Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

Looking beyond Alaska

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

The Alaska Collective is in its final days. People are packing up, cleaning has started and others are still hammering away at their computers to finish off projects. So as this Collective draws to a close, its only appropriate that we share what is next for CouchSurfing.

This year, with both the Thailand Collective and our current Alaska Collective, CouchSurfing has benefited from the help of 15-20 full-time volunteers and staff for over 8 consecutive months. Several of these talented professionals have volunteered for CS that entire time, working without pay for the love of CouchSurfing.

In Thailand, we began to build our expert volunteer teams, we made many new tools for volunteer productivity, and we made our website scalable for the 1 million CS members we’ll have by the year’s end. In Alaska, we’ve focused on improvements to member features, such as the reference system improvements, a new chat system, improved safety features and soon-to-be-released communication news channels.

With this Collective ending, CouchSurfing was faced with the question: what’s next? Great ideas are pouring in from members and we have so much on our to-do list. How can we retain the talented full-time volunteers we’ve enjoyed for these many months?

Now it’s time for CS to take the big next step.


Currently, our very talented scout, Pinkfish, who found our dream location in Pai, Thailand, as well as this amazing house in Homer, Alaska, is searching for a living and office space to house fifteen full-time volunteers and staff for the next 12 months in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

We’re calling this location ‘Base Camp’ because it will be our long-term volunteer training base and launch spot for future CS Collectives around the globe. Base Camp will allow us to recruit the best talent in the world, ensure that CS is right for them, then send them off to join Collectives already in progress. Base Camp will also provide a stable place to plan and support the remote Collectives. We’ll be able to start one Collectives as another ends, and we will eventually maintain multiple continuous Collectives on several continents, accessible for most CS members.

While Collectives inspire the commitment of volunteers and staff members who want the adventure of traveling the world for CS, Base Camp will also attract those who have families or jobs and who need a stable location to participate.


We are an international community, and that’s why we will continue to hold international Collectives. CouchSurfing takes place in home around the world, and Base Camp will be just one of our centers of activity.

California offers CS many resources for a long-term location. The SF Bay Area is known worldwide as a center for innovative web companies as well as charity organizations that are changing the world – which means CS will fit right in. We’ll have help from some of the smartest minds who have already made the SF Bay area their home, and many free recourses for non-profits.

Another advantage is all of the CouchSurfers who live there. Of the cities with the largest total number of CouchSurfers, San Francisco is in top ten. And of all large cities, SF has more CouchSurfing members per capita than any other city in the world. Did you know that 1 in every 200 San Francisco residents is a CouchSurfer? SF loves CS!


The first step is to find our new home. Pinkfish has already enlisted the support of the SF Bay Area community to help us find the right location and set it up. Before we move in, we’ll post the available volunteer roles at Base Camp and at the next Collective that will most likely begin in November. Maybe one of these roles has your name on it!

We have so much we want to accomplish, and Base Camp will allow us to do those things more efficiently than ever before. Adding new features, building community, bringing much more information and stories to members, supporting large member events such as this summer’s CouchCrash in New York City, making it easier to surf and host, and giving our Ambassadors more support.

With so much to do, we’re excited for the opportunity to continue the progress we’re making in Alaska without break through the next year and beyond.

Kelly’s Two Pesos (Notes from the Fundraising Guru)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

(NOTE: Yes, Kelly is writing in the third person. But don’t get used to it!)


This past Monday, June 9, 2008, Kelly of the Pattersons (aka, “KellyKarma” on CS) held an intensive fundraising workshop/exercise for all ACS Collective team members. Collective volunteers were strategically divided into four teams:

  • Leadership Team
  • Two separate Tech Team groups
  • PR/Communications/Events/Identity

The overall objectives of this event: to assist all teams in long-term planning, identify prospective team needs (resources) over the next 3 years, as well as to assess general team knowledge of fundraising tactics, while simultaneously serving as a research tool to measure CS team members’ fundraising perceptions. This event also served to demonstrate how fundraising plays a role in all the CS departments and must ALWAYS be aligned with CS’s core values and mission.

The workshop started with Kelly’s (Infamous) Fundraising 101 Analogy:

“Fundraising is a lot like dating…there is you (CS) and you obviously think you are sexy, unique and brilliant, and you are trying to find either your soul mate, a Sugar Daddy/Mommy, or just a slut. And like dating, there is a lot of awkward dinner and movie dates (we actually use the term “dating the funder” in the industry), in order to establish an intimate connection, before you bust a move.

And as in dating, you would never even SUGGEST or imply sex unless you were confident there was some interest. The only difference in fundraising and dating is that in fundraising the ultimate goal is money or resources; whereas, with dating, we seek sex …in my experience, the money is much more reliable than good sex. However, ideally, CS will find its soul mate.”

Kelly explained, using her best “pre-school teacher voice”, there is a myriad of ways to fundraise, depending on what exactly you are raising funds for…these are the most common ways:

  1. Grants (specifying the four categories of grants: private, corporate, trusts, and government grants)
  2. Fundraising events/benefits (such as AIDS Walk, marathons, Tugela River Raft Race)
  3. Direct mail/e-mail solicitations (those annoying appeals in the mail or those that flood our email boxes)—trends in online fundraising (pay per clicks like the Hunger Site,, e-advocacy, etc.)
  4. Income generation ideas—Shonali’s photo idea, blogging (for money), production creation and sales…RED campaign, or just buying something and then selling it (girl scout cookies, the school candy bars)
  5. Private donations
  6. Membership fees
  7. Corporate sponsorship/advertising (Red Bull events—think of sports stadium)
  8. Capital Campaigns: specifically for real estate, pool, buildings, etc.
  9. Donation drives (think NPR and PBS)
  10. Gifts in kind (gifts of labor or materials/office equipment)
  11. Endowments

Kelly, then, introduced the universal process of writing a basic grant.

Basic Grant-Writing—ironically, 70% of grant writing is RESEARCH.

  • Research potential funding bodies
  • Identify potential funding bodies
  • Query potential funding bodies
  • When you get the green light—write a grant proposal

What exactly is a grant? In business terms, a grant is an investment with no economic return. A grant is a substantial, usually long-term or time-bound, commitment of funds, resources or gifts-in-kind from one agency (trust, company, etc.) to a non-profit organization. In order to secure a grant, one must perform three essential tasks:

  1. Research: Research potential donor agencies and identify a “match.” For example, one could expect Tobacco Companies to consider funding Cancer research; however, one could not expect the Elton John AIDS Foundation to consider funding Cancer research.
  2. Query: Once a “suspect” donor agency has been identified, the grant writer must “query” the potential donor. This is usually a single page letter or email that briefly introduces the non-profit organization and requests grant application guidelines, forms, instructions, and general criteria.
  3. The Proposal: Following any instructions of the potential donor agency, the grant writer must clearly communicate with the non-profit employer, and then compose a comprehensive proposal to the donor agency with the sole objective of “selling” the cause of the non-profit employer and securing the funds/resources/gifts-in-kind requested in the proposal. Proposal styles and formats greatly vary, depending on the guidelines or application forms of donor agencies; however, there is a universal format.

The second half of the workshop involved an exercise of (what Kelly calls) the “WISH LIST” game. The idea is to imagine (were money/funds not an issue), what human resources, equipment, practical tools, supplies, programs, etc. would each team need in order to be sustainable and self-sufficient, with no extra cost to CS members.

This exercise optimizes the concept that each team knows its own team strengths, weaknesses and needs best. This also serves as a primer for long-term planning and prospective budget development. And selfishly, Kelly needs a long-term plan and budget in order to engineer a comprehensive, sustainable fundraising strategy for CS.

In conclusion, after much discussion about each team’s WISH LIST, noting team WISH LIST similarities and differences, Kelly collected all the WISH LIST’s and agreed to draft budget spreadsheets for each team based on the data collected from the workshop/exercise….and lastly, assigned team leaders to complete budget forms by a clear deadline. And believe it or not, this is actually a fun exercise!

Kelly of the Pattersons (Fundraising Guru)

Playing the numbers game

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I admit it – as much as I love spontaneity in my personal life, I absolutely love a good plan when it comes to anything I am pursuing at work. So you can imagine my relief of finally getting my hands on the priority list for this Collective. It is comprehensive, and I can now see why it took the key members of the Leadership Team so much time to nut out the details.

Things have been separated into priority A and B. I love this method – priority A projects are highlighted so all teams know what projects are the most important.

For example, from a member communications perspective its fantastic that developing news feeds channels and creating the one central page for these channels is a priority A project. It means I don’t have to do any personal bribing/coercing/begging with the tech team to get support for implementing this project. No, it’s been done from the perspective that CS leaders have looked at overall what CouchSurfing needs (largely from input and strategies already developed) and defined those into priorities. Now it’s the task of the teams here to start implementing.

How do we start implementation? Well, it all starts with planning…so all team coordinators have gone through the list of projects and allocated the amount of time it will take to complete their proportion of the project. At the end of exercise, when all numbers are gathered up again, we will know whether this list of objectives is realistic (i.e. is there enough hours available to us in this Collective to do what needs to be done?).

This is the first real step of project planning I have been involved in here at CouchSurfing and it’s exciting to see this progress made. From my perspective, it makes me aware just how valuable every minute of my days are here – I am booked solid! And I want to make every one of those minutes count the most so that at the end of my time here, I have made a visible difference to CouchSurfing and its members.

I am still working with the rest of the team here to work out the best way to present these objectives to general members. These will be released as soon as we can.