Four questions about Oxygen's social experiment in donation-based Tango

In November, we changed our approach to pricing at Oxygen Tango. Instead of asking people to “pay” for our “services,” we now offer our full weekly Tango community schedule to all. We request a donation - a gift of any size - from participants and supporters.

Here are four challenges we are tackling as we collectively give birth to this new model:

  • How can we get everyone on the same page?
  • How can we find the right backend technology to support a donation-based school?
  • What if people don’t donate?
  • What if events become too full?

How can we get everyone on the same page?

Situation:
Anything new requires more communication. It is hard for people to believe that we are really donation-centric, since “fee-for-services” is more common in the “dance” world. It takes a lot of dialogue for people to start to see their new role in the community not as passive “consumer” - but rather involved co-creator.

Possible Solution:
If you understand and are passionate about this model, take the time to help others understand the benefits and the values behind those benefits. Our newcomers need your help to make friends with this idea. So do dancers who are returning after a long time away from the school. Compare it to healthy, familiar models like donation-based Yoga or dana-based Buddhism.

How can we find the right backend technology to support a donation-based school?

Situation:
All the dance/fitness/yoga type customer databases are optimized to do one thing: carve time up into tiny pieces, and then exchange those little pieces for money, and track that. It is very hard to kindle community with that kind of focus.

Possible Solution:
We are exploring a variety of options for technology that is simple, affordable, unified, expresses our values and enables our members to connect with the school and each other. Our current software frankenstein is a dead end. We are looking for a better way forward and would be excited to discuss possible solutions with our tech-savvy community members!

What if people don’t donate?

Situation:
Currently, we have recurring donations from $5/month to $120/month and I sincerely celebrate every single one as a true gift that powers connectedness. Everyone donates something. 

Possible Solution: 
As long as participants observe our Community Agreements, they are genuinely welcome at O2. And as long as the community makes available ample financial resources to express Oxygen’s mission in the world, we’ll continue to do that. If we can’t, we’ll share challenges we’re facing, and trust in the generosity, largeheartedness, and respectfulness that powers O2.

What if events become too full?

Situation:
Our practicas have become quite full lately. But I am also aware that Tango has its cycles and there is an ebb and flow as dancers cycle between novelty and nostalgia. So I’m not sure yet if our visitor numbers right now is directly tied to our new model.

Possible Solution:
If we notice that group classes and practicas are uncomfortably full, we will:

  • Request people to RSVP before coming
  • Add classes and practicas to the schedule

In summary: the change is in all of us

You are part of this transformation, and your thoughts, words, actions, and gifting are what will make it work. 

Although it’s still too early to tell whether this is a durable solution, I can say that the initial results are pretty exciting. Since the switch, our membership has grown every month; we can pay the the bills; and the community is rich and diverse, respectful and generous.

Got an idea or a question? Share in the comments or email us! 

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Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.