Regional Hub Policy and Best Practices Manual
Regional hubs are an essential part of the architecture of PINA’s decentralized design for serving the permaculture movement in North America. Hubs are located close to practitioners, run by regional management teams, may be open to the broader public (and not only graduates), and hold the possibility of serving a wide range of needs, including creating and anchoring new forms of social capital.
The global permaculture movement committed itself to a bioregional organizing strategy from the 5th IPC in Scandinavia in 1993. Permaculture is itself a movement for decentralizing resources and economic and political power. It is aligned with other global people’s movements for decentralization—the ecovillage and popular education movements among them—as a critical response to the centralizing, corporatist, and anti-democratic forces of the fossil fuel era. While we recognize that certain human endeavors are only possible when organized at planetary, continental, or national scales, we believe these are limited, and primarily involve ensuring protection for the global commons. We encourage the growth of civic and community organizations to meet the great bulk of human needs that cannot be satisfied at the household level.
Permaculture, PINA, and the Need for Organized Efforts
PINA is founded on several assumptions:
- That the permaculture movement carries powerful gifts needed by 21st century communities;
- That the grassroots practice of permaculture over 40 years has created a remarkable and effective basis for local action but lacks any method for combining the assets and skills of our thousands in a way that leverages results;
- That the tide of global events—climate change, pollution, resource depletion, extinctions and habitat destruction, corporatism, inequity, and technological stratification—is accelerating and must be addressed by concerted collective action; and
- That an active and funded North American organization of skilled permaculture activists (PINA) could change our collective outcome in a major way, and furthermore, that without such an organization, permaculture will remain much less effective than it needs to be in addressing the epochal challenges all people now face.
Out of these assumptions, and by the application of good design principles and observation of the system conditions, PINA’s organizers have reached some initial conclusions that inform our structural design:
- To apply permaculture’s movement-wide wisdom to North American conditions, our vast continental expanse—over 50 degrees of latitude and 8 times zones, with many biomes, languages, cultures, and nationalities—will need to be divided into regional organizations, which we have chosen to call Hubs. How to divide up 8 million square miles, more than 20 sovereign nations, and 585 million people is a matter for good design and will probably require many years of practice and creativity. To be financially viable and provide services worth having, groups beyond the local (local meaning, for example, a metro region or multi-county territory) will almost certainly need to cover large areas, including at least several cities, and may extend beyond current state, provincial, and even some national boundaries.
- How to build such hubs and on what basis cannot yet be fully known. Permaculture designers often cooperate with some people and not others because of one or another commonality. These include geography, cultural background, ethnolinguistic co-histories, degree of urbanization, histories of oppression, national identity or laws, class, age and gender, or even occupational uses of permaculture, which vary from landscaping and site design to farming to teaching to green architecture to community organizing to non-profit work to ecovillage and ecocity formation. Hubs therefore should enable designers to foster connections within their regions and to confront problems faced by those with such commonalities. Hubs should make it easy for regional designers to meet, discuss, learn from, educate, help, and enrich each other. By the same token, the insights gained from such work can aid all permaculture efforts, and should be shared widely.
- Hubs expand the opportunities for leadership within PINA. They have formal roles in the PINA education system, supporting and nurturing diploma candidates, field advisors, and review panels. Hubs nominate PINA directors in a rotation with other hubs to fill open seats on the continental board. While regional hubs are being identified, affiliated, or established, PINA’s board of directors endeavors to maintain and expand geographic and other representational diversities.
What constitutes a Hub?
PINA has established four criteria for the organization of a hub:
- Each is to be a legally chartered public organization not beholden to any private interest.
- A majority of the management team must hold PINA membership.
- A hub must be inclusive of and open to all permaculture graduates and persons interested in permaculture in the region, subject to reasonable criteria for membership such as the paying of dues and recognition of permaculture ethics.
- It must uphold PINA education standards and systems in respect to the PDC and diploma studies.
Accepting these conditions and on the payment of annual dues of $120, hubs may apply to be recognized by PINA as an exclusive affiliate within a geographic region. Hub membership carries specific privileges and responsibilities.
The relation of clusters, guilds or subgroups to a Hub
For continental and geographic purposes, hubs need to represent relatively large or populous, regions, but also remote ones, so long as each has an integrated nature, e.g. Central Rocky Mountains, Northeast US, Hawaii respectively. PINA understands that in accord with FairShare ethics, resources must flow from areas of concentration (often in cities and city regions) toward areas of deprivation. Large, sparsely populated territories such as Wyoming, Saskatchewan, the Dakotas, or the Trans-Pecos have to be linked with population centers to assure economic viability. The same logic applies to hub administration and mutual support. Transportation links must be manageable within Hubs, of course, but long roads over land are fundamentally different from long routes over the ocean. So while Hawaii has a population smaller than San Diego, the Islands are too far from the mainland or any other area of the Pacific and too distinctive in their needs to cooperate with West Coast or other Pacific territories in the intimate way that a hub requires.
Nor is proximity always an adequate condition for cooperation. For example, Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a common land boundary, but cultural frictions, colonial history, and languages separate them. By contrast, a common history, language and climate bind many small and far-flung Anglophone islands and nations of the Caribbean including Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada, and even Belize.
Densely settled territories have other issues. While rural Maine may seem remote from Manhattan, the distances are no more than a day’s drive, transportation links are dense, and the integration of the region’s fresh water and other natural resources bind them together in many ways. Whether these ties are sufficient to make a common Hub that produces significant yields for everyone, or whether other formations are better will depend on local permaculture design creativity and experience. Thus, the question of hub boundaries must remain empirical and not ideological.
In the transition to a fully organized continental network, PINA recognizes that proto-hub organizations may take the form of clusters of Pc design graduates gathering in smaller territories to form Guilds. These might be in cities or city regions or even part of a state or province. We envision that several such guilds, encompassing several large cities or metro regions and territories within a possible PINA hub region could arise independently. It is in PINA’s interest, and we believe in the interest of regional graduates and PINA members to support the affiliation of such guilds into a single regional hub, and PINA will support such affiliation by developing alliances with guilds that are open to hub aggregation.
For the purposes of hub formation and democratic governance, it would be prudent for members from a single guild among several which affiliate to hold no more than a quarter of the board seats in a regional hub organization.
What are the Advantages of Having a Hub?
PINA hubs, like all non-profit or public benefit corporations, take work to create and maintain, but directed to permaculture purposes, they offer a number of advantages. While individual permaculture designers may find a niche in the current economy, such work is unlikely to expand indefinitely or without cultivation. The numbers who can make a career in this way will remain limited without collective action. PINA is a design for mutual support and solidarity among practitioners with shared worldviews and ethics and whose knowledge set and problem-solving skills are sorely needed by the whole of society. Unfortunately, to this time, our potential has gone unrecognized, and our value to society has not been fully tapped. We can leave the responses to climate change and resource depletion to governments and corporations which have together created the problem, hoping that dire circumstances will enlighten them (not likely), or we can join hands with others in the Pc movement to promote our views and put ourselves to work.
Regional hubs hold the promise to fulfill critically needed collective functions of value to all communities and individuals involved. These include various forms of mutual aid:
- Risk insurance and disaster preparedness
- Alliances to fend off unethical and predatory actions by State and Corporate actors
- Greater regional resilience based on improved urban-rural links
- Community centers and sanctuaries with reserves of accommodation, meeting space, knowledge, skills, tools, food, and diverse genomes
- Regeneration Bureaus to conduct needed tree planting, earthworking, and soil amendment on a large scale whether by consulting or direct action
- Creating support networks for the newly interested, PDC graduates and diplomates.
Hubs will support themselves by charging membership dues and by operating fee-based programs for members’ benefit. Some may organize as charities or affiliate with charities for the purpose of seeking grants and tax-exempt donations. PINA may be able to create revenue-sharing mechanisms to help its hubs further our mutual work. We believe that long-term success rests on obtaining a share of the new wealth that PINA and its hubs can create for our members. Hubs will require staff along with volunteers. They will become nuclei of information flow about regeneration efforts in their regions, offering manifold opportunities for new employment and for access to resources and knowledge.
Non-financial benefits are potentially considerable. Hubs participate fully in PINA’s educational program and so create opportunities for their members to act as mentors and field advisors for diploma candidates. This form of education is not a one-way street: those who teach also learn and gain direct support as well as cash compensation from their students. PINA hubs have the potential to become exchanges for non-monetized flows of goods and services, whether as food hubs, resource aggregators, educational nodes, or community service providers. In the manner of The Grange and other benevolent and fraternal societies of recent history, or of the union movement, hubs may, in addition to their political advocacy, become essential supports for their communities, seeking fair-share in the marketplace, recognition in the public square, and protection for the vulnerable against the vicissitudes of nature, government, and predatory capital.
Those who take the lead in establishing such community lifelines will be first among those who gain benefits from their deployment.
How to Form a Hub
Creating a management team
In order to achieve the aim of inclusiveness, PINA expects hubs to be governed under non-profit or cooperative forms, not as privately owned entities, whether corporate or proprietary. While an existing non-profit entity may be recognized as a PINA hub, it will need to have a clear structure, charter, and history of inclusiveness and purposes consistent with PINA’s aims.
As collective entities, hubs will be governed by teams of people who must learn to cooperate, share tasks, burdens, and glory, exercise collective intelligence, develop vision together, and hold each other accountable, not only for common purposes, but to partners, and under the law.
Board or group management involves real time and commitment. This can be quantified as five hours a month per director on average with some months requiring up to 20 hours for some individuals (fundraising pushes, special projects). The predictable duties include a monthly meeting or two (if you form committees or work teams), reading minutes, and some outside tasks for the group, plus extra emails.
Like a stool with three legs, the management team or council needs a minimum of three people to start (for diversity of views and stability) and five to continue (for resiliency in meetings, diversity of skills, and organizational continuity), and it should strive to stay in the range of 7 to 11 members over the long term. Expect attrition and turnover, but try to keep it to one or two members a year. Beyond five members, team growth can be deliberate and strategic. Seek geographic or community representation, maintain gender balance, and look for particular skill sets, age cohorts, or other valuable aspects of diverse and functional groups.
Get clear from the beginning about your decision-making process. In small groups that know each other very well, consensus is entirely manageable, as feelings and intuitions can be shared and understood. Sociocracy, or dynamic governance, is closely related to consensus, but has many more flexible, resilient, and transparent mechanisms to support effective group work. If you do not make a choice, the cultural presumption is some variant (usually careless) of Robert’s Rules of Order, or modulated majority rule, which can work and is very complex if studied, but which is archaic and presumes a measure of deliberate opposition and conflict, and which therefore works to help the minority raise its points in debate, secure a fair hearing, and affords opportunity to question arguments as they are made. RRO does not assume that there is a best answer for the group apart from one that is honestly supported by a majority. That is its failing. Consensus and Sociocracy both presume that a best answer is available but that it may not always be held or understood well by the majority, so these systems weight minority opinion; Consensus does this to an extreme, but that is based on the assumption of group commitment and trust.
Conflict in groups is unavoidable, but if it arises too often, you should consider who is engaged, what the assumptions of each member may be, and directly address the occurrence of conflict as an issue in itself. The occasional quarrel or disagreement is normal. Squabbling over something every meeting is a sign the group is in disorder. Arguing over superficial matters points to psychological distress within the group, which may center in one person or a pair or be general. If resolution does not come from a frank and heartfelt discussion, then some member or members may need to leave (avoid scapegoating), the decision-making process may need to be clarified, or the group’s purpose restated.
There will be issues of friction: money may be difficult, and so too the amount of work each board or team member puts into the collective. Work to keep these forces above board and transparent. If someone is consistently working more than the median, try to find ways to appreciate and give back to the person, whether through contract work and pay, personal support, or praise. Also, look to spread the load by other members taking up a bigger share and by adding working members to the group.
Adopting a Formal Structure
While hub formation can take place informally over several years without benefit of a legal structure, going from an informal group to a formal structure is a key move and one required for a PINA hub to endure. PINA insists on this step because it is the only way for the rights of all persons involved to be safeguarded.
A corporate form may seem anathema to many in permaculture, but it is simply a way to structure collective work and responsibility that lifts burdens from individuals, provides some measure of transparency and accountability, and that all of society recognizes as legitimate. Since PINA wishes to influence the mainstream, we ask all our regional hubs to take on a formal legal charter recognized by a regional, provincial, or state government in the area. Because they are so common (millions of corporations hold charters in the USA, for example), knowledge about them is widespread, and access to them is inexpensive and not burdensome. Practice and forms of law will vary in other countries and jurisdictions, but every nation has provisions for corporate charters and for some form of non-profit bodies.
In the US, each state and territory issues corporate charters. Usually this is handled by the Secretary of State in each jurisdiction, or it may be in a special office. Incorporation fees vary but are almost always less than $100. Annual filings are required, as is an office within the state or territory. Said office must have a physical address so that legal documents (letters, notice, warrants, subpoenas, and others) may be served on the corporation. The annual report, usually accompanied by a small fee of $10-50, is a means to update any changes of address or modifications to the corporation’s legal charter. It is important that a steady office and a reliable person to file annual reports be identified early in the process.
A charter for a corporation is usually called Articles of Incorporation. It can be issued to a single individual incorporator or to any small group. This does not need to limit the number of directors sitting on a board, nor does it restrict the corporation from altering its articles, structure, bylaws, or purpose when it must. The forms for these incorporations are widely available online in each state or territory, do not require a lot of information, and are typically not subject to complicated review.
Be sure to state your corporate purpose succinctly and without undue grandiosity. For example: To serve graduates of the permaculture design course and members of the public interested in permaculture
- For the purpose of improving professional practice,
- Exchanging information and affording each other mutual support;
- To develop permaculture as a respected profession in society, and
- To encourage other activities that support these purposes.
Do not make your statement of purpose too broad, e.g., “Any purpose not contrary to law.” Such indistinct claims will be rejected. On the other hand, if new opportunities emerge years after the incorporation, making original purposes too specific can hamstring the organization until bylaws are amended and refiled.
Corporate forms vary, but PINA hub affiliates should have a structure that abets inclusion and precludes dominance by a very few. In addition to non-profit or mutual benefit corporations, established for a transcendent public purpose, cooperatives present a possible model. In the U.S., these 501c (12) co-op corporations can be owned by thousands of individuals who may not know each other, but are enabled by charter to elect the management team. Though organized for profit, cooperatives pay out surplus to their owner shareholders who are usually on an equal footing—no one has a larger share than any other member, dividends are paid on a equal or pro rata basis tied to sales.
The LLC is a common and convenient form for business that provides individuals with many of the advantages of limited liability, separating personal assets from professional risk, but it is not an appropriate form for a PINA hub, as most state laws limit LLCs to a small number of owners whose interests would be paramount and would preclude treating non-owner clients or participants equitably.
Nonprofits are not all alike. In the USA for example, some are recognized by the IRS, and some do not bother to seek this recognition. Federal tax laws provide a broad umbrella for freedom of action by small nonprofits. But without a formal Section 501 recognition, nonprofits may find that they can incur tax liabilities. Various sections of the 501 code recognize charities, schools, churches, business leagues, unions, co-ops, and religious orders, among other special categories. Of the secular forms, charities, as defined under 501c(3), are the best known and most common non-profit form. The Red Cross and the American Cancer Society are charities, as are some hospitals.
PINA and some of its hubs are 501c(6) organizations. They are chartered to uphold standards and promote the profession of permaculture. The Chamber of Commerce, the National Football League, and PINA are all 501c(6) business leagues.
An important distinction between charities and business leagues is that donations to the former are tax-deductible under the law, if the charity has applied for and received recognition from IRS. Other privileges attend to this form, but it is more difficult to obtain, and can be somewhat restrictive. The business league, 501c(6) form offers exemption from taxation for all revenues that are generated by “public support.” In the case of the NFL, this includes hundreds of millions of dollars paid by the television networks for the right to broadcast games. Business leagues are expected to be in the business of advocacy for their members and their trades. This document is not the place for any detailed tax advice, but PINA can share more information with potential hub organizers upon request.
Corporate law in each state defines obligatory and optional forms and behaviors for corporate entities. Authority for a corporation is vested in a board of directors, which may be called something else but has broadly similar characteristics to that commonly understood. Certain officers are required, typically a President and a Secretary, and these may not be the same person. Other offices may be shared by one person or not filled.
The purpose of corporations is governed by their charter or Articles of Incorporation, which should be broad enough but not overbroad. Although these purposes can be amended, this is fairly rare. A corporation’s behavior is governed by its bylaws, which are adopted by the founding Board of Directors as a guide to action. Bylaws can be amended, usually by a defined procedure. They may direct how decisions will be made, where and when meetings will be held, how particular powers within the corporation are held and exercised. The language of bylaws is both common and open to being customized. IRS requires charities to includes certain boiler-plate language in their bylaws regarding prohibited behaviors and disposition of assets upon dissolution.
Most small corporations borrow bylaws and then customize them for their own purposes. PINA grafted language from several sets of example corporate bylaws to meet its needs. It went through several small changes during the first few years as the board learned what worked and what didn’t. Most corporations review their bylaws every few years to bring them up to date and to ensure that they permit the corporation to act lawfully as it wishes to do. Rules governing the election, replacement, and removal of directors, rules for amendment, and rules governing particular kinds of decisions are among the most commonly adjusted.
The various corporate officer roles are typically among the most important:
- The Treasurer should be honest, well-organized, reliable, and detail-oriented, and should understand money flows, banking, accounting, and budgeting, tax issues, and financial legal requirements and rules. Recommending rules for the management of money is as important as keeping track of income and expenses. Money must be received, banked, and accounted for. In addition to a Treasurer, you may also have an office manager, an administrator, or other agent who actually receives and disperses funds. In some cases, oversight of bookkeepers and accountants is needed as well. The Treasurer is the board member that relates with these staff to ensure that the board is aware of any staff needs or issues regarding funds.
- The Secretary should oversee proper recording and archiving of notes, records, and minutes both by the Secretary and others; the writing of letters and contracts; keeping of archives and records, and may be charged with supervising the process of corporate elections. Unless decided otherwise by the Board, the Secretary acts to oversee compliance with bylaws and board policies.
- The President is not solely responsible for exerting leadership, but should be someone able to articulate the organization’s mission and purpose to the public and to the board, should have a good public reputation, and should be able to summarize discussion and points of debate within the board in order to help forge consensus and compromise. A good President helps the Board and other supporters create goals for the next several years, and makes sure that realistic plans for achieving them are followed. Setting goals and achieving them attracts supporters and builds organizational yields in the fastest possible way.
- The office of Vice-President(s) may be ill-defined beyond its emergency function, but can be spelled out. Hubs are likely to serve many diverse populations over a wide area, so there might well be Vice Presidents for specific groups represented by the Hub. Alternately, these might be more elegantly led by committee heads or a VP might be assigned Hub management needs like board recruitment, fundraising, governance, or special projects like a convergence. A well-staffed board will have these skills spread among a number of directors and committee heads, and not held by the officers alone. In a large board, other offices may be created and filled, or a board may create committees to oversee governance practices, finances, outreach, program activities such as webinars, key relationships, or membership. By-laws need not spell this out, but they could allow for the creation of several Vice-Presidents.
Hub organizations will inevitably need to present themselves to both regional and local audiences on the web, and will need to communicate electronically. The web site may include a calendar of events or bulletin board for announcements. These are important roles that must be filled from the beginning.
Events need to be planned, put on, and evaluated.
There will be relationships to PINA and to member entities such as local guilds, as well as individual members. These must be provided services and helped to provide services.
Some element of the organization (the board, a few individuals or advisors) must be looking out ahead to cast vision, foresee future programs, and plan activities. Ultimately, the group will need some regular form of strategic planning in order to prosper.
Board-administered organizations often find, after a period, that diffuse leadership can be inadequate to ensure organizational growth. While collegiality can be very creative and productive for a short period, it is rare for a small group to be so filled with leaders that it can function with perfect syncopation in passing the baton of initiative from hand to hand. At some point, an individual or a small team is needed to move the organization consistently toward its goals, seize opportunities that arise, and ensure that important tasks are completed. These roles are almost invariably paid and this presents a challenge to a small organization – funding an executive director, coordinator, or group leader at a more than trivial level, say $10,000/year or more.
PINA regions in the USA and Canada are populous enough to have between 500-5,000 graduates each, so the problem of supporting a small staff is not insurmountable, rather it is a matter of organizing flows and relationships. A benefit of having paid staff is that funding opportunities can be exploited to help it stay employed.
Planning and Operations
In the long-term, PINA hubs may find themselves pioneering new forms of social capital as their members endeavor to put forward solid work in a world that is undergoing rapid transformation. Many hubs will adopt or choose to support advocacy. PINA is committed to investing in its hubs and members to implement land repair, social justice, and climate cooling, but in order to do so, it must grow in numbers and in capacity. All PINA hubs will face common needs: Board Recruitment and Governance; Administration; Fundraising and Finance; Outreach and Communications; Membership Growth, Services, and Record Keeping; and Programming. The initial focus of any small organization—and PINA hubs will be no different—must lie in the first of these organization-building efforts. Whether the organization grows or not will depend on whether it is publicly seen as helping the middle and latter of these tasks. Doing something important and well is the only way a Hub will grow. Finding people to organize this effort is thus the first task.
Nonprofits in general and Permaculture Hubs in particular have access to a free resource that few large for-profits can attract. Supporters do things for the non-profit first because believe in the vision the non-profit is trying to achieve, and only secondarily because it may enhance their personal wealth. Nonprofits attract donors of money, materials, facilities, ideas, and much more. They also attract volunteers who can offer expert advice or even hours of menial and boring labor. They also attract staff who are sometimes willing and able to work below market wages-and-benefits simply because they believe in the vision and can make do on the wages. They are paid volunteers, sort of. So, it is commonplace for well-organized nonprofits to acquire labor and other assets whose market value far exceeds monetary donations.
A major strategy for any Hub is therefore to attract and keep quality supporters. This is not fundamentally different from other permaculture efforts to acquire, store, and use potentially free resources. What is different is how to do it. Experience shows that supporters who are able to contribute to a nonprofit do so for three reasons: (1) They think the non-profit’s vision for a better world is compelling; (2) They think it is making progress toward achieving that vision and further success will occur with support; and (3) Their contribution towards these goals is valued, meaningful, and more important and useful than other activities they might engage in.
Enthusiastic supporters recruit more supporters and the non-profit grows. So, how do you get enthusiastic supporters? Mainly by accomplishing many things that make a major difference in some lives. Efforts to create and recreate a multi-year design for the organization will make it more likely that it can communicate a compelling multi-purpose vision and the steps needed to reach it. This in turn will make it easier to explain how every potential supporter can help. It will also make it much more likely that parts of the vision will be accomplished in a timely fashion, and this provides incentives for more support.
Hire Staff When You Can
The difficulty in this approach is that even the most dedicated volunteers in most cases can commit only a small part of their time, so an all-volunteer organization tends to have inconsistent labor at its core because key people often find themselves unable to care for themselves and loved ones, support themselves, perform other activist activities, and also volunteer needed hours when the organization needs them. The result is often that backup labor is needed, and even when it is available, this can lack needed expertise. Inconsistent labor, incompetent labor, overworked labor, or burned-out labor is bad labor. Bad labor means the organization does not make enough progress toward vision goals and this discourages supporters, leads to supporter burnout, and dampens the increase of supporters.
This can be avoided entirely by hiring competent, reliable staff. Multiple staff provide backup. They will still have the same personal care issues as volunteer supporters, but by meeting at least part of their financial needs from the Hub, they can much more consistently attend to the nonprofit’s vision and plan. Thus, paid staff will likely help the organization grow faster and better because supporters are attracted to organizations that get things done.
Young PINA Hubs will likely start with little funding and volunteer staff. So, one task will be to create a reliable mechanism of revenue generation. PINA has a small amount of funding for hub start-ups, but over time, if its growth and development efforts are successful, it may be able to provide some forms of hub revenue sharing. In the meantime, such assistance will be modest, and hubs will need to practice self-reliance, creativity, and thrift.
Hubs have raised money by a variety of means:
- Benefit events – By hosting a public gathering, charging admission for an attractive service, a concert, a day of workshops, public talks, or a weekend retreat.
- Membership – Paid memberships are easier to promote when the organization is doing something visible that people support, whether convergences, permaculture talks or classes, concerts, member services, networking, publicity, or umbrella functions. For business leagues, membership is typically a key sustaining source of revenue. One hundred people giving $50 per year provides $5000. Five hundred together have real power.
- Donations – Whether by auction at an event or solicited privately or publicly to support the worthy purposes of the group, or squeezed good-naturedly from board members, donations inevitably have a valuable role in starting and sustaining public organizations. These provide major support to charities and can be critical for other kinds of nonprofits as well. For some affluent and wealthy donors, tax deductions reduce tax liabilities by large sums.
A business league can, as PINA does, affiliate with an umbrella 501(c)3 charity to offer tax deductions to donors. This typically comes through a fiscal agency agreement whereby the charity takes a small percentage (4-10%) for bookkeeping, tax accounting, and overhead. A wide variety of charitable organizations provide fiscal agency as a major part of their work. It is entirely legitimate and may indeed be a great convenience for a small organization in its early years. One operates as a recognized project of the established 501(c)3, and letters are exchanged to establish this in contract.
Getting donations is most likely accomplished if an organizational supporter knows such a wealthy individual well and can ask them directly. Raising money from supporters is chiefly a matter of making a good case for a good cause to a receptive person and eventually having them do the same thing for people they know. Personal connection matters more than eloquence, though it helps if you believe in what you are doing and can articulate it smoothly.
Crowd-funding is, of course, a species of seeking donations, accompanied by a semi-jazzy social media campaign, some premium rewards, and good storytelling. The use of matching grants or even double matching grants can significantly increase giving.
The main lesson in dealing with donors is to realize that asking for money is a friendly gesture. You are offering someone a worthwhile way to use their money and to be associated with a worthy cause. Say thank you repeatedly, deliver on your promises, explain how you did, and ask again.
- Retail sales – Variations on the bake sale or silent auction can be augmented by premiums offered for donated funds (mugs, bags, donated books or magazines in the trade, special tools, etc.), or a dedicated industry could grow out of educational efforts, say teaching beekeeping and selling the honey, or teaching seed work and nursery management funded by sales of product. In cities, annual fruit tree sales can raise $10,000 net fairly easily, and after some years of consistent action, such sales have provided up to $85,000 net per annum.
Hubs organized as 501(c)6 business leagues must take care not to compete directly with their members. For example, PINA might organize a PDC, but would need to do so in connection with a special gathering or other event it was hosting, and it would need to hire faculty rather than have its board lead the course. There would need to be a unique aspect to the course not readily provided by members, e.g. a course in an underserved community, or one for government decision-makers. Hubs should avoid similar conflicts with established permaculture teaching in the region and should if anything try to support such efforts instead. But in places where there is no established permaculture, Hubs might initiate an effort.
- Service Actions – Some groups raise money by sponsoring an athletic event with entry fees and having their members provide support for the race, balloon ascent, golf tournament, feast, or treasure hunt. Events requiring large numbers of people in simple support roles for physically expansive activities are best. Your hub may be able to cooperate with other groups in providing local support for an event.
- Grants – Charities have an inside track for grants, but experience in and capacity for handling money counts for a lot. So, in the beginning small grants should be pursued. It is easier to obtain small grants from local sources than large ones from distant agencies. Part of the reason for this is that national grants are well-advertised and lots of groups with experienced grant writing staff are competing for them. Even when you get one of these, they are likely to require so much paperwork and accounting that your tiny crew will be swamped with unproductive work. This will be even worse if you underbid the project.
Many places, however, have local foundations that dispense funds yearly for local or regional efforts. National organizations are not typically able to tap these. So, competition is less. If you have charitable status or are affiliated with a nonprofit that can receive tax deductible donations and be accountable for them, you may have a supporter that can educate a community foundation about your effort.
As well, your organization may be able through sub-contracting to piggyback on another organization’s grant receiving abilities. Governments, school districts, disaster prevention, forestry services, large charities, and universities are often awash in donated funds that they may part with in return for a wanted service.
Individuals can also receive grants for public service work. For example, several thousand dollar USDA-SARE grants are given to farmers to trial new crops or techniques, or to explore new marketing approaches. Corporate entities that are not charities could also undertake such research and education work, put members to work, and be paid to carry out other related goals.
- Property Rents – One Mollisonian strategy for supporting charitable work is to vest a charity or trust with a valuable property that is rented for income to a business that uses that asset to make money. The asset could be land or buildings, it could be a license or patent. A business league could own a business property that it rented to small enterprises which it was helping to get established for the purpose of improving trade in an area. Making money on the rental would be consistent with the mission purpose to support the business community.
Avoiding Legal Problems
In pursuing activities that make money in a routine manner, hubs should be careful not to run afoul of IRS regulations. Fee-for-service activities are fine if they meet mission purposes. For PINA, charging for diploma applications and reviews is an ancillary part of its role in promoting professionalism. The key pieces are our creation and support for educational standards, and the means by which we certify performance under those standards (objective criteria, peer review, performance-based specifications). Having waived some application fees, we can honestly portray that income is not the primary purpose of the diploma program, that the fees cover necessary expenses, and in fact, we don’t make a great deal on it. If a program becomes a successful business (and this is not a bad thing), it can be spun off as a separate entity.
PINA Hubs are expected to administer their part of PINA’s diploma program. This involves qualifying a number of senior, active teachers and designers within the region as diplomates. Initially these will be a small handful, but the number should grow over time. Some of these must be willing to act as Field Advisors to diploma candidates. A much larger number of practitioners, including some who may not be certified in Pc Design, will be needed to serve as mentors. The hub will need to nominate Field Advisors to PINA, which then qualifies them provided they are diplomates or expected to become diplomates soon).
Hubs must also recruit diploma candidates from among those less experienced graduates who wish to become professionals.
In the end, PINA and Hubs are merely two parts of the same effort to make permaculture a force for a better North America. In rotation with other PINA hubs, the hub will also be privileged, and is encouraged to nominate a representative to the PINA board when there are vacancies. This is an important if occasional responsibility, which should be balanced with the availability of the individual and the needs of the PINA board for talent, cooperation, and reliability.
Lastly, hubs will organize review panels for diploma candidates completing their work and ready to present their portfolios. These panels, consisting of diplomates and senior practitioners in the region, may meet for each candidate or at intervals for multiple candidates taken together. The reviewers will hear the candidate presentations, evaluate the caliber of the portfolio, question the candidate’s learning process, and report their deliberations and conclusions to PINA’s DIploma Program Committee, which will assess the findings and award the diploma on the basis of documented experience and accomplishment.
Serving Membership and the Public at Large
The range of things that hubs can usefully do is wide. Program activity should be designed around the mission of the organization, and should advance many common goals shared with PINA: promotion of permaculture as a trade, public education, developing professional capabilities, growing the permaculture community, advocating policy, filling courses, advancing professional and scientific knowledge, and nurturing community ties through mutual support, worthwhile work, and enjoyable experiences.
PINA itself is committed to regenerating land, climate, and communities, while promoting professionalism, the status of permaculture as a trade, and employment for its members. We seek to influence both public policy and private action.
The following list is based on example activities that have worked in various PINA regions:
- Hold regular convergences for the region or parts of it. Some groups have done these in major cities; in larger states, others have made them statewide. Still others have held them for a multi-state region. Charge an admission fee. If you invite the public, price admission to include a one-year hub membership fee. One group held an annual Winter Convergence with potluck, performance, presentations “Looking Forward, Looking Back, Lessons Learned.” It was always well attended, and people enjoyed networking and sharing experiences.
- Establish a presence at all PDC completions to welcome new graduates, solicit memberships, seek volunteers, and direct people to convergences.
- Publish a newsletter. Include a calendar of regional events. Some regions have found they needed a wrangler to beat the bushes for news and events from subsidiary groups or guilds.
- At public events, ask for volunteers. When they sign up, contact these people and invite them to join committees or work groups according to their interest).
- Organize work bees or PermaBlitzes with clear ground rules: You must attend three before becoming eligible to host one. Collaborate with Permaculture Action Network (PAN) if they are active in your region. One group ran Work ’N’ Learn weekends hosted at different properties and focused on skill development and the establishment of regionally appropriate Pc demonstrations. This took quite a bit of organizing and advance design work by a core group of designers to insure good learning outcomes.
- Set up a scholarship fund for under-represented and historically underserved groups to attend PDCs in the region. Grant partial tuitions on application.
- Hold a silent auction at your events to raise money. Perhaps offer free or reduced fee consultations.
- Bring in notable or national speakers by web or in person. Offer 3-Day Pc workshops on different topics – invite experienced Pc practitioners, e.g. Edible Forest Gardens with Dave Jacke, Regenerative Design with Penny Livingston, Water Harvesting with Brad Lancaster, etc.
- Organize a regular Seed Swap or seed library; set up a nursery of useful plants.
- Set up an apprenticeship or internship program to train PDC grads in particular skills.
- Guild Development – organize a Teacher’s Guild or a Business Guild. These were very effective in helping launch new teachers, build curriculum, and supported several new businesses.
- Friday evening film festival followed by Sat. Intro to Permaculture workshops (half- and full-day workshops). Offered quarterly in metro areas, and periodically throughout the region. Very effective and replicable. Monthly green film series is another example.
- Permaculture Book Club meeting monthly to read key texts, e.g. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, Principles and Pathways to Sustainability by David Holmgren, Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke, sections of Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison among other books. Very effective and replicable.
- Permaculture Learning Circles on Health Care, Education, Energy Systems, Urban Permaculture. Groups may come and go, but it can be very effective at pulling people with similar interests and experience together.
- Teacher’s Training with a major teacher – hosted by the Teacher’s Guild.
- Regional presentations and tabling at important local and regional events by related groups like Living Green Expo, Energy Fairs, Sustainable groups, College groups, etc.
- Citizen Science projects focused on plant polycultures and guilds
- Website – Collect information on peoples’ interests and areas of expertise that is searchable so you could find people near you to collaborate with.
- Problem-Solving Hacks
- Design Competitions for specific useful systems, e.g. trellising, edible fencing, water catchments.
The following might also be tried:
- Webinars with members of a Hub about content that because of distance or scheduling is not easily accessed by members in person.
- Dedicated web sites for members where they may ask questions and receive answers, advice, or feedback depending on their level of experience and training (“interested”, PDC grad, Diplomate).
Hub Growth & Development
Growing organizations is always challenging because of changes in scale and complexity with the increasing number of bilateral relationships that ramify as numbers increase. Groups of different sizes are not merely larger, they have different dynamics: teams are effective between 3-5. Boards do well at 7 and have to work to sustain effective function at larger numbers. The PDC is effective up to about 35-40 people, beyond which scale intimacy is lost. Learn to divide regularly for small-group support and brainstorming, for tasks, and to ensure that everyone feels heard.
As hubs grow they will experience successes and encounter failures or setbacks that must be incorporated and learned from. Success is a bit of a drug and can keep a group moving forward beyond its developed base of relational capacity (core bonds based on affection, common visceral experience, and chemistry). In the absence of specific work to knit a management team together (and on a larger scale, to integrate membership), setbacks can hit hard. A proactive approach will set up retreats, trainings, work projects, occasions for mutual engagement, action, and fun among teams and circles. Convergences can be this for larger numbers. Social mixing is important if difficult for groups that are not local to each other.
The permaculture community has long relied on the action of ‘couriers’ who carry seed ideas, messages, and personal goodwill from place to place, sometimes in courses, sometimes in gatherings. This should be an implied mission of any management team: to circulate and press the flesh within the hub region.
Means of expanding scope for initiative and input are needed, as a hub relying on a small leadership group, no matter how talented, will eventually burn out and grow stale. The sociocratic or dynamic governance model of double-interlinked circles offers an effective model for expanding responsibility and initiative. Called ‘circles’ rather than ‘committee’ or ‘boards,’ in this system, circles address specific areas of work and incorporate at least two members who tie back into related circles. For example, a Mission Circle or governing board would have representatives on individual circles with responsiblity for Policy, Programs, Membership, Outreach, or Education. Each outer circle in turn might have one or more representatives in other collateral circles for liaison over common issues.
The programmatic aspects of Hub growth include identifying and meeting member needs with programs that help people in their lives and work. Permaculture has a vast scope for addressing human life across all cultural and economic realms. A hub might hold trainings or gatherings; it could develop a library or information or tools; it could sponsor seed and plant exchanges; it could maintain a bulletin board of event listings or services; it could develop model public policies based on surveying regional examples and assessing regional needs. A hub could operate a speakers bureau, could send ambassadors to PDCs, promote cross-training in permaculture specialties, acquire and rent specialized tools, eventually organize mutual credit or insurance pools for its members, develop lending and investment facilities, run a regeneration bureau that sponsored or supported projects to repair land and rebuild communities.
Hubs may find it important to develop strategic reserves to foster regional resilience and recovery capacity in the face of natural and civil disasters. Similarly, an inventory of regional natural and economic resources could support not only better designs, but new business relationships, community resilience, and augment employment opportunities. Keeping tabs on funding and grant opportunities and helping members to match their needs with them and to apply could strengthen regional economies and push the public sector toward more permaculture action.
The events you choose to host, where you decide to host them, the support you offer to low-income people and people of color, and the partnerships you build will help shape the diversity of your hub.
Some strategies to expand diversity include:
- Seeking out representatives of minority, ethnic, or disadvantaged communities to join the management or advisory circles
- Offering scholarship and placements on courses, workshops, and events for youth, seniors, and people of color
- Using images of diverse groups and peoples in the hub literature and outreach
- Sponsoring community action and renewal activities (clean-up, gardens, tree planting, etc.) in urban areas and minority or ethnic neighborhoods
- Reaching into church, synagogues, mosques, and other faith communities with speakers, events, invitations, etc.
- Providing parallel and nested programs for children and youth during longer events for adults
Investing in a site
The decision to invest organizational energy into a site is often a pivotal decision that can determine the long-term direction and viability of the organization. There are many tradeoffs here. On the one hand, a site can become an incubator for many projects, a form of identity for the hub, and a demonstration site for values, ideas, and tangible expressions of permaculture and community. On the other hand, sites require maintenance, absorb financial resources, and can limit the organization’s flexibility if they are not also generating income to help offset these burdens. Sites are invariably preferential in their effects to some populations and relatively less accessible to others.
To fulfill its potential, a hub must have access to meeting spaces – which are many and widespread, but may want one or more that are well connected to demonstration or research sites. A hub will eventually need an office, may benefit from a classroom or an outdoor laboratory, will want a variety of resource depots, and can benefit from a venue for meeting the public.