My personal journey of discovering Intentional Communities and attempting to form one, the chance circumstances that connected me to the FIC, the path to reinvigorating the organization, and the exciting future of the legendary Communities Directory. – Christopher Kindig, FIC Business Manager.
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Communities are Real!
When I first realized how many communities there were, I felt tiny lightning bolts buzzing all through me.
…I had been daydreaming about this for what seemed like my entire life. Like Swiss Family Robinson, but with all my friends. ”Like an ewok village with wifi!” is how I would describe it given my limited awareness. The vision was for a better place to create a rewarding life, to raise a healthy family, and to thrive with my tribe.
It seemed like human’s birthright to live and play together, and an opportunity to give birth to new culture.
My friends and I were planning an epic road trip in a veggie powered school bus, and I was scouting places to explore along the way. This lead me to a wonder, are there any communities that exist out there like this? I had read a few little tidbits, like about Twin Oaks in the context of the book Walden Two, and the Farm in the context of hippies traveling across the country in a bus together.
Little did I know, they were both still going strong, and moreso, that there were thousands of functioning and forming communities out there! Just like in my heart’s dream, there were groups striving intentionally to build their own little versions of society, where connection, well-being, and resiliency were at the center.
Having studied evolutionary psychology, being passionate about social revolution and personal rebellion, and having experienced loving groups of family and friends in my life, I had come to see our separation from our tribe, and from a sustainable way of life, as the underlying cause to so many of our issues and ills in this world.
I could see how building communities could be a key to unlocking the potential for social evolution in this world.
And here was a map on ic.org that revealed all of these enchanted places! I was elated! I had to tell my friends all about it. It gave us verification that this dream was possible. …It was amazing to me, but I couldn’t dive into it deeply because there were so many preparations to make first. We had a road trip calling!
This amazing journey ended up leading to an internship with a biofuel company, and the building of a green technology company, which became the center of my focus and attention. A few years later, after journeys had me visiting East Wind, experiencing Rainbow gatherings, and continuing the community conversation along the way, I wandered into a radical bookstore in NYC. A friend and I were visiting Ganas, an urban intentional community in the big Apple, to see how they were uniquely socially and economically organized.
I perused the selection at ‘Anything Goes’, the eclectic and inspiring bookstore of their community. And there it was again — that same electric feeling. It was the first time I held the Communities Directory book in my hands.
Flipping through the book rapidly, my pupils immediately went wide as I was struck by the scope of it all. My eyes poured over the maps, stunned at there being so many dots near places I have lived and wanted to visit. My fingertips traced down the pages of the charts, which compared each magical place’s characteristics, as if I was decoding a mystery. I was entranced. It was like seeing the source code of a dream.
I had no idea, of course, that someday I would be working with the organization that makes this Directory.
Reality can be funny like that…
Community Dreams Deferred
Maybe it’s just not the right group… I swallowed hard at this gut-wrenching realization. I was burned out. My heart literally hurt. I had started to feel pangs of pain and tightness. This stress was becoming too much.
I had been working towards starting an intentional community with a group of friends. Our gatherings were loving, enthusiasm was flowing, and our visions were high. But when I tried to organize work meetings, I soon realized that I was one of the only ones doing the research, working the plan, completing the homework. People would pop into the meeting room, share a blast of excitement, and then return to the drum circle…
Maybe I am trying to do too much, I wondered, because I felt like I was pushing a boulder up hill every day. On top of this community undertaking, I was still struggling to reinvent and get a green technology company off the ground, and I was having a hard time making ends meet. Something had to give, or I was going to break down.
After a revealing healing treatment from a friend, and a string of synchronicities and connections that conspired to point a big arrow to the spot, I traveled to the big island of Hawaii for a 4 month adventure to recharge my batteries. I visited communities, volunteered on organic farms, camped out on cliff sides, and met new friends and lovers. I even helped out with disaster relief after a tsunami traveled from Japan — a tsunami which nearly swallowed me up on the beach where I was camping. Through some cosmic grace or good luck, I was spared.
It was just what I needed. I absorbed the sun and the breeze, ate papayas and avocado off the tree every day, read, and reflected on my life, my business, and the dream of a community. It was just what I needed to heal.
When I returned to Maryland, I set about getting back on my feet. I had to let go of my business, which was one of the most painful choices I ever made. I prayed to the universe to “use me” — to allow me to apply my passions and skills to solving worthwhile problems with a group of good people. In the meantime, I took on odd jobs, delivered packages, and reluctantly but gratefully accepted a corporate job doing medial billing.
On the positive side, I fell in love with a wonderful woman! It gave me a much needed boost of confidence, energy, and direction. We moved into a room in a shared house of artists in Baltimore, and starting building a romantic life together. The corporate job rather quickly started wearing on me, and once I was chastised for trying to make my team’s work more efficient and productive, I knew that I had to get out.
My supportive partner encouraged me to preserve my dignity and to follow my heart, to trust that we would figure it out, and to leave that place for good. I took a leap of faith, without any plans for what was next, but knowing that I had to walk away from a world of impersonal cubicles, menial tasks, and creative suppression.
Little did I know that everything would soon change, in a way I could have never imagined or expected.
I received an email inviting me to attend the Twin Oaks Communities Conference…
Beamed to the Mothership
I had always wanted to visit Twin Oaks, and to absorb wisdom from speakers and workshops teaching a range of topics, including conflict resolution, social permaculture, cooperative legal structures, and so on.
During one of the exercises, “open space technology” was deployed. This invited attendees of the Conference to offer topics to explore in organically formed small breakout groups. I went on stage and offered a topic of great interest and curiosity, “How could the web, or a website like ic.org, benefit the communities movement?”
To my delight, a small handful of people wanted to gather with me to discuss this same idea. We huddled together in the forest while a rainstorm pelted the tarp above us. I was taking notes; for who, I did not know. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. “I am the Website Manager for FIC. I think we need your help.”
We exchanged information, and a month later, she encouraged me to apply to the Advertising Manager role. The Foundation for Intentional Community interviewed me over the phone, and it felt like a good match. They decided to bend their policy on preferring to hire people who were living in an intentional community, since I had a background in shared living experiences and studies, and they hired me! I was on the team at FIC!
Keeping the Directory Free
I eagerly got right to work. After overhauling and significantly boosting the Ad program, I noticed many other areas that could also be improved. I lobbied the Board to allow me to take on this work, and they invited me to an organizational meeting in Prescott, Arizona. It was an impressive bunch. I was taken in by the depth and quality of the people there, and by the methodology and scope of their conversations. It wasn’t all roses — we admittedly had some tense and difficult conversations. Here I was, young and brand new, yet advocating for a complete overhaul of the website, improvements to goods offered, adjustments to the budget and priorities, and a firm rejection of the decided-upon plan to begin charging communities for listing in the online Directory.
See, the printed Communities Directory book had historically been the bread and butter of the organization. However as the internet increasingly became the world’s source for information, the FIC was faced with a difficult decision. Put the Directory information online, and potentially lose out on vital sales of the book to fund the organization? You can read more about this tough decision to move the Directory online in this blog post.
We should all be grateful that they made the decision they did. But the long term effect wasn’t easy on the organization’s finances. Here I was, 12 years later, seeking to take the next steps. After studying the website analytics it was clear: the online Directory was by far the number one thing drawing people to the FIC website. If we began charging communities to list, it could put an obstacle in between our traffic magnet and the people.
I argued instead that we had to make it even easier for communities to list, to display more about what made them unique, and to make it easier for seekers to find them. After a significant struggle, to my surprise, the Board decided to at least delay the plan to charge for listings. They would give me the chance to attempt to boost online ad revenue instead. Fortuitously, in the coming months I was able to acquire enough advertisers to replace the entire hole in the budget that was needed. There was hope for a new way to grow!
At this meeting I was also green-lit to begin the long road towards refactoring ic.org into a new website platform that could allow for more operational control and content collaboration from staff. I also began boosting social media, developed a newsletter calendar, re-organized the budget into business segments, investigated how to digitize Communities magazine and Bookstore titles, and began to distribute them into new marketplaces.
Over the following years our results improved, and our traffic continued to grow. At the same time, people kept finding the printed book version of the Directory valuable, and kept buying it, or asking about a new version.
But certainly it wouldn’t be possible to print so many books and to take that risk again. Unless…
Resurrecting the Book
Possibilities in the publishing world had changed drastically in recent years. Turns out that we could afford to print on-demand — only as needed and drop-shipped — for about the same price per copy as when we had to order 1,000 at a time! This gave a totally new economic outlook for producing a brand new edition of the book.
We decided to go for it! We put together a Crowdfunding campaign to gauge interest and to raise the funds to put together a brand new book full of more information than ever before. It was a success, and advertisers also wanted to take part in being included. We assembled an essential collection of articles and links to resources to help people learn about, visit, join, build, and evolve intentional communities. The maps and charts were overhauled and updated. We envisioned capturing the legendary journey of intentional communities and of the Directory, and commissioned a beautiful hand-drawn illustration from Jay Dervos. We refined the listing questionnaire to capture more information and more clarity. And over the course of many months we called on our network of communities to update their listing information so that it was all accurate and fresh.
It was finally complete! The 7th Edition of the Communities Directory was more packed with information and included more intentional communities than any edition before it. This totaled over 1,200 communities from North America and over 250 from around the world. Check it out in print or digital format on ic.org!
Advancing the Online Directory
Since we overhauled the site, updated the form, and called on communities to update their data, we haven’t rested in our focus to improve the online Directory. This includes adding new filters to sort listings, updating how information is displayed, and making it so that communities with FIC Memberships receive special recognition in their listings and in the search results. Over this last summer our Website Manager improved some of the backend systems to make the look cleaner and to enhance the speed of the site by 5-10x!
…And we have only just begun!
In collaboration with the staff, we have recently designed a mockup for a brand new simplified Directory home page, which we will be implementing shortly! The advanced search is also tuned up to be more accurate.
Still in the works is that we are entering into an exciting partnership with the Global Ecovillage Network to explore sharing our mostly listings, which are mostly from North America, with their mostly internationally sourced listings. Together we are revamping the listing questionnaire to include even more questions from each of the dimensions of sustainability: social, cultural, economic, and ecological. This way communities and ecovillages can get a better read on where they stand and how they can improve. We plan to make a multi-step form, so that you can save your basic information early, and fill out each section as you can get to them.
Future exploration into enhancing the Communities Directory includes developing a quiz to help seekers to determine where they are on their Community Journey, which types of communities might be a good fit, and which educational resources and services could best help them to get there. Furthermore, we hope to expand this into a system that helps to match seekers and communities on qualities that matter most to them.
We might even be able to help communities offer opportunities directly through the online Directory, and to provide additional consultation and educational services to help both parties along their Community Journey.
So stay tuned! The Communities Directory is legendary for good reason, and it has only just begun!
I am finishing this article just over 5 years after first becoming involved with the FIC. Coincidentally, just like the first meeting I attended, we had our meeting in Arizona this time as well. Arcosanti greeted us at their living laboratory for new urban and community design. A significant topic of conversation was moving the Directory forward to make it an even more useful tool for seekers and communities alike.
In my personal community journey, my family and a new group of friends are looking into how to start or to join a cohousing ecovillage, somewhere in Maryland or close by. It will take years to plan and for everyone to be ready to make the shift, but we are visiting nearby options, putting together plans and business models, and dreaming into something we each long for. Food forests and creating new culture — here we come!