Re: Funding and Organizational Model for Coho US
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 2015 04:38:48 -0700 (PDT)
One part of the challenge is that Coho/US (like a parish or diocese) is trying 
to raise money from the residential / consumer sector of the economy, not the 
commercial / producer sector.  Financially, many or most parishes and dioceses 
are in near-starvation mode, and rely heavily on a minority of participants who 
are willing to put huge amounts of unpaid volunteer time.  Because these 
participants believe in what they’re doing.

There are obvious big differences between the two sectors.  The commercial 
sector spends money in the hope of getting more money, but the residential 
sector just spends.  Also, the commercial sector is spending “cost of doing 
business”, before-tax money — where a legitimate business cost may include 
anything from copy paper to a limousine and chauffeur for the CEO.  Residential 
households are spending after-tax money — although in the case of 501(c)(3)s, 
this usefully reverts to before-tax money.  Even so, a dollar not spent on 
Coho/US is one available for school clothes or the next vacation or whatever.  
Households think about money differently than a does a business.

For a funding future, there are a couple of embellishments Coho/US might 
pursue.  First, be more like a church.  Or, more generally, be more like other 
NGO/NFPs:  Be more of something into which people want to volunteer time and 
money.  One obstacle has been identified by Sharon:  After the originators move 
into their completed cohousing development, their sense of mission, of 
promoting a “movement”, may de-escalate into a simple and perfectly 
understandable desire to live a residential life (albeit one enhanced by coho 
features).  Even so, there are always some individuals and households looking 
for mission, purpose, and engagement supplemental to that of earning a living 
and/or raising a family — and Coho/US might do more to be attractive to them.

Second, consider being more businesslike with those participating “member” 
businesses that see Coho/US as an avenue to future clients and fees.  As a 
practicing architect, I always had more association-joining opportunities than 
I could make use of, and the annual dues for some of these were very high 
indeed.  Coho/US occupies a unique marketing position with virtually no 
competitors (for now, anyway).  Maybe it could turn that unique position to 
better financial advantage.

R Philip Dowds @ Cornerstone Cohousing
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

land:     617.354.6094
mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at] <mailto:rpdowds [at]>

> On Jun 8, 2015, at 12:16 PM, Alice Alexander <alicecohous [at]> 
> wrote:
> Many thanks to the good comments on a revenue model for sustaining Coho/US.
> To confirm:
> Coho/US is not a membership organization; we are a 501(3) nonprofit
> organization. We do not require membership dues from individuals or
> cohousing communities, and our services as a connector and clearinghouse to
> grow and support cohousing are available to everyone, not just "members."
> Coho/US relies on financial support from individuals and communities both.
> Individuals gifts can be claimed as a charitable donations; cohousing
> communities may prefer a reference to membership dues or support, and this
> is fine. "Membership" can be a generic term!
> In 2014, I sent out two requests to all our subscribers (9,300) to
> encourage individual charitable donations; this yielded gifts from
> individuals of $4,061. We have invested time and will continue to invest
> time in growing this support from individuals.
> Also in 2014, we encouraged all cohousing communities to support Coho/US,
> and we received more gifts from cohousing communities than ever before -
> over $13,000. Just last month, I sent a "Community Connection" newsletter
> to encourage planning for annual support to Coho/US - sent to those who are
> tagged as reps for their cohousing communities. I am happy to share this
> with others.
> However, with an operational budget in 2015 of $62,444, Coho/US continues
> to be challenged in raising sufficient funds from individuals and
> communities to be sustainable.
> A strict membership structure as a business model for associations (one
> that requires dues, and provide services to a select audience) generally
> only works well for trade associations representing for profit businesses
> (think American Medical Association).
> Cohousing communities are not profit centers, and support is based on a
> decision to recognize that Coho/US (1) provides credibility and relevancy
> for cohousing as a housing and living option; (2) attracts the public to
> cohousing, thus helping provide communities with robust waiting lists; and
> (3) serves as a clearinghouse and connector for cohousing resources.
> Other sources of revenue include advertising (which at $50 per month for a
> classified ad is a great deal! we keep this cost affordable as a service to
> the cohousing world), and support from our cohousing professionals
> < 
> <>>.
> I appreciate the ideas for foundation grant support; as a career nonprofit
> fundraiser, our status is a huge challenge for traditional funding (we
> serve cohousers who for the most part are not foundation target
> populations). Project-oriented work as Sharon Villines has suggested is
> likely our only avenue, but that requires staffing, and resource
> investment; consideration would have to be very thoughtful to balance our
> priorities. Please share ideas! But understand that project grant funding
> does not support operational funds generally - so we are back to the
> challenge of sustainability.
> A challenge that inspires me actually, and one reason I am committed to
> this position, knowing the importance of stabilizing and strengthening our
> basic organization.
> Alice Alexander, Coho/US Executive Director

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