Funding and Organizational Model for Coho US
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:54:08 -0700 (PDT)
To my knowledge the funding and organizational model for Coho US is a community 
membership model. I think it is because it based on a fundamentally flawed 
assumption — that cohousing communities have a commitment to the cohousing 

Most members of my community have no knowledge of the national cohousing 
organization or any interest in a movement. It isn’t a cause. I was shocked 
when I joined this group that people were not expected to read at least one of 
the books on cohousing. Some if not many had no knowledge of other cohousing 
communities. They saw the flyer on a bulletin board somewhere, thought it 
sounded like something interesting, and it matched their political and social 
ideals. They moved in because they wanted to live here, not to join a movement. 
They have their own movements.

And we have the #1 cohousing advocate and activist Ann Zabaldo living in our 
midst. We are a member of the national organization primarily because she 
advocates it. And once a budget item is in the budget, it tends to stay.

So a membership organization supported by communities is probably not the model 
that will ever work. More communities will probably not provide the level of 
support the movement needs. 

I think Coho US needs to move to an individual membership model. I’m fairly 
certain, for example, that individuals in my community would give more as 
individuals than the amount our community will budget. Individual memberships 
might also create competition — How many of your community members support Coho 

Under Alice’s leadership, Catya’s work on the website (which is content and 
capability, not just technical), and the new research effort, there are many 
more features in place to demonstrate that the organization is contributing to 
a housing revolution. The development of cohousing has changed all forms of 
housing by influencing the ideas of developers and urban planners. A good 
newsletter that records and publicizes those accomplishments would bring in 
donations from individuals and organizations. Factual articles and blurbs — not 
cheerleading or sales pitches. For one reason or another, there are many people 
who have a strong feelings of support, not just people living in cohousing. 
There is no organized way for non-cohousers to connect and contribute.

Develop a balanced focus on old as well as new communities. Cohousing 
communities need help forming and help remaining fiscally and socially strong 
in 20 years, and 30 years. Approaches for redesigning common houses. Best 
furniture replacement ideas.

Use the various platforms like Kickstarter to fund special projects — the 
database of photos of CH interiors, for example. A file of kitchens, laundry 
rooms, kids rooms, etc. One such picture I received was of a combined laundry 
room and active play room. Something I had never thought of. The pingpong table 
doubled as a folding table. The machines were along a wall instead of a 
separate room. In another community the machines are spread out through the 
community, not all in one place. Those are vitally helpful to old communities 
as well as new. The FIC was very successful in getting funding for a “real” 
office this way.

This is also a good way to show support to foundations. "We have 2,000 
members", or 5,000 members. Not 50 member communities (or whatever the number 
is). With a few more than 100 communities, the numbers by community will never 
be impressive.

There is an enormous amount of information online to inform a move in this 
direction. And an enormous amount in the cohousing communities. Hiring 
expensive consultants is not always necessary. Through word of mouth build a 
database of the skills of cohousers and approach them individually to help with 
projects. Don’t ask for volunteers — people may volunteer who don’t have the 
skills and those who do may not step forward. Experienced people have other 
things to do and may never even hear that the association is even open to help. 
Define aims and write job descriptions, and ask people to sign on. Ask 
professionals to help write the job descriptions. People will donate different 
kinds of help and this is a valuable one.

There have to be tons of grants out there for projects. A key piece of advice 
I’ve gotten from successful grant writers is not to wait for RFPs. Or read the 
requirements for a grant program and write something. The place to start is 
with a foundation that is interested in some subject area that would benefit 
cohousing and talk to them. Develop a relationship.d Find out what they want to 
fund. What are they looking for? I know a writer who did the same thing with 
magazine editors. He stopped submitting articles he thought they would like and 
instead chatted them up to see what they hoped for.

Grant writers may work for a % of grants received. And they pay for themselves. 
The subject of cooperative, self-supported, group housing has been a social 
problem for generations. Eons, actually. Organizations take 10-15% of these 
grants for handling the paperwork and providing the 501c3 sponsorship. (10-15% 
may be old information but you get the idea.)

I’m sending this to everyone instead of just to Alice because I think we need 
discussion on this and this is the place cohousers discuss and share 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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