How to run a non-commercial gift exchange in the community?


(Joel Zaslofsky) #1

As usual, @richard_millington was ahead of the curve with his 2012 blog post about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and he’s recently reinforced it’s value as The Most Important Idea In Community Development.

I see ABCD as simply elevating an individual’s or community-wide gifts and struggles to the conscious level and helping community members generously share their gifts with people who would love to have them. I’ve been a fervent practitioner of ABCD for about three years and I’d like to integrate it even better into the Puttytribe – with your help, of course.

I’ve run ABCD activities like a non-commercial gift exchange (example: Offers and Needs Market) in-person many times and they work great. But they seem wicked hard to replicate online or to have set up indefinitely.

I have some questions about how you see a non-commercial gift exchange working in a paid community or just in general in the online space. Even if you don’t have direct experience with this kind of thing, maybe you know someone who does or have seen a community who does this well.

  1. Have you seen any online communities set up and maintain ABCD initiatives like a non-commercial gift exchange?
  2. Do you know of platforms that might integrate with WordPress or Discourse and facilitate non-financial transactions in a community?
  3. How could we make adding, searching, and matching gifts or needs more fun that browsing a Google spreadsheet?

I’m grateful for any general thoughts or questions you feel like I should be asking about this. I’ve also copied and pasted some info about what I’m trying to get going from the Puttytribe Community Challenge Wiki (where any member can propose a collaborative challenge for the community to work on together).

Puttytribe Non-Commercial Gift Exchange Community Challenge Details

Overview: As a community built on generosity and collaboration, it's silly that we don't have an organized way to share our gifts in a non-commercial way. Let's design a process where we can freely offer up our gifts, elevate the most interesting or appealing ones, and exchange what we have to give across the community.

Relevant Quote: "The Economy of Human Connection is about putting the needs of people before the importance of the profit we can make from them. Instead of 'How much money can I make from this, or how much money am I going to save from this?' think, 'Who can I help by doing this or how is this going to bring me closer to my community?'" – Sash Milne

General Guidelines:

  • Emphasize the knowledge of who has access to what, who is doing/can do what, and who knows who (a.k.a. tapping into social capital).
  • Direct financial transactions between someone offering a gift and another person receiving it aren't allowed.
  • Bartering can be a part of the overall process, but the design doesn't explicitly try to facilitate it.

Existing Resources:


  • The ongoing maintenance and administration of the gift exchange needs to be owned by someone, preferably multiple "someones," so it doesn't break down just as soon as it starts.
  • Third party tools to run the gift exchange are OK as long as they don't share private data about Puttytribe members, allow us to easily transfer to another platform (e.g., via an export process), and preferably integrate with WordPress.
  • If we don't design the gift exchange to get participants "quick wins" in both giving or getting, a puttypeep will probably never give it a second chance. So the first time experience needs to be positive, actionable, and worth repeating.

Key Outstanding Questions:

  • Can a minimum viable gift exchange just be a well-designed Google spreadsheet that people can access from anywhere and update at anytime?
  • What percentage of active members will actually use a gift exchange? Conceptually, most people like the idea. Practically speaking, it's much harder to persuade someone to use a gift exchange.

(Richard Millington) #2

Hey @JoelZaslofsky,

I’m going to be that annoying guy that picks apart the question a little.

My instinct is that there is a lot of text here and technical wording that probably might be hiding the answers you want. You might want to edit this to just use the paragraph below:

…with links to other questions.

I’d also think about the terminology.

Is there any difference between ‘non-commercial gift exchange’ and 'members using their skills and resources to help each other?"

Totally happy to leave it how it is, but just wondering if you want to take a shot at maybe clarifying a few of the more technical terms (non-commercial gift exchange) etc…to something that might resonate with most of us here.

(Deb Wisniewski) #3

Hi Joel -

My name is Deb Wisniewski and I’m a faculty member with the ABCD Institute and one of the stewards for ABCD in Action, the online community for ABCD. Thanks to Rich for giving me a heads up on this conversation. I have a few quick thoughts about this… First, have you looked into what people are doing with TimeBanks? These are formalized ways of exchanging gifts in a community. Edgar Can is one of the people who who really built up the concepts around this…

My second thought is that you might want to join ABCD in Action and post this question there.

Finally, there is an ABCD faculty member named Bruce Anderson who has started an organization - The Core Gift Institute - that is specifically looking at gifts of people… not sure what he’s doing with this specifically, but I know Bruce and anything he’s involved with is sure to be interesting!

I’ve got to run… but looking forward to hearing more about what you’re doing.


(Joel Zaslofsky) #4

What you call annoying is what I call a welcome challenge.

There is a difference. The way I approach non-commercial gift exchanges discourages “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” expectations or “banking” the number of times you’ve helped others so you can redeem your good will at a later point. In other words, nobody keeps score and reciprocity isn’t expected.

A non-commercial gift exchange is a way to bootstrap communities by focusing on what passions, skills, resources, and connections the group already has. It highlights what people can already do and provides a positive way to short-circuit the “But … we don’t have any resources!” narrative. The emphasis is on creating and sustaining a mindset of what you can do to help – and get helped – right now.


  • A new business owner is offering free social media strategy coaching sessions and people in the community need to learn how to intentionally use Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter/etc. Match!
  • A person knows how to teach juggling via Skype and you have five kids in your neighborhood who are desperate to learn how to juggle. Match!
  • A spreadsheet enthusiast loves coaching people about simple ways to use Microsoft Excel and another person needs to learn how to use Excel for work. Match!

Hi Deb! Thanks for pointing out time banks. Yes, I’m familiar with the concept and implementation, but I’m looking for something less structured and without an infrastructure of credits or debits.

I didn’t even know you existed until today, so I just signed up for ABCD in Action and I’m waiting for approval. I love it when someone points me to my people. :slight_smile:

I’m having a look at his site right now. I’m grateful for that suggestion, too.

(Richard Millington) #5

This is the kind of things community exist for :slight_smile: Thanks for joining us @hippiecups