CHANGE THAT MAKES CHANGE
A letter from the founder, 6th June 2017
We started SayYesMore and the YesTribe because we felt there was a need for a community in London (and further afield) that didn't revolve around money. There wasn't a plan at the beginning, I just wondered whether the people following my adventures on Facebook were real and invited them camping. I couldn't have imagined what would come next.
As the YesTribe grew I found myself spending my time mediating a Facebook group and organising the occasional event, most of them free campouts. I let my own career slip but there was a feel-good atmosphere that felt like it should be nurtured.
After our first Yestival in October 2015, which was literally brought together by myself and six friends in just a few weeks, we realised that in some way, shape or form, this SayYesMore thing should continue.
In August 2016 we requested advice from Companies House and Metrobank as to how we could best give SayYesMore an official identity, at the same time as being very unsure how or where our work would develop. Our feeling was that we were a social enterprise - defined as: A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders.
Our is a key word here, because SayYesMore and YesTribe activities were guided completely by who was around to organise things. I was often off on my own expeditions and other members of the team had their own work and time commitments. One month we had nothing organised, the next there were four or five campouts, the next we held YesStories and a brainstorm about where SayYesMore could go.
The conclusion, given that 'social enterprise' is just a term and not an official structure as such, was that we couldn't yet fulfil the obligations demanded by an application as a community interest company (CIC) or charitable incorporated organisation. And therefore we were advised to initially register as a Limited Company to ensure that our finances were transparent and legal, and to give structural flexibility for whatever the next step of SayYesMore would look like.
SayYesMore was registered in August 2016 as a Limited Company in my name, with Henry Blanchard (Founder of the Uganda Marathon) as a signatory on the account.
Many months on, the future of SayYesMore is still undefined - it is still totally reliant on the efforts of volunteers - but with the arrival of the YesBus we are about to acquire our first significant asset (on top of a tent, a big sign that sits on a hill during Yestival and some benches!) and as a team we plan to reassess SayYesMore's structure in the Summer of 2017.
The we is now over fifteen people who have a regular hand in the running of SayYesMore, the YesTribe, YesStories and Yestival. We're just a bunch of friends who believe in this message and the goodness that has come out of all things Yes. Myself, Chris Barnes, Emma Taylor, Alex Moyes, Henry Blanchard, Andy Bartlett, Vicky Cable, Kevin Self, Tasmyn O'Donoghue, Julia Wickham, Charlie Frith, Amanda Bond, Jane Attard, Laura Maisey and Kat Sladden are just some of the people currently involved in the SayYesMore team, this list is not exhaustive. Although many of the 4200+ members on the YesTribe group haven't yet been to an event the next steps will be a decision by the community as a whole.
Whatever that structure looks like, our promise remains the same. We re-invest any profit we make from Yestival, YesStories and any overseas retreats back into SayYesMore to continue the good work we set out to accomplish. It's that simple.
We have general running costs like ensuring an ongoing series of events and the continued curation of our online portals including this website, the central YesTribe Facebook Group and all other social channels. For certain events we cover costs and pay small sums for our volunteers time, which we only think is fair. Our main income and expense is our annual festival, Yestival, and other regular costs include website and email hosting, event space rental, storage unit, volunteer expenses, team training, and long-term purchases.
Naturally, this approach helps us put on more events and keep a stable foundation of "staff" if we can bring in more cash, and our aim is to be healthy financially by the end of 2017, meaning no debt, enough money to ensure that volunteers are not out of pocket through their support of the tribe, and several avenues of income including possible membership/ crowdfunding to help us keep up the good work.
Yesterday we started crowdfunding for the YesBus project, and this is the first time we've opened up and asked for money to be donated. All funds raised by this campaign go straight towards the YesBus, the purchase and conversion of which has currently been funded by Chris Barnes and myself, a 50-50% split right down the middle. We took this approach simply because SayYesMore as an organisation didn't have the capital to afford it. The crowdfunding campaign will pay for the full material costs of the conversion, with no labour/ time costs for Chris, myself or anyone else on the team to be paid.
We have dedicated hundreds of hours to this project alone because we believe in the vision. The success of the crowdfunding campaign on Day One has been overwhelming and I think sums up the spirit of the YesTribe. They trust SayYesMore, they trust us and we're grateful and thankful for this, we feel our effort so far has been vindicated.
Of course, where money is involved there is always doubt and on the comments section of the crowdfunding page yesterday there were questions and allegations aimed at myself (and, by default the rest of the team who run everything alongside me). I recognise the questions and wanted to write this letter directly in response, but on an open forum that will be seen by far more people than in a comments section of the crowdfunding page.
Ultimately, we want the structure of SayYesMore to be so watertight that there's simply no room for doubt or comment. This project all the way through has been about trust and it's sad to hear that not everyone has that in us, but I also understand the questions and want to answer them clearly and transparently.
On a personal level, I've put over £10,000 of my own money into SayYesMore to ensure it has gained some momentum, I hope this will be paid back in time, without interest. I make my money in my own way and although I don't think I need to explain this (the same goes for everyone else on the team - we all have jobs outside this passion venture), but to address any doubt I want to. I have been working for twelve years to make a living my way, and while in the last two years SayYesMore has become an integral part of my life I had a life and an income before that first campout, and that career continues alongside my work from SayYesMore. That is where I make an income. It's my job.
Naturally there's an overlap these days. I'm passionate about my SayYesMore message, which was a personal motto before it ever became an entity, and we're doing this because it has a positive impact. My personal mindset and development retreats are run by me as a sole trader or in partnership with other individuals. My speaking engagements are my own income. My book sales are mine. I did all this before SayYesMore and will continue to do so. If they benefit because of the growth of SayYesMore then I'm ok with that, I've put thousands of unpaid hours into helping to grow this mission and will continue to do so. In the absence of any pay, the same opportunity is available to all members of the SayYesMore team. I'd rather that promotion of personal activities was payment than money, it means the work comes from the heart.
Some members of the team and I met this morning to discuss the next steps of SayYesMore's official structure, we've had a good chat with the guys at www.socialenterprise.org.uk to ensure we're doing the right thing, and we are unanimous in our belief in the project and the need for transparency throughout. We invite anyone, whether they've been involved in SayYesMore or not, to join the team and help us shape the future of the organisation.
I'll sign off with open arms and a willingness as always to be as clear and simple as my team has been hard working and generous.
We didn't set out to do this for money and we continue to feel this way. We've done amazing things and thousands of people have played a part. It's been one hell of a journey so far and we're excited about this next step.
Very much still pinching myself that I still don't have a driver's license and yet own a bus. I look forward to sharing it with all of you.