How a low-income-led group handles fees for events

No Class and Resources for Organizing and Social Change (ROSC), our parent group, have a policy of always charging on a sliding scale for our events.

In most cases, we just tell people the cost is $0-20 or, in the case of our organizer training weekend, a cost of $10-80, since we want everyone to have a small financial commitment to attending.

It sometimes confuses people the first time they see the numbers. “You mean, I can decide what I can afford to pay and pay that?” they might ask. We offer to help them raise that money if they need to, or get it from a sponsoring organization, or from a donation from someone who can’t come themselves but wants others to be able to come without a barrier.

Here’s what we tell them when they register for our annual GROW (GrassRoots Organizing Workshops) weekend: “Cost: GROW cost is on a sliding scale based on your ability to pay (so it is affordable to all), from $10-80 for the weekend. In fairness to yourself and to others, please decide for yourself the amount you can afford to pay for this event (or raise from supporters or your group to help you attend). The more money we raise from those who attend, the more we can pay for the costs of the weekend, and to do more GROW weekends in the future. But, most importantly, we want you to be there, no matter what amount you are paying.”

I would guess we average about $30/person payment for these annual events. It’s much less than what we spend, but so be it.

We don’t use the language of some other groups, which talks about how “no one will be excluded because of their inability to pay.” That’s too negative. We emphasize how much we want them there, whatever amount they can pay (see wording above).

We generally have someone who does registration and points to a metal box where there is cash and sometimes checks and just ask them to put cash or a check into it. We don’t write an amount of money down next to the name of each person who is registering, just that they have paid. Very low key and informal. This can be trickier for events that cost more, but we don’t do events that include high priced items or at a fancy and expensive location. Our GROW weekend is at a 4-H camp and the cooks/caterers are younger people who are learning catering and group cooking and not charging us high rates.

We don’t treat events and gatherings as a way to make money (some fundraisers emphasize this) or even necessarily to break even, altho some of our events do make money even when we charge $0-20. That’s because many of our gatherings are DIY events, with everyone contributing a little and no one being a featured speaker or presenter. We set aside part of our budget for doing these gatherings knowing that some will be money losers but that that’s the price for doing our work. On the other hand, I do think it is important to ask for donations for any event that costs money, since it’s a chance for anyone to donate for something they value.

Some groups do special fundraising to offset any lost income from an event where people’s payments don’t cover all the costs. We don’t do that, but one benefit is that it raises consciousness that even smaller cost events can be a financial burden for some and keep them from coming. We also help arrange for ride sharing (necessary in rural Maine where getting around can be a large expense) and provide child care at no cost.

When it comes to fundraising appeals, ROSC gets about 250-300 donations a year out of a list of about 500. We do about 200 by email (not as effective but we gave our supporters that option and some take it) and the rest by bulk rate letter.

We emphasize how tight we are with money and that their dollars go a lot farther with us than with other groups that have expensive offices or highly paid staff (we have neither). That makes us stand out a little, doing things that are counter-intuitive for the sake of principle or to create a relationship with donors that give them more control and ownership of the group. Doing things in a way that very consciously includes everyone, regardless of their income/assets, is another way to be “different.”

We used to have categories (___$10, ___$25, etc.) but have dropped that, since that required people to fit into a certain category, often one that required more money than they were able or willing to give. Now we just say, ” ____I/We support ROSC and will make a donation of $_________________. (We welcome ANY amount. In past years, donations have ranged from $1 to $3,000).” We also have a line to check that says, “____I/we can’t donate now, but here’s a show of support (SOS). Keep me in the loop.” About 5-7% of our supporters check that line each year. I’m happy to see that Class Action has a similar kind of wording without categories.

We sometimes talk about the need for both people’s time and their money to make things change in the world. Life for most people is often balancing the tradeoff between giving time and giving money. So, we try to welcome whatever they can give of either, because grassroots groups must have both to survive and thrive.

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