The Freecycle Network
February 13, 2010
As an MBA and a CPA with over ten years of business management experience in non-profit operation, I found that volunteering as a list owner/moderator for Freecycle was a welcome relief to the business side of things that I normally dealt with. That was in the beginning - not so much now.
I have been through three major waves of volunteer departure, and every time another one begins I consider whether to take my group out also. So far, the benefits of staying in have outweighed the benefits of leaving, but the margin is narrowing and I don't think I'll stick through the next one, which is surely coming around soon.
Why do I stay? I believe very strongly in the stated mission of Freecycle and the results Freecycle gets at the grassroots level. I could take my group to a number of other recycling organizations that hold those same ideals, but the one thing that holds me is the name recognition. When folks in my area hear something about Freecycle, they can go to the Freecycle website and find my group and know exactly where to sign up. They jump on my yahoo group and they are plugged in to Freecycle - that easy.
HOWEVER, that name recognition is beginning not to carry as much weight as my conscience, which is bothered by my association with an organization that has begun to rule heavy-handedly and seemingly counter to the mission, and which seems to have a never-ending appetite for money.
Some of my issues:
1) Punitive upper management. As an owner/moderator and a member of moderator talk lists, I feel that I cannot express my concerns or opinions that are not the party line on those lists (begun to facilitate communication between TFN, moderators, and organizational volunteers) - however tactfully - without drawing a target on my back. I've seen it happen too many times with fellow moderators and fine folks I have come to think of as friends.
2) Money-grabbing/Bloated management. Freecycle, as an organization that says its proud of its grassroots initiative, should need little more than a great website where folks can learn about the concept of Freecycle and how to find their local group. Even publicity is relative unnecessary - most folks hear of Freecycle through word of mouth and news stories.
3) Questionable fundraising tactices. One example: The counts they use to solicit funds are overstated. They have to know that and they have to realize they don't have a way to account for the duplicated numbers. Right on their homepage they state the number of members they serve; however, many members belong to multiple groups, myself included - I belong to eight different FC groups, so I count as 8 members in FC's fundraising eyes. In a lot of grantors' eyes, numbers served is very important. I wonder if THEY know about the duplication.
4) Shift from positive to negative organizational management. I've seen the environment of the organization go from one of collaborative goodwill to autocratic rule by the Executive Director and his BOD. I've noticed that as folks question things that go on, another layer of bureacracy is laid down between the ED and the grassroots volunteers like me, almost as though in response to paranoia.
All in all, the frontier attitude that existed in the beginning, the attitude of "We'll give you the tools and you go make it happen in your community" has faded away to one of control and domination, of fear that local moderators may take too much control and not give credit back to the powers that be.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
my local area as it has promoted recycling and green behavior.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Set up a real BoD - no people directly involved in the operation of the organization so they could advise objectively,selected from various areas of expertise so they could have a wider range of knowledge. They would be arms-length directors-not related.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
working with my neighbors to make the world a better place. Meeting other moderators with a mission similar to my own.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
unprincipled. As a moderator, I've been lied to, ignored, condescended to, fed the party line.
I'm referring to direct volunteers and all staff, not to fellow moderators and list owners.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
Have a big fat reserve and an ED wealthy on the backs of his grassroots volunteers and the charity of grantors.
This organization really shouldn't need a lot of money to be successful. Most of the resources that make it tick are free.
Ways to make it better...
the organization had stuck with its original environment.
In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...
Its greed. Its loss of vision. The fact that it thinks a good organization puts its resources to overhead, not out to "where things happen".
One thing I'd also say is that...
The local lists are what make this organization successful, and we do it without ever needing a dime. What we need to continue to do well is the support of the organization, not the micromanaging punitive patrolling we get instead.
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Volunteer & Current list owner for local Freecycle Group on Yahoo.