Gate Keepers versus Cheerleaders
The community has three different internal areas which deal with incoming visitors who are interested in membership. This post is not about how the community at large sees these different groups interacting, but rather how i (as a person involved with recruiting) think that these groups should interact and how they are structurally different from each other.
The three different areas are:
- Recruiting and Outreach
- Community Visitor Program (CVP)
- Community Membership Team (CMT)
If you are familiar with how these parts of the community function you might want to skip to the Cheerleaders and Gate Keepers paragraph below.
Recruiting and Outreach has two different aspects (which are Recruiting as distinct from Outreach) when it comes to visitors. There is the visitor correspondence piece, which is the job Valerie does. It entails responding to the literally hundreds of emails and letters we get from people interested in visiting or guesting at Twin Oaks. These have questions about the community in general, or relating to the specifics of someone interested in living with us (“Can i bring my pet horse?” no, “Do you accept ex-convicts?” yes, “Can i be a member and drive my motorcycle as i like?” no, etc). With patience and tenacity Valerie handles this flood of questions. There is also a new FAQ section to the Twin Oaks website which you can look at to find the most commonly asked questions.
The back end of recruiting and outreach, as it pertains to people interested in living with us is where i come in. If you have been accepted and are thinking about coming to live with us, i become your pen pal. I write you about interesting things which are happening on the commune. Make sure you are invited to the bigger better events (Validation Day, New Years, Anniversary, etc). And i give you my highly unofficial, but unusually well informed prediction about when you will actually make it thru the top of the waiting list.
There are responsibilities in this work area which dont have to do with the direct recruiting of specific new members/ We also talk at colleges and universities and write articles about the community. Our focus shifts to the more complete intentional communities movement instead of Twin Oaks specifically when we have a long waiting list as we have had for sometime now.
One of the slightly terrible practices we had before i joined recruiting was we let the CMT evaluation and acceptance of a visitor be our last communication with a prospective member until it was time for them to join. Frequently this was of the form “32 people think you are wonderful and would like you to join and two people think your are irresponsible and blow off shifts without getting yourself replaced.” This type of feedback sits on many peoples mind uncomfortably. With time the appreciation of the 32 accepts is likely to recede. At the same time your worry and grumpiness with the two rejects will probably rise. This may well poison your relationship with the community and after we call you a year later saying there is a space for you. You are likely to turn it down. What i started, tho i am somewhat erratic about it, is having a conversation with accepted members which is welcoming to the community and keeps them updated as to interesting news in the community. So their experience of us stays fresh and current.
The Community Visitor Program is the group of members who are responsible for the visitors when they are at Twin Oaks for their three week viz period. If you are interested in membership in the community this is the only way to get accepted (unless you have grown up in this community or lived with us as a member inside the last year). CVP does several of the orienting sessions for new visitors. CVP gets the work covered for visitors who leave early and mediates between members and visitors should there be a need.
The Community Membership Team has many of the responsibilities associated with joining and leaving the community. It conducts the polls on visitors who are interested in membership and it conducts their interviews, typically in the second or third week of their visitor period. These polls, which are an important part of the idea behind this post, are not simply head counting, when it comes to a visitor becoming a member. CMT weighs the input they get – weighing negative input and concerns more strongly than simple accepts. They also get recommendations from the various teams in the community which might be brought in to evaluate the guests situation.
If you have had a significant mental health struggle in the last few years or attempted suicide, you will get a referral to the mental health team. They will talk with you and see where you are on your healing path. The community recognizes its own weaknesses in handling people with significant mental health challenges. And while it is often the case that people in this situation think Twin Oaks might be the best place for them to come, we regularly disagree.
While the community will not take on your debts, if you have significant external financial obligations (which will be very hard to meet with your $80/month allowance as a member here) you might get referred to the Legal manager, who would then report back to CMT. You would also talk to Legal if you had complex finances, including alimony payments or receipts or rental property you own, etc. And you would talk with Legal if there were outstanding warrants for your arrest in that failed coup attempt you were organizing (this almost came up for me).
Cheerleaders versus Gate Keepers: These areas of the community are not always running in parallel. Specifically, recruiting (which i co-manage) is generally encouraging people to think about whether membership is a good thing for them. We are cheerleaders both for Twin Oaks specifically and for the movement in general. At the college speaking tours we are now promoting communities generally, and with folks who are part of the visitor program we do it quite specifically for this place.
CMT on the other hand plays a gate keeper role. Their job is to make sure that the people who do get selected for membership are acceptable to the membership and are a “good fit”. For example, CMT will discourage people who do not have the ability to accept membership in the community in the next 9 months from doing the 3 hour long membership interview. [Our acceptance is only good for 6 months and can be extended an additional 3 months if you come back for a week.] Recruiting does not always make the same recommendation.
If you are interested in living here and you have obligations which prevent you from joining for the next 3/4 year, i may well encourage you to do the membership interview, for several reasons. First, the membership interview is informative. Besides listening to your life story we ask 100 hard questions about what it is like to live here. If you really want to live here at some point in the future, best you start thinking about these questions now. If you get accepted and can not take the acceptance because of other obligations, it will change the way you think about us. Specifically, it will make you think about living here more and increase the chances you return for another visitor period when you are actually available to join. Finally, if you get rejected by us or receive a “visit again” you will have a better better understanding of where you are with the community and a perhaps more realistic view of your chances of getting accepted in the future.
Only a place this size can be giving labor credits to members who are approaching these tasks differently. Smaller communities, like Acorn, often overlap these functions – but Acorn’s ace in the hole is that their membership decisions are made by consensus. So any single upset member can block a visitor from becoming a member. Despite these radically different selection models both communities are full and have waiting lists these days.
6 responses to “Gate Keepers versus Cheerleaders”
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Great piece with a lot of insight. For me, it is very beneficial to see the bigger picture from the outside looking in…
This is a really helpful piece–thanks for putting this stuff out so clearly.
I will be visiting and I’ve been debating whether or not I should do the membership interview–I’d really like to live at TO but it seems like my chances of getting in are only slightly better than my chances of being hit by lightning. I’m sure I’d get a lot out of the interview, but I’m worried I’d be wasting the CMT’s folks time.
I appreciate your thoughtfulness in laying out your views along with the views of others.
We just have had four people leave in a month, two of them unexpected. The waiting list makes fools of us all quite regularly. I would encourage you to come, to do the membership interview and perhaps get accepted and then be on the waiting list. And it is my job to encourage this.
And if you are accepted, which is still fairly likely even tho we are pickier, then you will have to deal with the wait list, but you will be able to rest assured that eventually you will be able to join.