ourselves?  The decision-makers will be deciding what projects receive funding, guided by our clearly stated and public goals and values.
  • Money management - BCC and CFNE are both potential fiscal sponsors with local co-op ties and the legal and practical ability to manage large sums of money.  BCC can act as a 501(c)3 umbrella and potentially could manage an account to hold funds.  CFNE has already offered to manage larger sums.
  • Property ownership - The Co-op Start-up Fund will support property purchases.  Who should own the properties?  Will grants/loans go toward groups of people or individuals, or instead to community trusts or 501(c)3 organizations similar to BCC?  Potentially, the fund could go directly to BCC to purchase properties which it would own and manage as co-ops, as it does with Seedpod now. 
  • Fund distribution - Loans or grants?  Interest?  Large or small sums?  Would we support only property purchases or perhaps also support initial rental costs, ecological upgrades, or other home improvement projects?
Four Possible Co-op Start-up Fund Structures:

1. The Co-op Start-up Fund is a dues-funded membership organization
Co-operative houses or individuals are dues-paying members of an organization.  The dues fund the Start-up Fund, and paying dues gives members decision-making power through voting. 
BCC could potentially be a fiscal sponsor.  An independent board/committee or BCC could manage the funds.

2. The Co-op Start-up Fund is part of the Collective House Assembly, with 2-tiered decision-making
The Collective House Assembly would be
an open forum for proposals to be brought and debated by the cooperative housing community and general public, and a small, core financing committee or board would have ultimate decision-making power.  BCC could potentially be a fiscal sponsor.  The core decision-making committee could have seats reserved for different stakeholders, as outlined above.

3. The Co-op Start-up Fund is a 501(c)3-style non-profit with a Board of Directors
The Board would have decision-making power over the funds.  BCC could potentially be a fiscal sponsor.  The core decision-making committee could have seats reserved for different stakeholders, as outlined above.

4.  The Co-op Start-up Fund is subsumed into the existing BCC structure
The Fund becomes a fundraising strategy for BCC.  Decisions are made by the BCC Board of Directors.  BCC would purchase and own properties, using its existing model for Seedpod.

Please add comments or ideas!