Warmshowers.org 2014 Annual Report (2 January 2015)

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Warmshowers.org 2014 Annual Report (2 January 2015)

Note: This is the annual report to be presented at our annual meeting on January 11, 2015. Your feedback is welcome the comments below, via private message, on the Facebook group, or via the contact form.

Introduction

The incredible Warmshowers community continued to grow at an amazing rate in 2015. I think all of us are humbled and amazed to think that tens of thousands of hosts speaking many languages all over the world are willing to take strangers into their home, to send them on their way as new friends. This coming year is another great opportunity to improve the organization and ensure that it can can continue to grow and prosper in serving cyclists and making friends all over the world. Thanks to all of you for making such an amazing thing happen!

Executive Summary

  • Warmshowers.org continued to grow at a phenomenal pace this year, with a 57% year-over-year increase in membership.
  • The organization seems quite healthy - various metrics show that we have mostly happy hosts, good guests and few complaints.
  • More than 30 volunteers continued to manage and improve the community. Our organizational capabilities improved this year.
  • Software feature improvements were modest at best.
  • Financial expenses and contributions were in balance for our all-volunteer stance.
  • We acquired US 501(c)(3) (non-profit) status, which opens up a world of possibilities for fundraising, including grants and organizational support.
  • We rely too much on the creator of the site, Randy Fay, for the management, maintenance, and leadership of our organization. This puts us at risk, and we need to grow our organization to deal with it.
  • 2015 brings significant challenges and opportunities including becoming financially sustainable, managing volunteers better, communicating better with members, and improving the Warmshowers site and apps.

2014 Challenges, Improvements, Problems, Membership Management

Organizational Improvements in 2014

  • 501(c)(3) Granted: This year we finally received US 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for the Warmshowers.org foundation. This means that US members can claim contributions as deductions on the tax return and that the org does not have to pay taxes. More importantly, it gives us credibility as a bona-fide nonprofit for grants, foundation support, and for free services from a number of companies that offer perks to nonprofit organizations. We have already taken advantage of a number of these. We also have now received two foundations donations via members, totaling $600; this could not have happened without us being 501(c)(3).
  • Helpdesk: We switched from email-based member communication to using a very nice help desk system (Freshdesk). This allows us to share responsibilities on tickets, track which contacts have been responded to, and follow up when needed. It’s a huge step forward in member administration, and will also make training new admins easier, because they can both view previous tickets and also punt tickets to a more senior admin when they don’t know what to do.

Translation Report

Please read the 2014 Translation Report for status from Cyril on our 14 translations.

Statistical Perspectives for 2014

Membership, Hospitality, Feedback

There are lots of details on the statistics page.

  • Year end membership: 55,743 members.
  • We had more than 21,000 new members in 2014, about 40% of our current membership in one year, and a 57% year-over-year increase in members.
  • Membership in Europe surpassed North America for the first time this year - European membership is nearly 1000 more than North American, with 23,517 members. This has important consequences for site and language management, as we must continue to move from English-centric and US-centric to a truly world organization. View members by continent
  • About 36,000 of our members have joined in the past two years (2013/2014), meaning that 65% of our membership has been involved for less than 2 years.
  • There were almost 17,000 documented stays (as indicated by feedback for hosts). The number is significantly higher than this, but this is the best number we can currently get.
  • Feedback left for all members runs more than 99% positive.
  • Responsiveness for 2014 was 71.4%, meaning that 71.4% of the time when a member contacted another member (usually for hospitality) they got a response.
  • 42,000 of our members still report English as their primary language. This may just be a result of them discovering the main site and registering on it.

Helpdesk

In September we started using a helpdesk system for support (Freshdesk). This means that we have far better ability to see what we've done as far as supporting members. In the coming year we hope to categorize tickets better so we'll have better information about the kind of support we do. In that time we answered more than 800 requests, ranging from requests for a resend of the validation email to problem reports to general support. In the past it was quite difficult to tell who was working what request from what user as we had only a shared email account. We are super happy with the new setup.

Development

Although we are fundamentally a community, the technology of the website and the mobile apps are the glue that lets us be a community, and the development there has always been a key to our growth.

Glossary: A "commit" is a single change to the code, which can be one or many lines of code. An "issue" is a single ticket/problem report/feature request.

Notes:

  • The internet is rapidly becoming mobile-centric, with many people using only mobile devices, so Warmshowers must respond to this trend with more-capable mobile apps and with a responsive (easy to view website) mobile site.
  • If you calculate the economic value of the commits on our active projects, you'll find it runs to many, many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are going to have to rethink our investment in tech and move from all volunteer to partly staff or contract, or we'll never be able to keep up.

Site Feature and Technology Improvements

  • Significant improvement to Android App, including fixing major bugs and improving the map and allowing offline map display.
  • 52 issues were closed but they were mostly small, low-hanging fruit.

Finances and Contributions

  • Donations: We received 369 gracious donations last year for a total of $9,217.06, leaving us with about $8000 in the bank account at the end of the year. A full financial report will be issued separately.
  • Expenses: Our total expenses for the year were about $4,200, but due to insurance billing error, we still have to pay our $1300 liability insurance for 2015, which should have gone into last year's expenses, so our "real" expenses for 2014 were about $5500.

A full Income Statement and Balance Sheet will be forthcoming with the Annual Meeting, along with some analysis of our finances.

We expect 2015 expenses to be more than $60,000, a tenfold increase, due to adding contract staff.

Please see the 2014 Treasurer's report, posted in the Leadership Group Forum for complete details on finances.

Membership Incidents in 2014

There were only 5 incidents worthy of creating a ticket in 2014. (These are available only to "agents" at helpdesk. If anyone on the leadership team needs access, it is easy to grant.)

  • One accusation of unwanted sexual advances. The conflict team investigated thoroughly, both members remain as members, but the accused member was warned to avoid such perceptions.
  • One accusation that the member was "upselling". Accused member was blocked.
  • Two accusations of theft against a host. One was not a clear case of theft and was resolved by negative feedback by the guest. The other, which also involved seriously abusive conversations, resulted in removing the host from membership.
  • One was a simple case of negative feedback resulting in tit-for-tat feedback, which we generally don’t allow. The member was admonished and the feedback was unpublished.

Several of these required an extensive, long-term effort by a member of our conflict team. We’ve found in the past that it’s critical to listen to both sides. However, it’s a whole lot of work to do that. Kudos to the conflict team.

There are always rumors of members who take too much, but few actual reports. After a significant study on this a simple survey was done. It appears from this that we actually have far fewer problems with this than some people might expect. They will always be a concern, but the rumors are apparently bigger than the reality.

It is completely astonishing that we continue to have such a small number of problem reports, but we still need to be ready to handle these in a professional way. They absolutely will increase with our membership increase.

Sustainability in 2014

The good news: We have nearly 40 volunteers making this organization go. Very active volunteers like Mark Martin (admin) and the translation team led by Cyril Wendl are the huge bright spots. The org couldn't even function without them.

The bad news: Our sustainability issues basically remain the same as in the 2013 report: Although our volunteer base continues to grow and do really well, the organization remains significantly dependent on the many hours a week of a couple of volunteers. While this is amazing and beautiful that we can have such a significant operation with very little financial investment, it also makes the organization fragile and bodes poorly for our long-term health.

Randy Fay's perception remains that the major part of the initiative required to keep the site and community managed and improved upon rests with him. For the community/organization to thrive in the long term this problem needs to be resolved. It will take more than one year, and this needs to be a key focus in the years to come.

Sustainability must be the key theme of 2015.

2015 Goals and Initiatives

Unfortunately we did not address any of the stated goals in the 2014 annual report, mostly due to limited resources.

Modest-sized Goals for 2015

  • Prioritize and plan issue queue: Our technical issue queue currently has 78 items in it. Some of these have been ignored for a few years. Others are really significant to our membership, but are unlikely to be addressed without increasing resources for development. At the very least we need to prioritize these better based on their value to the community and come up with a longer-term plan to execute their implementation.
  • Volunteer Management: Randy considers volunteer management to be one of the key issues for 2015. Unfortunately we have not maintained adequate contact with volunteers to motivate them and help them with their tasks. We need a volunteer coordinator and probably software or tool to help with contacts. Randy has done some research on this and has not found an adequate tool for our org yet. We do have a spreadsheet of the current 40 or so volunteers. There are a number of online services that are supposed to help with this, but review of them has not yet resulted in anything that seems appropriate.
  • Member Communication: There are so many things about which we could communicate better with members on. We have wanted to minimize email, but we must do better. Explain the importance of feedback (both negative and positive). Explain the organization’s operations and governance. Explain how to deal with problems. Make sure the basic operations are more visible.
  • Fundraising: We have grown to the size where we’re going to have to solicit member support of organizational activities at a (much) higher level. This is going to require specific focus on fundraising, although the hope is that it will not be too intrusive to members and that we can raise an adequate level of funding with modest effort. But it will require effort. We are currently crafting a plan to become financially self-sufficient and sustainable.
  • Increased Board Activism and Involvement: For the organization to become sustainable, it has to have a fully functioning board. We’ll have to figure out what that means! To that end, several of us are going to take a free online class on nonprofit org governance and share our experience as we go.
  • Increase Board Diversity: Currently our Board of Directors is all-male and only one member is outside North America. We will be seeking opportunities diversify the board geographically and otherwise.

Larger Initiatives and Possible Initiatives for 2015

  • Suggested Annual Donation: A formal proposal to move to a suggested annual donation was made to the board/leadership, and a spirited discussion ensued both there, in email, and on our Facebook group. This may be a critical component of the ongoing sustainability discussion. (Approved by the board 13 December 2014 by email vote.)
  • Expansion of Vision and Scope: It’s possible that with dedicated resources we can expand our vision and scope in serving cycletourists in coming years. Suggested initiatives include crowdsourced route and region information, communication between cycletourists, etc. With dedicated resources we could increase our expectations in regard to site and app maintenance.
  • Drupal 7/8 and PHP5 Upgrades: Drupal 6, the technology upon which Warmshowers.org is built, will become obsolete/unmaintained this year. PHP5.3, which is the PHP version used by the site, is already obsolete or "End of Life", meaning it will not get updates. The discussion of the path forward, which requires a very significant investment of time/money is on the github issue queue.
  • Consider Allowing Commercial Members: issue for discussion
  • Train at least one more member admin: When Randy was on his bike trip this summer, the entire load fell on Mark. This kind of load needs to be avoided.

Warmshowers Resources

Responding to this report

If you are able to come to the Warmshowers.org Foundation Annual Meeting we invite you (it's on skype). However if you can't or don't want to, feel free to comment here with your reactions, concerns, criticisms, proposals, and initiatives.

WS Member WS Member's picture
Two points

That's an excellent annual report, Randy! It really shows what we've done as an organization, what we need to do, and what we hope to do. Thanks!

Two points:

1) Prioritize issue queue: Our technical issue . . . we need to prioritize these better. At . . .? At what?

2) Every year we have to deal with the deaths of members. We usually hear about these deaths from other members. It's not an easy thing to deal with but necessary.

Do we want to include something about these deaths? Anything from a simple mention of the facts (three deaths) to something more informative?

Mark, looking forward to our next steps in 2015!

WS Member wsadmin's picture
Thanks Mark - I improved the

Thanks Mark - I improved the section about the issue queue. I'm personally not in favor of us needing to announce members' life events to the community, as I think it would be too overwhelming with this many people involved. I so dearly hate the auto-related deaths of our members. The other ones are normal, a part of life, and I consider that if we were going to announce them, we'd need to announce other great life events like births to members and great member bike tours, but people do a good enough job of that themselves.

I'm definitely open to change on this though.

Unregistered anon_user's picture
report

nice job you all...i'm usually not an active member of anything but now am admin on facebook . I look forward to the issue of the massive new members list coming to terms with the volunteers..i hope it doesnt overwhelm. Maybe a more obvious donation button..i know my first was this year when i finally looked and found it ! And the android apk rocks !

WS Member WS Member's picture
found a mistake

"Approved by the board 13 December 2015 by email vote"
I guess this should be 2014

Peter

WS Member wsadmin's picture
Thanks, fixed.

Thanks, fixed.

WS Member WS Member's picture
The greatest risk

Thanks Randy, so much to do. As a volunteer I am pleased to do what I can. It remains completely obvious that this work is a full time job for you, and as such you are our greatest resource, but also our greatest risk. Any organization that stands so heavily on one individual extensively risks losing all the work of previous years, should that one person be unable to keep showing up. And regardless of your positive motivation, should anything happen to you it seems clear that WarmShowers would struggle to stay functional. We simply must solve this issue, and for me it remains the biggest challenge Warm Showers faces.

WS Member Piotras's picture
Passive membership

Hello!
No doubts, the annual report is an interesting and stimulating reading. Thus, having a thought to share, may I use its margin to write a small notice on?
It is about our members readiness to answer messages. You don’t need to dig deeply in members activity records to find out that there is a great number of them who simply don’t bother to read, and also don’t care to answer the incoming messages. Such attitude is directly offensive, and in clear conflict with our community ´s feeling of togetherness and mutual support. There are even such ones who just register and never again log in to check their account.
I think such behavior should not be accepted. We don’t need “members” who are only a number in statistics not being ready for a sincere involvement in community’s activity. And this is why I would like to suggest a method to prevent such situations: all those members who haven’t logged in during a period of one year , calculating from the date of their last activity, should be removed from the members register . The WS´s operative program should be completed with a suitable part to enable an automatic, current control of the members activity frequency and consequently closing the passive accounts. This principle should be clearly stated in WS`s regulations, those that everyone accepts when joining WS so as it would not be a surprise for anyone when one´s account had been removed from the community. Naturally, there should not be any problem for such former member to join WS again.
Piotr Wisniewski
Sweden

WS Member WS Member's picture
Yes indeed!

We couldn't agree more. In fact, we send "pester" emails to members when they have not signed in for six months. These "pester" emails ask them to do one thing - sign in to show they want to be active members.

Then, beginning in October, we send "pester" emails once a month for three months to members who haven't signed in for nearly a year.

Then, in January, we delete members who haven't signed in for one year.

Every year we delete about 10% of the membership as "inactive."

In the coming year we hope to get a better handle on this problem.

Thanks for being an active and interested Warmshowers member, Piotr!

Mark
Warmshowers volunteer admin

WS Member wsadmin's picture
A couple of things to add to

A couple of things to add to what Mark said:

  • Responsiveness is one of our all-time most important concerns, That's why every member profile has a responsiveness ranking on it. (Thanks! Yours is 100%!)
  • The first rule in "responsibilities of a host" is to reply to messages promptly. It's stated pretty clearly, https://www.warmshowers.org/faq#t27n3852
  • Warmshowers members responded at a rate over 70% in 2014, which is awesome. You have had some non-replies, but the responsiveness rate of this community is at least double that of most hospitality exchange communities. Yay to this community!
WS Member WS Member's picture
Skewed statistics

I have hosted a few really wonderful guests who's bio showed a horrible response rate. For various reasons, they did not respond to messages directly; they either started a new message/thread instead of replying to sent message, or used text or called. These were active users who just did not have an understanding of how the site worked.

On the other hand, as a guest, I have contacted several hosts with low responses who never responded to me, even after I would send a second message days after the first.

WS Member WS Member's picture
As an active Couchsurfing

As an active Couchsurfing member, I never even thought about the response rate on here. Compared to CS, Warm Showers is like having a direct link to potential hosts' brains. Response rates and times here are amazing, but I am glad that there is a process for removing inactive members.

WS Member WS Member's picture
Focus on the basics

There is only one thing in this report that raises my eyebrows: "Expansion of Vision and Scope"

This is the very same report that is discussing the dire situation of volunteer management and over-reliance on one person, with recommendations to hire contract staff to address these issues. I also see mention of major software shortcomings that must be addressed. I am not a software engineer, but the "Drupal 7/8 and PHP5 Upgrades" sound to me like the point that should be on the very top of that list of goals. Perhaps we should not be thinking of expanding the scope of the service when there is so much uncertainty about the ability of the volunteers to adequately manage the current scope under existing growth conditions.

I would also suggest caution at expanding the scope in such a way that perhaps would more logically fall under the scope of other websites out there to avoid redundancy and spreading of crowd resources too thin. It seems to me that the suggested crowdsourced route and region information is something that might fit better on https://www.crazyguyonabike.com

Warm Showers functions fantastically with its simple focus of connecting cycle tourists to hosts around the world. I think the simplicity of the focus has a lot to do with the quality of the site. It could be a mistake to dedicate a lot of resources to what could turn out to be an under-utilized feature.

If something related to routing is planned, perhaps it could be simpler to put in a functionality that allows hosts to show on a map what are the best routes into their cities and/or to their homes.

WS Member WS Member's picture
I agree, Lewis. Keep it

I agree, Lewis. Keep it simple, making constant improvement on what is there already. Limit new things. It's paradoxical or rather contradictory that many are claiming that we don't (or won't) have enough money but at the same time want to do expensive "experimental" or additional (maybe superfluous?) stuff, like those route and region information stuff. I always tell my language students, "Learn to be fluent -as with juggling- with a limited set of objects before you start adding extra vocabulary, grammar, etc."

WS Member WS Member's picture
+1I think, considering the

+1

I think, considering the resources available, we should focus on doing one thing well, and that one thing should be facilitating hospitality exhange. A lot of cool ideas come up on the forum and tend to get thrown on the github list but to me they are outside the scope of hospitality exchange and are often already implemented to some degree on other sites.

So, yes, that means focusing on things like software upgrades and improving search functionality (my last guest described how she found me by methodically clicking through dozens of map pins, each time opening and checking the host's profile - surely its time given the membership growth of recent years to come up with something better than this).

WS Member WS Member's picture
Annual report 2014

As a quite new member, it's interesting to know about the development and the quick growth of Warmshowers in the last two years. Reading the Annual Report of 2014, I recognize the open-mindedness and the positive spirit that is typical for Warmshowers. Very inspiring and good to know that a lot is planned to make the Warmshowers community work even better.

Thaks for your commitment.

Chao Alex