Money in Community

With this entry I'm plowing new ground: for the first time, I'm posting an essay written by a guest author. In this case, Beth Raps, who lives in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia where she operates her business, Raising Clarity: to cultivate abundance in noble causes, people, and organizations.

I first met Beth last October in the context of FIC's search for a new Development Director, which she has been helping us think about more clearly.

As both of us have an abiding interest in sustainable economics, we've been in dialog about right relationship to money, and this essay is the fruit of that conversation. I hope you enjoy it half as much as Beth and I did crafting it.

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I think about money a lot. As a fundraising consultant with groups and a money coach with individuals, I help people have more of it, in order to help myself have more of it.

Here's how I got there: I started with the intention of wanting more money flowing in my life. Then I researched until I found a spiritual way to accomplish that. In Creating Affluence, Deepak Chopra wrote:

Helping others make money and helping other people to fulfill their desires is a sure way to ensure you'll make money for yourself as well as more easily fulfill your dreams.

Like most, I had trouble accepting this at first. I was conditioned to believe that there are many obstacles to financial abundance. Scarcity and hoarding were part of my upbringing. It took me a long time to be at peace with even investigating this dubious legacy.

When I scratched below the surface of scarcity and hoarding, I found fear. As such, it is something we detest about money (and capitalism), and one of the reasons we create and join communities that are conscious attempts to move away from the competitiveness of capitalism and toward a more cooperative culture. In community, we intentionally interpose a protective, caring layer between the capitalist economy and isolated individuals.

In my search for something that would work better, I discovered that the Universe will pretty much support any belief. Thus, I sought one that would work for me. Along the way I learned the power of working inwardly (on my own conditioning about money) and at the same time working outwardly (with others' beliefs). Gradually, this purposeful shift got embodied in my experience—to the point where it gets easier and feels more natural all the time. This brought me to where I am today: experiencing money as flow.

But fear is present even then. It can be scary both when the outflow exceeds the inflow (which is not sustainable over time) and when the inflow exceeds the outflow (from whence the phrase "embarrassment of riches").

Money is never sitting still—it is always affirming some value. Too often, we let fear become that value. Then we run away from our fear into ideology, community, or self-chosen poverty. None of these choices lead to taking charge of the money we have, or making decisions with money that affirm our values. The rest of this post explores a few ways to begin doing that.

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Taking charge of money and shifting what value we give it does not depend on the amount we have. What matters is how we take charge of the money we have.

Each community has core values. These values are affirmed or negated by the group's choices, including choices about money. While money is not strictly necessary (communities could emphasize self-sufficiency and barter), as a practical matter communities use money because it facilitates fair exchange and provides access to goods and services beyond our ability to manifest or manufacture ourselves.

I invite all of us to become more conscious about the values we're expressing with how we use our money. What are we doing with it? How does it come in? How does it go out? What values would we like it to affirm?

Drilling down, I invite groups to look closely at their answers to these baseline questions:

• What do you pay for?

• What don't you pay for?

• How much do you pay for what?

• Explore distinctions you make using money. Are these consciously chosen? Acknowledged by the community? Culturally imposed? Are there ways around those that are culturally imposed—for example, valuing lawyering more than trash collection or early childhood education—that the community can challenge and ultimately shift?

• What do you receive money for and what do you trade for or give away?

• Look to see if what you give away has value you don't mean to be so free about.

• What do you give (donate), to whom, where, and why (the amount is less important than the intention)?

• What do you invest, how, where, and with what intention?

• Do you have an endowment?

• What special funds have you created, and for what purposes?

Notice that these questions all pertain even if money is taken out of the equation and you're trading cheese for shoes, or investing in the community's future by cultivating a wood lot.

• • •
I tell clients that if they show me their annual budget (income and expenses) I can tell them what their mission or purpose is.

We have the chance to use money responsibly and in alignment with our spiritual, moral, ethical, and energetic compasses. Our challenge is to make those choices consciously.

I believe, ultimately, that none of our resources belong to us or come from us (which is why I like to view money as flow rather than as an amount). Jane Jacobs, in The Nature of Economies, correctly sources nature as the origin of all resources, and I recommend her book as a perfect place for communities to start seriously exploring these questions. Jacobs offers a beautiful thought experiment through the vehicle of a dinner party among intelligent, kindly friends who disagree on the real-world implications of the choices they make. The book is both poetic and engaging, and I commend it as an entrée to nourishing conversations about money.

Bon appétit!