This section has been written, with permission, from materials developed by the Time Dollar Institute (now TimeBanks USA)
- What are Time Dollars?
- Why should you develop a Time Dollars program?
- Who should develop a Time Dollars program?
- How do you develop a Time Dollars program?
Many of us who volunteer our time, or work for not for profit organizations, do so because we want to help people; we hope to somehow improve their lives. Feeling better about ourselves through helping other people is an idea that has a very long history. For example, the Catholic Church's "Prayer of St. Francis" tells us that it is better to give than to receive. What the prayer doesn't say, however, is that it's sometimes easier to give than to receive.
Because frankly, it's hard for many of us to ask for help, whether that help is in the form of money, or assistance with a task, such as taking care of our children or getting our mail while we are out of town. And if we do ask for help, we're quick to offer something in return -- we pay the loan (often with interest!), pay the baby-sitter in cash or in taking care of her children in return, or bring a pie to the neighbors who watched our house. The last thing we want is for people to think we are "freeloading" or "not pulling our weight."
And yet many times when we as organizations offer to help people, that's exactly how we set them up to feel. "Don't worry about it," we say, as if somehow we are better than them, or have more to offer than they do. And messages like that -- even though they aren't what we mean, even if they are the last thing we want to communicate -- are often what gets transmitted, and they can be very hard to take.
That's where the idea of Time Dollars comes in. The thought behind Time Dollars is that everyone, no matter what they do, or where they are in their lives, has something to offer. And Time Dollars asks individuals to use their talents and skills; and in doing so, allows them to retain their sense of pride when they need help.
What are Time Dollars?
Time Dollars are a currency that turns time into money. Volunteers in Time Dollars programs earn credits for the time they spend helping other members. One hour of service earns you one credit, or "time dollar." Then in turn, you can "buy" an hour of a service you need. If you don't need all the credits you earn, you can save them up, give them to someone you know, or give them back to the "bank." That way, the people who run the program can use the extra "money" to make sure the members with the severest needs get all the help they require.
Unlike traditional volunteer programs, Time Dollar programs recognize that people who need help can often help others, too - just in different ways.
A minister's experience gives us an example of how this works. For fifteen years, this gentleman was the pastor of a Baptist church in Washington, D.C. People relied on him as someone they could turn to 24 hours a day for guidance, comfort, or just a little conversation. However, when the Reverend, who suffers from diabetes, lost his right leg to an infection, he retired from the church. He felt overwhelmed by the sudden changes in his life, and for a long time lived almost as a recluse, refusing to leave his apartment.
The local Time Dollar program helped him adjust to the seemingly insurmountable problems he faced. He is once again an active member of the community. He earns Time Dollars by conducting prayer services for his fellow tenants, and he spends them to have his meals prepared by another volunteer.
This kind of exchange isn't new. It has always occurred among families and friends. All Time Dollar programs do is provide a new structure for neighborliness - one that turns good deeds into real purchasing power.
So, what exactly do Time Dollars members do? To give you an idea of the possibilities, here's a sampling of the kinds of services Time Dollar members exchange:
- Personal care, such as grooming, meal preparation, feeding, letter writing, reading, and respite care
- Care for family members, such as baby-sitting and elder care
- Help with household chores, such as light housekeeping, gardening, home repairs, and laundry
- Help outside the home, such as with shopping and transportation
- An escort to the doctor
- Language translation services
- Telephone support services, both check-in calls (to make sure a person is okay) and social calls
- Peer counseling
- Education, such as literacy services, English as a second language classes, tutoring grade-school and high school students, and preparation for the GED
- Administrative support of the program
Many of these things are being done in some places by home care professionals, but can be done by individuals in our communities without paying money. And in allowing people to do things themselves to "pay" for the help they receive, we help people regain control over their own lives.
Why should you develop a Time Dollars Program?
There are many advantages to developing a Time Dollars program in your community. A few of these reasons to begin such a program include:
- To empower people with a sense of self worth - Time Dollars help people understand that whatever circumstances they are in, they can still give, and not just receive
- To strengthen the communities in which we live
- To make sure that all of the members of our communities, including those who are very proud, receive the help that they need
Who should develop a Time Dollars program?
Quite simply, a Time Dollars program can be started by anyone who sees needs in his or her community which are not being met. These needs may be in any part of the population. The first generation of programs often focused on the abilities and needs of senior citizens, because many of them have free time, and many others have many unmet needs. However, programs now can and should build networks serving other groups, such as teenage mothers, people with AIDS, public housing residents, children in urban schools, and parents needing day care for their children. In short, the uses of Time Dollars programs are as varied as the different needs of our communities.
Although anyone can start such a program, they are often developed within existing support networks, such as churches or social service agencies. In the next section, we will look at the development of a Time Dollars program as if it is being developed by an organization that's already in existence. Individuals or new groups can then modify the "how-to" steps accordingly.
How do you develop a Time Dollars Program?
Once you've decided to start a Time Dollar program, there is some hard but rewarding work ahead. Let's look at what you'll need to do step by step.
Before you even begin, however, make sure you're not reinventing the wheel. Many communities already have Time Dollars programs; check in your area to see if there is one that you might work with. A partial list of programs is listed by state in the Resources at the end of this section.
Ensure that you have a committed group of people that is ready to work and serve one another
You need to have people willing to give and receive, or a Time Dollar program just won't work. The most important element of your program is the commitment of the people involved. Time Dollar programs thrive on the work of people who are committed to serving others. Have a group of people in mind with whom you plan to start the program, such as elderly people living in a community living situation, or high school students working on community service projects. Be sure to talk with some of the people you want to work with and make sure there is enough interest to get things started. (We'll talk more about recruitment later.)
Develop a core group of people who will be working on the program
At a minimum, you will need one or two coordinators who will match people and serve as liaisons for the program. You will also want to involve people you want to have as "customers" involved in setting up the program.
Gather the resources your program will need
Some of the things your program will need include:
- A coordinator or director (preferably full-time, either paid or unpaid)
- Office space
- Clerical help (to answer phones, keep track of hours worked, and so on)
- A phone, desk, and office supplies
- Copying equipment (for brochures, fliers, forms, notices)
- Volunteer insurance or workmen's compensation (usually necessary for existing organizations)
- A computer
- A place to meet, train, and socialize
Decide how much money to spend on the program
The cost of a Time Dollar program varies depending on a number of things, such as:
- If your staff is paid or volunteer
- If the paid staff is full- or part-time
- If you are required to pay volunteer insurance
- If you need to rent office or meeting space
While you can actually run a Time Dollars program for next to nothing, those operating in the context of an on-going social service organization can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. Since costs vary over time and country, actual figures mean little here. The chances are good that if you have a program with paid staff (probably a full- or part-time director, perhaps a part-time assistant director, and a part-time clerical person), most of your budget -- perhaps 70-80% -- will go for salary and related expenses. The rest will be spent on rent, equipment and supplies, insurance, phone, printing and copying, and the odd costs that most programs have (food for celebrations, certificates, etc.) If your space is donated, your budget will be smaller, but a larger percentage of it will go to salaries.
Develop the tracking materials you will need to follow volunteers and their efforts
You will need a membership form and timesheets for members to track their Time Dollars. Members can sign up, chart what they can do, when they can do it, what they want to receive, and what they have done. The coordinator can then use these files when people call and request a service.
One way to help you do this is TimeKeeper Software, which was developed specifically for people running Time Dollars programs. It is available as freeware over the Internet.
The software incorporates the way in which people manage Time Dollar programs on a step-by-step basis. It can also be customized by you to meet your program's needs.
The Timekeeper system can free you up from tasks that can be computerized, such as sifting through individual files to find an appropriate available volunteer, and reduces the time spent on paper work. In addition, the software does the following:
- It can produce personalized bank statements for each member
- It can supply the information to ensure that no volunteer goes too long without a new assignment
- It can help you to monitor performance systematically and follow-up on assignments
- And it can also become a tool in planning new initiatives that can help strengthen your community and target resources to meet special needs
Check on the legalities of your work
In general, there are no legal requirements to starting a program. However, you should check with authorities in your state.
In addition, two legal issues also come up often for people running Time Dollars programs: liability and taxation. Let's look briefly at each of them.
The question of liability includes things such as, "What if a service provider is injured on the job?" or, "What if the service provider injures the person being helped?"
You can deal with these questions in very much the same as you would for any volunteer program. One possibility your organization might consider is purchasing insurance for volunteers and staff. See Resources for a company that provides such a service at low cost.
Another question some new members have concerns about is taxes. The concern is that using Time Dollars is just like barter, and so members worry that they will be taxed on Time Dollars earned.
However, this possibility is very unlikely to occur. The IRS has ruled twice that credits earned by volunteers are not taxable. Now, there is no guarantee that the IRS won't decide otherwise in the future, but that possibility seems highly unlikely.
Develop a way to evaluate your work
As you are developing your program, a question that you should keep in mind is, "What, exactly, do we want to accomplish?" And additionally, "How will we know when we've reached our goals?"
Developing a plan for evaluation -- and incorporating it into your work from the start -- is an excellent way to set your program up for success from the very start. An evaluation can help keep your program on track and give you early warning signs when things aren't going well. The information gathered in the process of evaluating your work can also be a great way to convince grantmakers of your credibility, and ultimately, to convince them to support your work.
Recruiting members primarily includes connecting with the people and communities you would like to take part in your program. This recruitment can occur in many different forms -- from word of mouth, to advertisements in local papers or on the radio, to posters, flyers, or almost any other form of communication you can think of.
Along with recruitment of individuals, your program might want to encourage involvement of the local business community as well. There are several ways in which private businesses can get involved in your program.
The simplest way is by contributing financial support or by donating office space, supplies, and telephone service. Businesses can also encourage their employees to become involved as members. At one neighborhood bank in San Francisco, for example, all the employees joined the Time Dollar program run by the local senior center and donated their credits to elderly members unable to earn their own credits.
Another way businesses can get involved is by providing discounts to members of Time Dollar programs. For example, participants in Elderplan, a Health Maintenance Organization in Brooklyn which runs a Time Dollar program, can redeem their Time Dollars to join a silver or gold club. Each club has different offerings, including luncheons at local restaurants to meet social needs, free transportation, and gifts, most of them health-related, such as blood pressure monitors and exercise equipment.
When you've got all of your ground work done, it's time to get going! Additionally, most programs find it necessary to "prime the pump" when they first get started by "issuing" Time Dollars. In essence, programs give away services without requiring people to "pay" for them. This works as a great way to get people interested in your program. It also offers needy recipients the chance to receive services, even if they don't have any Time Dollars in their "account."
As with any work you do, be sure to take the time to enjoy the small and large successes you will have as your work evolves.
Evaluate your work
Be sure to use the methods you developed in step seven to look at what you are doing and know what's working, what's not working, and how you can make it better.
The concept of Time Dollars is about community; about drawing on the strengths of all of our members and helping to ensure that we all benefit from the diverse gifts everyone has to offer. It is a program of service, not of financial gain. And so, it's important that Time Dollar programs are run in a spirit of helping those who need it, not on accounting principles.
This section offers you a first look at what you will need to do to develop a Time Dollars program. Much more information is available from TimeBanks USA (previously the Time Dollar Institute). These materials include a "how-to" manual, the Timekeeper Software Manual, video presentations and other useful materials.
Cahn, Edgar and Rowe, Jonathan. Time Dollars: The New Currency That Enables Americans to Turn their Hidden Resource - Time - Into Personal Security and Community Renewal.
Family Resource Coalition of America
20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1100
Chicago, IL 60606
312-338-0900, 312-338-1522 (fax)
TimeBanks USA (previously the Time Dollar Institute). This website offers a wealth of information, such as a description of Time Dollar programs and a comprehensive list of Time Bank programs across the country.
Time Banks: A radical manifesto for the UK - an article from the New Economics Foundation about the process and benefits of Time Bank programs.
An Introduction to Paid Time Off Banks - an article from CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy).