RE: Group Growth-Early
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 5 May 94 09:07 CDT
Corey Yugler asks:

Our group is 5 households
presently moving forward with site , developer, and architect search. One
issue presently for us is how important it is to recruit new people at this
stage. We know at some point (maybe sooner than we think), we will have to
have more households on board, but at this point we move swiftly (okay, maybe
with a little burden due to the work load) through meetings and decisions.
I would be interested to know how much efforts other groups put in to early
recruitment. We eventually want a community of between 18 and 30 households.
Is it always a good time to get committed people? It seems like most people
who are interested don't want to spend their time at this point, or they
aren't ready to put money down after a few meetings.


One way to evaluate this is to ask yourself, what would happen if two 
households left? Would the group still be able to function or would it 
collapse?  If you are really doing active site selection you will need 
to determine the functional size of your financial core group soon. Can 
5 members really generate enough money to pay for earnest money on a 
site option, and cover all the architect fees, etc.  You do realize 
that all the development capital will have to be carried by members for 
several months, even years?  For example an option on a $350,000 site 
would usually be a minimum of 10% which with five memberships means 
$7,000 each.  Add another $15,000 for design and engineering work, 
$5,000 for legal and bank approvals and that's adding up to $11K per 
membership.  That's cash upfront in real funds, not pledges or credits. 
 I have noticed that many groups lose significant membership when the 
time comes to put up real money.  This point has killed a few groups 
off in that the financial core needed to make a downpayment on a site 
drops below what can be afforded.  Also many groups don't frankly talk 
about the real costs, don't realistically evaluate the financial 
stability and wherewithal of members and so get surprised when they 
actually get down to reality to find out that nobody has anything but 
talk to put in.  Putting it bluntly, if you have 5 memberships who have 
put in $20,000 apiece,(or have pledged that money in writing) then you 
are on the road and moving.  If your membership financial requirement 
is small,(which makes it easy to walk away from)  then I would be 
worried about only five memberships. For example, to be a member of 
Sharingwoods second phase of development requires a $7,000 downpayment 
on a contract for $35,000.  This is refundable only after all the units 
have sold, or is eventually refundable if the project goes belly up.  I 
notice that the planning meetings are well attended by those who have 
put in funding and sporadically attended by those who have not.

Cohousing is full of trade-offs at every step.  One of the advantages 
of having a small group is that there  is less discussion so you can 
move faster. However what you lose with less discussion is a limiting 
of your ideas.  Each member brings with them a lifetime of experiences 
and resources, which if used correctly can be a huge asset.  One way to 
have both is to break into smaller decision making groups and use the 
larger group principally for brainstorming ideas and solutions. In this 
way you get the benefit of the larger base of experiences and 
resources, yet have the streamlining of the smaller group for decision 
making.  Not to mention more bodies to assign tasks to.

At Sharingwood we typically brainstorm stuff as a large group then punt 
the actual decision or action item to a task force of 3-4 people who 
are interested.  For example we are buying some chairs. We brainstormed 
up a list of attributes in the large group, then 3 people have the task 
of sorting the list and buying the chairs.  Typically the people who 
care the most about a particular issue volunteer to be on the task 
force.  (This is different than a committee, in that a committee has an 
ongoing mission where a task force has one limited focus which goes 
away once completed)

Another example, the other day in a small group we realized we needed 
the advice of a real estate attorney on a matter.  The 4 members of the 
task force didn't know any attorneys.  However when we asked the whole 
group we got 3 recommendations.

Members also bring a number of resources which you might not realize so 
it is useful occasionally to brainstorm up a list of resources people 
can contribute..  Relatives who have expertise, work related resources 
such as Xeroxing, connections to other helpful people, plus the human 
ecology elements such as bridge builder, idea generator, carrier-doer, etc.

Another trade-off is the relationships of the people. If a core group 
does all the work, then everyone else buys in after all the work and 
decisions are done the relationship of the group is much different than 
if the participation base is larger and more inclusive.  Granted, this 
often happens anyway as the costs escalate and people bail out, and  
the point where the risk is small(which is after all the work is done), 
is typically where lots of people are ready to join.

Good luck on your project, post us with your travels

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing
Puget Sound Cohousing Network
Building a better society, one neighborhood at a time

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