If you want to learn how to talk about Timebanking to various audiences, there’s no better practice than tabling at a festival, especially one geared for kindred causes. In Maine, just before we retreat into winter hibernation, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) sponsors the popular Common Ground Country Fair, drawing huge crowds for a long weekend of organic markets and displays, food vendors, livestock exhibits, demonstrations of lost crafts and agricultural techniques, alternative energy systems, tiny houses, healers, artists, music—and my section, the Social and Political Action Area. It consists of three large tents and a small speaker’s tent. The large tents are filled with tables, banners, flyers, and lots of noise. Visitors to the tent are ready to listen to themes of alternative living and ways to get involved, but there are so many causes to choose from! How does Timebanking stand out? This is my third year of tabling there, and I’ve learned a few things I would like to pass on. I hope you will add your catchy phrases and tabling techniques in the comments below this article, so we can co-produce a great marketing resource together. Festivals like Common Ground are perfect places for planting the seeds of Timebanking, and are well worth the effort of tabling.
Step One: Have good visuals. As people file by your table, have something that catches their eye. For me, it was a sign that said, “Free Organic Money,” and a basket filled with gift certificates for 1 Time Credit with the Timebank. I had buttons, which particularly attracted children (and their parents). I also wore a funny hat—whatever works. Once I had their attention, I had less than 30 seconds to engage them.
Step Two: Use visual aids when you speak. I picked up a dollar bill and said, “We agree that this piece of paper has value, right?” Then I picked up a gift certificate and said, “We, as members, agree that this piece of paper has value. It is worth an hour’s service of your choice, for what you choose to value. Now that’s a free market.”
Step Three: Listen to your audience and respond in their language. To an elderly couple who asked what our currency is based on, railing against the Federal Reserve for losing the gold standard, I said, “Our ‘gold’ is our trust in each other. It is expressed by your neighbor saving your life by calling for help when she notices you didn’t pick up your newspaper this morning. That is real gold that you can take to the bank. We seem to have replaced trust with money, and we are just now realizing that you can’t pay somebody to care.”
To a skeptical young man who asked why people wouldn’t just cheat for credits, I asserted: “In a Timebank, there is no incentive to inflate your abilities, to lie, cheat or steal—you could lose trust, your membership, and any supports you have been receiving. Reputation is everything. You gain trust by being honest and respectful, and explaining your abilities clearly. There is no incentive to impose your views upon others or to place your needs above others. Lying, cheating, manipulating, or stealing gets you nothing in a Timebank. But, you get credit for being a good person.”
In response to, “What about supply and demand?” I said, “Instead of supply and demand, we ask politely and give thanks.”
One older gentleman told me he didn’t need anything, he had always paid his way and taken care of himself. I replied, “Every one of us has been helped by another at a very important time, and we have all taken heart when we could really help someone else. But there are many things that aren’t about money. We have felt pride in being useful to someone else, doing a good job, having someone need us. It is natural to need each other. We are interdependent, not independent. As a species, we must cooperate and connect, not just compete. Most can never have any success or survive without acting within a group, in reciprocity. What is the worth of a doctor’s gifts without patients to receive them? What is beauty if it is not shared? We exist to be useful to one another, to find a receiver for our gifts. Everyone needs to be needed. We all long for a meaningful life, to be remembered, to be valued.”
A young, earthy couple got excited as we talked, and they wistfully offered that there are many good people doing good things but that it is scattered and disorganized. I replied, “Currency organizes behavior, creating a dynamic flow of communication, goods, and services. Money talks, but right now the message is Take It and Damn Thy Neighbor. More for me is less for You. There is no incentive for ethics in our current money system, no reward for good behavior. Producers of goods and services are often anonymous and unaccountable. Corporations hide behind slogans and do not count the actual costs of production, costs like polluted water and air or the health and well-being of their workers. Change the currency, change the behavior. Time Credits become a currency for Good Work, for work that we find valuable beyond lip service. There are things we hold in Common that we need to protect and that we must count and find a way to value. In Timebanks, more for me is more for you.”
And so on: “In a Timebank, the more you give, the more you gain. The value in social capital lies in circulation, not accumulation. It’s who you know, how strong you weave your web.”
Time banks are like barn raising for the computer age. (TBUSA)
“We have what we need if we use what we have.” (Edgar Cahn)
“Many people come into the Timebank wanting to give, to offer their skills to others. We stress that receiving is also a gift. It feels good to give, right? You can give that gift of asking others for help, letting them feel the joy of giving as well, sharing their skills to help you. Everyone wants to be valued, to make their time on Earth count and have meaning.”
To a fellow vendor, “What does the term not-for-profit mean? If we are not for profit, what are we for? We need a currency to value that which we hold dear, our community—we need to redefine that. We need to state what those things are in our own terms and create systems that support them, not destroy them. We can do better. The market economy doesn’t value caring except in commercials, and we know that is fake. But a Timebank economy does, by authentic design, give tangible value to human kindness.”
“Timebanks provide a safe space to explore our needs, to reveal ourselves, to get to know our neighbors, to find out what is missing in our lives, and to think about what we could do as a community together. We are much more than what we do for a paid position. Our capacity is so much more, and so much of what we could be depends on having a practical way to value all the things that aren’t about money. We need a system to manage that kind of wealth.”
A well-to-do couple in their early sixties told me they had moved to Maine recently for their retirement and planned to stay here permanently. They pressed me for ideas on aging in place, and I spoke about programs that have been used to help keep elders in their homes. They said they had resources to stay at home as long as possible, but they were worried that their health may dictate going into a nursing home anyway. The husband said, “It doesn’t matter how much money you have there, they treat everyone the same, and that is what I worry about. I feel vulnerable, and wish that we had more friends that would make sure we were being taken care of. You know, someone to watch over us? We have no family here.” I told him about a member who has been in several facilities and used the Timebank frequently to resolve difficulties there. “We bring her things she needs, help her solve problems like a laptop to keep her connected, or bring her gifts to cheer her up. It has been invaluable for her to have a retired nurse to call and tell her how staff should behave, and to have me come in and advocate for her and be a simple witness, without having any interests in any way like a caseworker. It’s not easy living in an institution; you definitely need people you can trust.”
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Stephanie Rearick of Dane County TimeBank, one I use often: “Why scramble for crumbs when we know how to make pie?”
Those are some of my highlights but I’m sure there will be more next year, and I hope you will share your favorite lines and visual ideas for your Timebank marketing below in the comments!
Stacey Jacobsohn is the Director of Time Initiative of Maine (T.I.ME)