“If I could save time in a bottle.” This was the beginning lyrics of a hit song performed by Jim Croce in the 1970s. It’s also the concept behind a timebank, an online community that lets you bank time you spend doing something for someone in the community. Those banked hours can then be spent on having someone do something for you.
It’s seems like a simple concept to implement, particularly with an online system to track the hours. However, Kim Hodge with the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks cautions that it is not easy to implement. She recommends forming a steering committee of 7-10 people who can determine the boundaries, the mission, dues and other details before the timebank is launched.
“I would suggest having a strong organizing body to launch the organization, with a plan to replace organizers,” said Hodge, who also works with the 130-member Lathrup Village Timebank.
Michelle Foster, Director of the Ferndale TimeBank, points out that a paid coordinator is important to maintaining a timebank. “Typically, the groups interested in launching an organization are not also interested in maintaining the organization,” she said. “It is a difficult transition. Having a paid coordinator to run the timebank helps.”
Hodge agrees that a paid coordinator to run the timebank is important. As an alternative, she suggests running the timebank out of an existing, established organization to help insure stability. “It’s not a field of dreams where you build it and they will come,” she said. “You need a good foundation to build on with engaging opportunities to help people to get to know each other.”
Paul St. Louis, Executive Director of the Community House of Hope in North Branch, Michigan, agrees with this point. “We benefited from great support from the media, government agencies and churches,” he said. “People like the idea and feel that it is timely for meeting the needs of others. It’s a greater resource for volunteers and helping people solve problems.”
Tom Bulten, Executive Director of Oakdale Neighbors, suggests the CommunityWeaver online database maintained by TimeBanks USA as another excellent resource. “It’s not the only tool for developing an alternative currency like time dollars, but it’s a useful one,” he said. “The learning network and informational resources at timebanks.org are also very useful.”
Charlotte, Michigan launched a timebank this year as part of the community’s CAN-DO! organization. The website doubles as a hub to promote generosity in the community. Charlotte’s vision on mostgenerouscommunity.org states, “Charlotte will demonstrate how to become more generous, how to become more abundant. And by so doing, it makes clear that what happens in this one place could occur in every place.”
“The best thing about having a timebank in a community is that it provides a source of connection,” said Foster. “Though there are many avenues for social networking, timebanks provide a hands-on, face-to-face alternative that encourages neighborly interactions.
“Timebank Grand Rapids has offered many opportunities for neighbors and community members to interact and serve one another,” Bulten said . “It helps draw us together to help one another out. It has provided valuable services for members that might otherwise have trouble purchasing those services.”
— Chris Thelen