"Everything is an experiment."
For the last 20 months, board members, donors, team members, and volunteers have heard me say these words over and over like a broken record.
You know it's true: Life is an experiment! We're all just making it up as we go.
Mission organizations like VEJ are in the experimentation business. Think about it: We are trying to solve some of the world's biggest, most "wicked problems" on shoestring budgets and working with unskilled volunteers.
And "wicked problems" don't stand still. They keep changing and so we have to keep changing, too.
Yes, experimentation is what we have to do at VEJ.
From the first time the board interviewed me for the leadership role at VEJ, I knew we would have to do two things to have a chance at making a difference:
So, we made a program plan for 2019 that we thought would help us do those two things. We didn't know what would happen, so we called it an experiment and jumped in.
As with any experiment, some things are working well and some things are not working.
When things don't work, we ask why and try something a little different.
One thing that is not working the way we planned is our Eco-Eating Tours and Wonder Walks. We created these to see what would happen when we mashed up fundraising, mission work, and public outreach into one dish. Some very successful nonprofits in southeast Michigan raise funds by charging $25, $35, $55, or even $75 for tours at points of interest around the region. I thought we could do this, too.
It hasn't worked and I have to ask myself why.
Two things come to mind right away:
The more I thought about that, the more I felt like asking people to pay $20 to come to one of our nature hikes or tours was just wrong for us. It works for other organizations, but maybe not for VEJ.
The main reason being: The Wonder Walks are supposed to be interfaith prayer events. Am I really going to charge someone $20 to come pray in nature? I hadn't thought of it that way before.
So...we are dropping the $20 fee to attend Eco-Eating Tours and Wonder Walks. It will now be "donate what you can" or nothing at all. We are a faith-based organization, so I am going to have faith that God will take care of VEJ's financial needs through the kindness of our many friends new and old.
I am sorry this experiment didn't work out the way I thought it would. Not because it didn't raise a lot of money for VEJ, but for those who felt like they were not wanted because of the fee we put on the programs. While we never meant to exclude anyone, I should have seen that the fee would make some people feel excluded.
If you were one of them, I'm sorry.
The experiment goes on.
We are trying to find the best way to help people of faith do Earth justice.
We are trying to find the best way to run a small organization to support that mission.
We make mistakes, compost them, and grow something new. This is what it's all about.
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions to share with us, please call or send an email. After all, you are the real voice for Earth justice.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice