Give What You Can: Why community is not for sale & citizenship is for everyone

If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.  John O'Donohue,  Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

The community we’ve worked to create here has always been a culture of giving and openness. The people we’ve gathered are some of the most generous and open you will find anywhere, if you are kind we like you already. We are an example of how handmade can connect us across all sorts of divides to make meaning together. It has been a grand experiment in finding a common language of goodness and how to create a community without excluding anyone.

Things have changed since OMHG began and while we’ve grown and evolved the goal is still welcoming everyone to experience what the ethics of handmade community are. Not simply ‘handmade’ as a consumer good, but the patiently cultivated handmade goodness that is the centre of a life or community of integrity. Two hands can make something, a hundred hands can make anything, all our hands working with purpose and unity can make the world whole. This is the fundamental principle behind Gandhi’s teachings on the “khadi spirit” and why the spinning wheel became a symbol for non-violence, independence, and weaving self-reliant communities.

We started off meeting on Twitter every week then created an online gathering space so we could connect and share knowledge. At that time there was little available and we sold memberships to keep the doors open and lights on while investing in collaborations. Unfortunately this still created a structure that automatically had people on the outside and people on the inside, this is by definition not true community.

Lately a new generation of businesses have sprung up selling community and marketing to our need for belonging. As the word community becomes more popular it is hard to know what it means to people or where to gather with anyone anymore. Who is in it for community and who wants to hustle you? You can pay to hang out with people like you but real diverse places to connect are getting scarcer. We’ve never tried to protect our model because we always wanted it to be shared freely. Emphasis on freely.

While some of me thinks it is total ego to imagine other communities have been inspired by our experiments the rest knows it doesn’t matter if they have. If I know better I have to do better, even if no one is watching. Thankfully dear companions are along for this journey and to share the wisdom of their heads, hearts, and hands.

Slowing down has made these things clear:

  • Community is a gift. It is not a commodity or a club, and gifts are meant to be given. 

  • Citizenship is for everyone. To be a citizen is a choice and a responsibility that is not determined by how much you can pay but by how much you give of yourself to others.  

  • Cooperation is only possible if we turn away from competitive models and create new ones that value any contribution. 

I do not want to be part of systems that make community a commodity or a citizenship that is not for everyone. Seeing community being sold and really looking into why that is uncomfortable by talking with so brilliant minds this year helped make things clear.  A community that only values the investment of a few is a segregated one, on or offline, same thing. We need to open doors instead of close them and give each other more opportunities to share our gifts freely and succeed simply or we will continue to segregate the internet and confuse clubs with community. The only answer is to keep trying to create models that are a joy to have other people borrow and share, something inline with the ethics of community and that brings us together to collaborate instead of in isolated competitive groups. We can repeat old models of us vs. them or try pioneering new ways of putting people before profit, even before our personal comfort.

Our new payment/citizenship structure is super simple:

Give what you can. 

Give What You Can: Community is not for sale, citizenship is for everyone

Everyone who wants to be a citizen and help make a community for the head, heart, and hands is invited to join us. We want to create a multicultural, multigenerational community full of all ages and abilities who make goodness together and share their collective knowledge. If this is important to you, come and be welcome! We are eliminating membership fees and are simply asking you to give what you can, when you can. Give financially, but we also value contributions of time, love, and support. Change how much you give when you need to and always have a place where your contribution is valued.  In May at our next Annual General Party we’ll see if this experiment in giving works or fails and share the results with you as always.

Give what you can and register as a citizen in our community for the head + heart + hands. 

You have every blessing to use this idea. Let’s start a new trend of trusting your offering is of such value you can afford to give it away to anyone who needs it. Rebel and give away what you have, even if you only have a little bit of goodness. Reach out to everyone and invite them to participate. Give up control of your gifts and offer them to whoever could use a hand, this is what it means to be of service. Continue to trust those who value what is good will find value in you and invest in your gifts. Imagine an economy of expansiveness that invested in our gifts so we could give them away? 

So our community will do our part to lead by example and show community isn’t something to sell, it is something to give.

Cheers to giving what we can, when we can. To giving up possession and control so we can share all that is good within us, with each other.


  1. Dave Conrey says:

    I’m going to apologize in advance, because I am a lurker at best, and definitely not much of an active member of this community; not by a long shot. However, this post popped up on my feed and I couldn’t help but go deeper because I believe you’re painting a bit of a idyllic picture, but ignoring some key aspects of what makes a community.

    If you take the term community to it’s most common representation (the communities in which we actually live), there’s rarely a circumstance where you “pay what you can.” Everyone in my local community is tasked to contribute in some way or another, whether that be through taxation, or community service. I pay sales tax for goods and property tax for my home. I pay for the use of utilities, and those prices are not determined by what I can pay. I pay what they tell me, and I accept that as the norm.

    Although it may be truly noble of you to offer up your community on a pay what you can model, and I’m sure your community appreciates the sentiment, this model is hardly the norm. I only bring it up because I feel like you are making judgments on other communities for having different pay models, and I’m not sure that’s really fair.

    • Hi Dave, thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts – no apologies needed! Conversation is important!

      We are all tasked to contribute in our communities but the fact that our utilities, food, or housing are not based on what we can pay typically leaves people without means on the outside and the ones with means secure in their circles of privilege, how often do these inner circles open their doors to the outsiders? I believe the true worth of a community or a life can be judged by how well it cares for the most vulnerable of its members and how effectively it breaks down the barriers between those with power and those without.

      Our current structures have led to a growing income, gender, and race divide within our offline communities, to me that is less fair than pointing out the flaws in repeating these patterns online. Perhaps it is important to reiterate that my background is in offline community engagement and activism, not only did I grow up on the margins but worked for years specifically with vulnerable or marginalized groups in order to help everyone have a place at the table. This ‘give what you can’ decision does not come from an idyllic utopian dream of community but from very real experience into what happens when we create divisions between people and only welcome those who can pay what we tell them to.

      It is true, this model is hardly the norm either online or offline, which is why it feels important to ask the question “but what if it was?”.

      Thank you again for joining in and adding your voice to this!

    • Holly Bridlington says:

      Hi Dave, I’m very new here, but this topic is something I also feel very strongly about.
      You make a point. There are different pay models, and it is my belief that they are all acceptable – becuase the people who pay for them have accepted the terms set out. It’s another thing entirely, when providers use very, very ‘small print’ with the intention of misleading their audience.
      That said, I didn’t take Jessika’s article as a total renunciation of other models. Back in 1998, when I discovered what the Internet and communities like these had to offer, I was amazed, thrilled and thankful. I can’t believe all of the things I have been able to learn about since then.
      And give back – because how can you sleep at night if you simply take, take, take. (No, I’m not idealistic enough to believe all, or even the majority, of people suffer from that type of insomnia.) But there are lots of us out there, and hopefully enough ‘citizens’ to keep open communities like this up and running.
      Or keep poorly paid artists, musicians and craftsmen, etc. above water. Which is why I don’t find the paid communities distasteful per se. I give ‘what I can’ every year to Wikipedia. And I’m glad that so many other people in that community do too. I write an article or edit one every now an then, when I feel my contribution might be useful. I also gladly pay reasonable (what I consider to be reasonable) fees for some online courses (the teachers in these niche branches have to live from something, after all).
      It’s really no different from the real world, is it? There are people
      who take unfair advantage of the system, companies with immoral
      practices; but there are also millions of volunteers and businesses who
      really do make an effort to ensure good working conditions, fair prices
      and future-oriented policies. If we support the good guys, we all win.
      Thank you, Jessica, for this article, and the many others here that I have been privileged to learn from.

  2. Lisa Jacobs says:

    A lot to think about! Some strong opinions here about what a community is and what it isn’t. I have a handmade business, and so I like to look out for my own. Here are a few things to consider before joining any membership:

    • Don’t pay to have conversations you could easily be having for free on Facebook (especially if the platform is extremely similar to Facebook) – it just turns into another website to check, and if you’re in business, effectively wastes your valuable time.

    • Make sure the group creator has the skills or business model you want to learn if they’re angling their community toward creative businesses. Otherwise, they’re just preying on your business funds.

    • If you do decide to invest in a community, make sure there’s some form of return on that investment. Beware of a low, recurring payment plan that offers little besides “a sense of community” in exchange. Again, you can build that on Facebook for free.

    • A good business community will always keep your business in mind: they won’t charge you a monthly fee and then ask you to volunteer large chunks of time as well (in the form of guest posting, “community” work, keeping the conversations going, etc.)

    • A good community leader will always follow through on their commitments. If they say they’ll build something, they do it. If they commit to something (say, a trade of labor and support), they follow-through. They will always think how they can serve you (and NOT the other way around).

    • Additionally, I always like to know if the person in charge built or bought their online presence. It says a lot about whether that person is contributing to or feeding off of the handmade community.

    • Thank you for visiting Lisa and sharing your perspective. Many of these considerations are ones that went into the decision to open up OMHG citizenship as give what you can. If you want to give nothing financially and contribute time & support the equation and balance is up to you. This is how our community has always operated and now we’re making that exceedingly clear in order to make sure that people don’t have false expectations. These sort of critiques help us refine our offering so thank you for sharing.

      My personal belief is that a community is what we make it collectively, not what is dictated by a leader. This is the fundamental basics of community development work, the problem often lies in people wanting leadership and top down solutions instead of taking personal responsibility for joint leadership. They ask what is wrong instead of what is possible. Thankfully OMHG has always had a group of people who understand that difference fundamentally and have helped keep us accountable to that open vision of collective leadership Even though it is hard and exhausting sometimes it is important because we are all very much flawed, none of us know the answers. The only goal for OMHG is to create a safe space where we can live out the questions together. There are a number of elements in your comment that are really important and I’d like to reply to them one by one.

      -Facebook is not free, by posting our content to Facebook we give up rights to that content and to personal information. As a business you have no control over how Facebook distributes your content or who sees it, nor over their policies and plans. If Facebook decides to do away with private groups tomorrow, all your content is gone for good. Facebook has it’s own agenda, make sure you are comfortable with the TOS of any platforms you use.

      -Make sure you do your research – has the community consistently engaged other voices + people or is it just one person on a soapbox? If they are selling community what kind of real community training and skills do they have? If they are selling a business program or networking group make sure they have those credentials but community requires a different skill set: facilitation, conflict resolution & mediation, inclusion, collective action, personal experience with community models and connecting across cultures and socio-economic divides.

      -Have clear expectations of why you are participating in community. Is your ROI connections or cash? A strong network of people willing to invest in you is possible but it takes time, patience, and trust. People can tell when you are looking for a conversion or a return and are not willing to share their intimacies which are fundamental to the growth of community relationships.

      -Only contribute what you are capable of giving – this helps reduce resentment. Community asks immense things of us – we invest in infrastructure, systems of care, support networks, and of course basic human kindness. We are respectful of that contribution and this is why we have switched to give what you can in the hopes to reduce resentment and place the ultimate value on engagement.

      -Is this wholly true? The community leaders I’ve learned from and love fail brilliantly and take accountability for those failures. They give their power away to their members and allow the opportunity for everyone to fail together and learn. They don’t maintain rigid control or define all the boundaries so there is no room for evolution. And then they KEEP showing up in all their failure and fabulousness, as humans. In essence, they make the path by walking together at the pace of the slowest. Good leaders are not just martyrs to service, they also expect us to do the work. We can look to examples like Gandhi & Martin Luther King & of course my personal hero Jean Vanier, they were of service to community but continually ask the people to stop looking to any one person as a leader and start leading themselves. This has been something I have been very open about as well as my resistance to leadership overall here

      -How does building or buying make a difference? This relates very much to our evolution as I bought OMHG in 2010 for $3000 (that took me a year to pay in installments) when it had a tiny social presence and rebuilt the website, brand, and platform in 2013 for $13000 with lots of community input based on requests, reinvesting basically every profit ever made back into the website. Over 10,000 hours of my time has been invested into our community + the time of so many wonderful people, none of them in it for money. We’ve discussed this evolution very openly over the years and in many interviews.

      I think your questions are all very important when evaluating a business group or program but are incomplete metrics to use when evaluating or seeking what you call a “sense of community”. This is why we are open to everyone now regardless of investment as a good offline community should be too. Give as little as you want or as much as you are able – you are solely responsible for your investment.

      “When we only name the problem, when we state complaint without a constructive focus or resolution, we take hope away. In this way critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism, which then works to sustain dominator culture.”

      ― Bell Hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope

  3. Ashley Johnson says:

    I’m not really certain what I think about all of this yet.
    The one comment I do have, is that I joined the OMHG Community just before the change happened (by a few days actually). I am in the process of building a new business and the $100 annual membership fee was a stretch for me, I really took the time to read about the community, look at the types of people who were members before I made the decision to join.
    I decided it was worth the investment.
    I think the idea of “pay what you can” is a lovely one, but I also believe this will impact the type of people who will join, and they likely will not put much thought into their decision if they can do so for free.
    I also believe that the more the merrier is not always true.
    But I suppose the only way to see if this works is to give it a try and be open to re-evaluating.

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