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Legal and financial status
Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 4:59 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 6:01 pm by from Vancouver, Canada (Permalink)
You raise some interesting questions there, Norbert. Thanks for the summary.

Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 6:40 pm from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 8:37 pm by from Sherrill, United States (Permalink)
That would almost be worth posting elsewhere if it wasn't for pickwick's typical personal jabs, quips, and accusatory tone. I can give pickwick credit on his ability to put alot of data together in something that is worth while to read and informative. But where he falters is where he adds his views of things or his thoughts on how things actually occurred. Its like watching Fox news...they can give you some news right as it happens...but they're damn sure gonna tell you how you should feel about what you are seeing.

Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 9:07 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 10:20 pm by from Sherrill, United States (Permalink)
I take issue with your delivery. Here are a few items among many in your post that show that you haven't dropped old grudges and still feel inclined to just name call and slander:

1. Casey Fenton, with four hired straw men as fellow incorporators to make up the legally required number

2. As the management remained unresponsive to urgent questions, a complaint was placed before the Attorney General of New Hampshire on 05 November 2007, with a final warning and advice to the management to try and get their act together now.
---They remained unresponsive to YOUR "urgent questions". When they didn't respond to your emails...you felt inclined to openly threaten to sue the organization in this forum.

3. Some of the documents filed on 14 November 2007 (under penalty of perjury) appear to be materially false or backdated...
---So you're stating they purgured themselves? You state they "appear false"...proof? Kind of a bold accusation.

When you sit there and take swipes at people, your argument gets lost because you end up showing an agenda with your disdain for the individuals mentioned. Its lost in the fact that you spend your time insulting people and claiming your idea of certain events as fact. I compared you to one of the notorious news networks in the US because like them, you use catchy words like "cronies" and "straw men" and attribute a fiendish nature to those in charge to paint their picture and appeal to a certain group (or make yourself feel better). If you're gonna take the time to write all of this about the financial status of a website, at least have the professionalism to leave out your opinion and emotions on the topic so people can take it as they want, not as you want them to take it.

Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 11:22 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 7:38 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 3rd, 2008 - 11:30 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 4th, 2008 - 1:20 pm by from Sainte-Marie, Reunion (Permalink)
Thanks for the data. Great compilation. Let us know if it rings a bell up there.

Posted October 5th, 2008 - 2:51 pm by from London, England (Permalink)
Very informative. What, if anything can we do to try and expedite a full answer?

Posted October 6th, 2008 - 5:30 am from Avignon, France
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Posted October 8th, 2008 - 10:55 am by from Sainte-Marie, Reunion (Permalink)
Any news? I'm growing impatient :)

Posted October 8th, 2008 - 11:33 am from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 8th, 2008 - 11:52 am from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted October 8th, 2008 - 5:45 pm by from London, England (Permalink)
I rather think Matthew ought to be telling us precisely why the charitable status application is taking so much longer than expected. Also, is it factually correct that without 501c3 status an organisation can be legally defined as a charity?

Posted October 9th, 2008 - 7:36 am from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 6:51 am from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 7:08 am from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 8:38 am by from London, England (Permalink)

Hello folks,

I also wonder about the long time it seems to take to register a 501(c)(3) status organization. Surely it's been done before... and four years seems to be awfully long for this process.

Regardless whether CS complies with the publication it is required by law, the LT is doing a bad job in information management towards the members of CS.

The past collectives declared that both issues (501(c)(3) status as well as better information management) would be high on the agendas but so far nothing seems to have been done... I'd love to be proven wrong here but at least the official Alaska Collective website does not seem to be maintained, nor did I find any further information on CS. Anyone got some news in that direction?

Lots of love,
lee.

Posted October 10th, 2008 - 11:08 am from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 3:53 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 6:05 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 10th, 2008 - 8:41 pm by from Vancouver, Canada (Permalink)
I don't agree with everything Pickwick says...

But I think he raises some valid points. We are quite possibly at the beginning of the worst global financial crisis of our lives. And regardless of whether Brainstorm subscribers care about politics or finance - we will all be affected in some way.

Spending will be affected.
Travel will be affected.
Donations will be affected.

As far as I understand, CouchSurfing funds itself solely on verification fees and donations. Fortunately, revenue has increased progressively over these years. 2004 to mid 2008 was a period of steady growth for the world economy, however. So will this model be sustainable in a global recession?

Without adequate communication & transparency, I fear that members will become cynical and donations will eventually dry up.

Just my 2 cents (rapidly losing value).

Roy

Posted October 10th, 2008 - 9:41 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 4:50 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 8:50 am from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 9:07 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 10:27 am from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 10:41 am by from London, England (Permalink)
Fully agree with you Valerie.

Do you donate to any charities, Danny? Does it bother you where the money goes?

Posted October 11th, 2008 - 10:44 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 10:55 am by from London, England (Permalink)
"I have donated, yes and I have no need to worry where the money goes because I have never heard of it being misspent. If it was, I am sure I would have heard of it."


Ummm.... that's very trusting of you.
But Y'see, many of us would like to see minimal standards of transparency in place before we donate. I do not donate to CS at the minute because I don't have that confidence. If i did, i might conceivably donate in the future. So you see, it's in the interest of everybody who cares about CS being financially viable to create an environment where prospective individual or corporate donors can have confidence.


If all other professionally run charities can set up these safeguards and accounting standards, why can't CS? And why are you so militantly hostile to people who ask them to?


Posted October 11th, 2008 - 11:19 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 11:50 am by from London, England (Permalink)
Danny:
"Many of you? Seems like a tiny minority to me. Exactly how many of the hundreds of thousands of CSers registered are making a case for this?"

Well, anecdotally, I have met a fair number of people, including ambassadors, who are unwilling to donate at the present time. But ultimately, does it matter how many people have concerns, if those concerns are legitimate?

"If you don't have that level, I don't how you would survive. Would you never go to a restaurant or shop because you don't trust they won't overcharge you? Never buy anything at all?"

If i went to a restaurant, I'd expect it to conform to basic standards of hygiene and to have regular government inspections to confirm this and preserve consumer confidence. Similarly I expect any good i purchase from a shop to confirm to certain trading standards. These things are laxer in China, meaning we have had several scandals regarding food safety you may have heard of. So I feel the analogy works in my favour.

"Of course, if impropriety has been founded, then that is a whole different ballgame but (and correct me if I am wrong that is not the case here."


Nothing has been founded in the sense of being legally proven, but if you read Pickwick's original post (and assuming his understanding of the law is correct) then questions have been raised which are sufficiently concerning to deserve answers. The things I find most troubling are:


(1.)At the time of filing on 14 November 2007 Casey Fenton was President (chairing the board of directors) and paid employee at the same time, and there is no indication that the situation has changed since. New Hampshire law expressly forbids that. As a result his employment contract may be nil and void, and the organisation may be entitled to reimbursement for all or part of the salaries paid to him.


(2.)Couchsurfing has published skeleton financial statements on its web site since 2004. Despite promises to have them independently audited, they remain unaudited. No budget forecasts are published, despite Casey Fenton’s statement on 15 June 2007: “we hope to have ready before mid July … our budget forecast for 2008”.

The published statements only show income and expenditure, and omit all assets and liabilities accounts. This raises the concern whether the substantial amounts of accumulated funds have in actual fact been held in corporate bank accounts at all times, or whether irregular personal “loans” have been made, which are expressly forbidden by New Hampshire law. These concerns are aggravated by comparatively low figures for interest income being shown, given the total of funds that should have been in bank accounts over time."


*** WHY on earth would any professional organisation soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars neglect the basic step of having accounts audited?***


I don't accept that the LT have answered these questions. Can you point me to any statement by the LT explaining why Fenton is a company employee and director, or why accounts have not been audited yet???


These things don't need to be 'founded'. Rather, I believe Pickwick is stating that they raise legitimate questions which deserve answers. You don't get answers unless you investigate and ask questions. That's what, for example, investigative journalism is all about.

"I refute your allegation that I am militantly hostile, I just firmly request my own answers to those asking the questions. Maybe I militantly hostile to unnecessary negativity, but am I more militantly hostile than those constantly fighting a war with the LT over this?"

On the contrary, the tone of your post in this thread was hostile. You implied that Pickwick had nothing better to do with his time, and expressed contempt and boredom for the whole discussion. This was unnecessary. You could have phrased your post in a much less confrontational way and made the same points.


"I don't agree it is in the interests of everyone. It is only in the interests of those, like you, who will not donate because of this and how many is that?"

I've no idea. But surely it's in the interest of all users that more money comes into the site. I'll bet that no corporate sponsors, for example, will be found as long as standards remain as lax as they appear here.





Posted October 11th, 2008 - 12:09 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 11:59 am from Vestby, Norway
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 12:12 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 12:33 pm by from London, England (Permalink)
Ok Danny, this is my last post before i go out to eat:

1.) I don't have an exact number of people who have expressed their concern to me. It is, as you say, probably quite small, maybe a dozen, but again I would say that if concerns are warranted, the number of people expressing them does not matter.

2.) The point I made was about conforming to independent standards. You brought up the restaurant analogy, after all. If i eat somewhere, I don't take it on face value that the place is clean, I expect there to be independent inspection and certification. Similarly with finances - I don't want any organisation I donate to or do business with to ask us to take on trust that the funds are being well used. This appears to be the exact opposite of your position, where you seem to assume the funds are being well-used, even without any guarantee of the fact, simply on trust. But, without investigating or asking questions, how could it possibly be proven to you that funds are being misused? You seem to want a definitive answer while scorning the process that would lead to obtaining that answer.

3. It is a matter of opinion, and you're entitled to think there is nothing to see here, but I find it unreasonable of you to disrupt a thread full of people who are concerned with ad hominems and personal attacks. You may have been responded to curtly by some but you were the first person to introduce this tone into the discussion on this thread.

4. I asked for a statement on why Fenton is a director and employee, and why audits have not been done. As you recognise yourself, the statement made here does not do that. I don't accept that we will definitely not get any further answer and I don't think it would be in any way acceptable not to get another answer. And what does put up or shut up mean? There doesn't seem to me to be anything to do other than what you call 'continuing to moan' *apart from* asking the relevant authorities to investigate, which I believe Pickwick has been doing

5. Neither I, nor Valeri, nor Bente have been rude or personal to you. You are right in saying Pickwick's first response was curt, but set against that there are the following statements from you:

"Haven't you got anything better to do, Pickwick? I mean, what does it matter? You seem to be spending an awful lot of time on nothing. I just worry about you. It can't be healthy"

" Why are so many people being negative and whining like little girls? I am just curious."

"I think it would be a good idea if they had more transparency, (even if just to shut the moaners up),... "

It was you who first made this discussion personal, and you are the most frequent offender. Please stop. You don't need to do this to make your points.

6. As has been pointed out on this group and elsewhere, there is a lot of website down time, and many technical features of the site need to be upgraded. I think more money would probably help with this, on the other hand maybe not, I don't claim to be an expert on this point. My understanding is some technical volunteers have also stopped giving their time because of concerns with the way the organisation is being run.




Posted October 11th, 2008 - 12:57 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 1:06 pm from Vestby, Norway
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 1:13 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 1:33 pm by from Vancouver, Canada (Permalink)
Danny mate,

I'm kinda surprised that it would be you promoting "blind faith" in leadership (especially seeing that you work in a finance role, I thought you would know one of the causes of the global financial meltdown was too much "blind faith").

Personally, I'm not saying money has been spent unwisely at all. If I really believed it was, I would not want to be an Amb and I would be promoting BeWelcome instead.

But that's not to say that money will always be spent wisely. To be human is to be flawed. So it's important to have checks in place to keep us honest. Please explain why transparency is not a good idea? I initially studied to be an Accountant while at uni, worked as an Accounts Clerk for a bit and volunteered for a few clubs as Treasurer. My job was to answer to the members and I frequently denied excessive spending which did not benefit members. Not once did anyone complain that I was "too transparent" with my anal-retentive expense reports & monthly balance sheets :)

I totally agree that most people do not care how CS funds are being used. Less than 200 people signed the OCS petition (which suggests to me that people who join CS are actually more interested in leisure rather than "making the world better").

Nevertheless - only 5.4% of members are verified. Verification is more of a donation than a safety tool. So this suggests either:

(A) members don't see the value of getting verified or don't know what it is.
(B) members just want to "use" the system.
(C) members want to engage in the community but aren't able to contribute financially.
(D) members do not want to donate for other reasons.

Sidebar:
I've seen CS evolve over these 3+ years. When I first started, people seemed much more involved in the overview of things. It seems that these days, that the local community is the most important aspect (and the rest of it is largely overlooked). Just an observation.

I suspect you will find many active CS members answering (D). So my point is this. CS has been receiving increasing donations up till now - hence not having a real need to "market" to members for donations. But as times become tight, people will naturally be more cautious with their money. This will be the litmus test.

End of the day, CS is a free site and if they can survive with this business model and current strategy, I have no worries! I'm more than happy to volunteer time to CS and promote CS as the best hospitality site out there. But I can't donate to any organization that doesn't seem to adopt GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

Anyway, this is all out of our sphere of influence - so there's no point in going on about it. If we need to start paying club fees one day, then I'll need to revisit this discussion. Until then, happy surfing :)

Roy

p.s. See?! We should have talked about Sarah Palin instead! ;)

Posted October 11th, 2008 - 1:53 pm by from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
@ Roy: :)))))

I think the current US financial meltdown is reason enough to understand why oversight and transparency is necessary for organizational health.

Posted October 11th, 2008 - 2:04 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 2:44 pm by from Sherrill, United States (Permalink)
Danny, Remind me if I ever form a debate team to burn your application. While I don't necessarily agree with everyone's POV in this thread, the people of this group have every right to express how they feel things should be.

"It is all about the reaction to that and I don't think a constant string of complaints is going to do any good. (Acceptance v Leaving?)"

This is specifically your opinion and maybe you should heed your own advice. You by now must recognize that none of your comments are really cared for and you will not convince anybody that you are any more right than they believe they are. You seem to believe its because you are right, but really its because your delivery and tact is for shit. People here believe there are standards that CS needs to live up to and they have stated their positions. If you believe they are in the minority, then leave them be to their discussions, because truly it doesn't affect you.

Posted October 11th, 2008 - 3:03 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 2:30 am by from Sherrill, United States (Permalink)
"5. This does affect me and I am not trying to stop anyone, merely question them."

How exactly does this topic "affect" you?

Posted October 12th, 2008 - 2:38 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 10:42 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 3:27 pm from Mumbai, India
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Posted October 11th, 2008 - 3:33 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 12:33 am by from Brisbane, Australia (Permalink)
Danny,
I don't think it is being negative asking for updates on the charitable status of couchsurfing... this issue has been raised many times in the short time i have been a member and it seems that there is very little progress and the communication from the LT is no very encouraging...
i personnaly have scaled back the time i dedicate to CS due to these issues as i see a lot of oldtimers raising the same issues over and over again and i don't understand why this is so hard...
i think what casey and the LT have done with couchsurfing is excellent but there does need to be better accountability if they want my time and effort for free when they are essentially making money from the project...
this is probably not very articulate cause it has been a long weekend but i wanted to add my concerns to those previously raised in this and previous threads...
peace out
ninja

Posted October 12th, 2008 - 2:10 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 7:27 am from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 7:33 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 12:57 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 3:57 pm by from London, England (Permalink)
so anyway, Pickwick, am i right in thinking you contacted the New Hampshire authorities? What did they say?

Posted October 12th, 2008 - 4:32 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 6:19 pm from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 12th, 2008 - 6:32 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 4:56 am from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 5:19 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 5:23 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 7:05 am by from Brisbane, Australia (Permalink)

"Ok, I look forward to you showing me where this financial corruption is, THEN this will get interesting."

the whole point is Danny, until CS is more transparent and accountable we do not know if there is financial corruption... it may be a case of 2+2=5 but without auditable accounts who knows, only the LT... you seem to have a lot of faith in the LT, which is maybe a good thing, but at times i like to see hard facts, could be the scientist in me...
i do want to see CS become 501c(3) and start spreading funds down to global/country/city Ambs so that we can grow CS regionally, instead of a select few constantly traveling the world at collectives is this so wrong..?
i for one hope that the LT suss out 501c(3) real soon and this becomes a non-issue but at the moment CS financesall seem a bit smoke and mirrors and look where that has seen the global financial markets end up...
all it seems we ask is communication, transparency and accountability and i don't understand why you have an issue with that...
peace out
ninja

Posted October 13th, 2008 - 7:32 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 8:09 am by from Brisbane, Australia (Permalink)
sort of reminds me of the hare and the tortoise... where would the tortoise be if he gave up so easily..?

Posted October 13th, 2008 - 8:16 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 8:55 am by from London, England (Permalink)
Danny,


Firstly, how can you be 100% sure that we will never get answers?

Secondly, not to pre-empt Valeri but surely if what pickwick has told us about the legal situation is true, then for CS to have Casey Fenton on the board of directors and at the same time a paid employee is illegal and a misuse of funds. Would you accept that that is a situation which requires further investigation?

Posted October 13th, 2008 - 9:19 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 9:53 am by from London, England (Permalink)
If donated funds are being used to make payments to someone employed illegally, Danny, then of course it is 'financial impropriety'. How else could it be described?


I'm not sure we would even have found out this much without previous episodes of 'nastiness' - as you describe it.



Posted October 13th, 2008 - 10:02 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 10:26 am from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 10:33 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 10:02 am by from Brussels, Belgium (Permalink)
dajinjaninja: "start spreading funds down to global/country/city Ambs so that we can grow CS regionally, instead of a select few constantly traveling the world at collectives is this so wrong..?"

Thanks to the verification system the money is actually flowing the other way, from local communities towards the chosen few. It was like this from the start, but paradoxically the struggle for transparency and communication can be blamed for strengthening the top-down flow of power and down-top flow of money.

On the other hand, asking for more transparency could just be disclosing a lot of nothing. Even while working 70 hours a week on CouchSurfing I never experienced the role of the "admins" (now LT) as more than close personal friends of Casey.

And unfortunately I don't see room for change, with or without the 501(c)(3) status.

Posted October 13th, 2008 - 2:26 pm by from Sainte-Marie, Reunion (Permalink)
@Valeri: Thanks for doing some moderation. Man! I'm seeing the pattern unravel. The most important discussion are also the most touchy. It inevitably triggers some animosity and, unless the thread is moderated, the constructive argument turns into a name-calling war and no important topics can ever be discussed.

A surprising side effect of that is that the older members of this battlefield are really good at keeping a straight head.

But this time, it looks like there are enough people willing to stick to the topic that one or a couple of name-callers is not enough to make it collapse.

So:

From Valeri: I showed the last financial statements i was aware of to multiple webhosting professionals who found the accounting around servers and related expenses to be truly inexplicable and massively expensive compared to what would normally be expended.

That's exactly what I was suspecting, after mapping the curves of income and expenses. The "expense" curve was accelerating a lot faster than I had expected. Though I give some credit to Pickwick for the law part of it, I'm a bit helpless there. On the "math" side of the issue, I know my way around. Big system that don't behave like accepted model are either administrated in a revolutionary way (if the efficiency is better), either hiding something or counting budget on their fingers (if it is lower, which is the case here).

The part that I don't understand is that the misbehaving "financial statement" is a voluntary move on the part of the leadership towards customer communication and transparency. Voluntary action is very unlikely to be a deliberate lie.

???

Posted October 13th, 2008 - 2:56 pm from Mumbai, India
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Posted October 13th, 2008 - 4:37 pm by from Brussels, Belgium (Permalink)
Piyush, you make a lot of sense. A French organization called CouchSurfing was set up to go into this direction, but I don't think it has a lot of autonomy.

Setting up national organizations would also give much more possibilities for fund raising and tax deduction. But the money would be less likely to float towards the Colectives and the Base Camp (where you can encounter 15 full time staff and not a single one writing in the most active (open) forum about CouchSurfing).

Meanwhile, BeWelcome.org has already been able to set up a daughter organization in Germany, with only a fraction of the members and money coming into CouchSurfing.

Kasper

Posted October 14th, 2008 - 1:59 am from Milton, United States
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Posted October 15th, 2008 - 12:48 pm by from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
hi everyone

In addition to the very detailed financial and legal input that Pickwick provides, I would like to add some nebulous, vague, uninformed analysis of my own to this discussion of the state of CouchSurfing:) Disclaimer: I'm not privy to any real information...just have impressions to share.

In my opinion, CouchSurfing has done a terrific job of maintaining a bohemian atmosphere that truly welcomes a variety of lifestyle choices, opinions, cultures...and has attracted many idealistic people to work for the site as volunteers, while still maintaining a fun, non-stuffy corporate image, which I think is genuine. The problems surface when this image of anti-professionalism collides with the legal and financial realities of running a large volunteer-based website.

I think that the site founders, being programmers, tend to see most problems as having tech solutions...and therefore play to their strengths. We all do this: partly ignore what we're less talented at...and focus on doing what we love; it doesn't make them bad people. This tendency does, however, render their management style non-standard and perhaps loosely organized for the size and organizational needs of the CS membership. Example: key volunteers leave CS without having a successor trained and on-board...so projects simply stop. There must be understanding that volunteers cannot work on CS indefinitely and will sometime rejoin their real life....but that the projects they initiate must continue. The management needs to prioritize projects, recruit volunteers to work on them (with an exit plan and recruited successor from the get-go), and support these projects through their development and implementation.

Also, my opinion only (I'm willing to accept that I may be wrong!): there seems to be a pervasive atmosphere of tolerance for poor professional standards on CS that has become mixed up with the personal virtues of acceptance, love and friendship: if you tolerate my low performance, I'll tolerate yours...and we'll all be friends. Anyone who then would push for better corporate responsiveness in volunteer management, financial reporting, tax-exempt status acquisition, member communication...would then, by definition, become an outsider; not a member of the family. This unfortunate pairing of the emotional with the professional is only hobbling the improvement of this website.

It's a tricky management issue to balance the idealism and passion of young volunteers with the adherence to high professional standards demanded by the general membership. The LT doesn't want to lose the wonderful crazy bohemian quality of this site...to be replaced with gray corporate office life....but they must begin requiring greater accountability of their paid and volunteer staff to allow this site to be trusted, thrive and out-live us all:)

The values this site promotes are rather timeless: hospitality, generosity, kindness to strangers. The legal, financial and management issues particular to CS, however, will change as it grows...and must be addressed through management expertise, nimbleness of thought, and willingness to change in response to these needs.

Posted October 15th, 2008 - 1:00 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 15th, 2008 - 2:52 pm from Berlin, Germany
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Posted October 15th, 2008 - 3:44 pm by from Vancouver, Canada (Permalink)
Great analysis, Margaret!

Posted October 16th, 2008 - 5:39 am from Kochi, India
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Posted October 15th, 2008 - 2:44 pm by from Sainte-Marie, Reunion (Permalink)
Not to waste your time: The following chapter is quite personal and little relevant to the financial debate. Read it if you have time, if you want to jump it, you won't lose much.

I suppose everyone would be relieved to find out that your impressions are true. My own general impression of the "atmosphere" was rather different (when I joined CS and had no prejudice). I had the impression that it was a web-commnunity for people to swap pictures and keyboard-chat about see-sights, and that if I was going to ask hospitality from someone, he would go like : "You mean, you want to meet up in real life? And stay at my place? Right away?". On that point I was completely mistaken, but it prevented me from using the service for quite a while, until HC became really corrupted and unusable.
The image carried on by the admins, through the design of the pages, the choice of the words and the newsletters also annoyed me very much. How to put it... I saw them as wired on LSD all the time, going "The world is so beautiful" and "Yeah man!". I believed they were carrying out that image on the purpose of forcing an atmosphere of love peace and friendship in order to... sort of "rule better". Which is plain stupid, but that was my general feeling, nothing rational. On this point though, I have not yet been proven wrong.

Here! You can start reading again here!

Given the fact that we don't know (because the ones that do are not telling), we can imagine any scenario to fill the blanks. It is characteristic of this kind of forums that the worst case will always get A LOT of attention. But so far, it might just be what Margaret told. If some angel from paradise came down to let me know that it is the truth (I take angel word as fact), I'd feel a little unset that this huge initiative is driven by hippies, a little sorry for all the noise that I made for nothing, and very much annoyed that nobody deigned to just let me know. And I'd move on to a more interesting topic.

Send me an angel

Posted October 19th, 2008 - 9:12 pm by from Brussels, Belgium (Permalink)
Julien: 'I saw them as wired on LSD all the time, going "The world is so beautiful" and "Yeah man!".'

You're close to the truth, but not all the time...

Posted October 20th, 2008 - 10:09 am by from Oakland, United States (Permalink)
¨I'd feel a little unset that this huge initiative is driven by hippies¨

I am conflicted..really I am not sure if this is a totally bad thing or a totally good thing.

I mean...I have taken LSD before..

I have said ¨oh wow man the world is a beautiful place.¨

I don´t think the sort of insights that come from these sort of experiences are completely invalid..nor do I think that it is impossible to hold these beliefs and have these experience and still run a successful organization. When I was living in LA and involved in promoting clubs and underground electronic music events I worked with a group of ¨20 something bohemians¨much like this who I have met that are involved in the upper-echelon´of CS. We used to take´drugs¨together and talk about ¨how great the world was¨ but we also organized quite large parties successfully over a 3 year period. Many of the people involved in organizing the parties also ran a medium sized web hosting company that is still growing today. These people had business sense..and were a little like ¨neo-hippies or neo-beats¨. The two ways of thinking are not mutually exclusive and I feel a little insulted that these adjectives and descriptions are used to discredit the LT team.

However, I support the opencouchsurfing project and other initiatives which aim for more transparency and a more lateral administrative structure. In fact, i think the current ¨corporate structure¨ is antithetical to the ¨neo-hippie¨ or ¨neo-beat¨ ¨ideals¨(however poorly those ideals might be defined) some people seem to be accusing the LT team of conforming to. I just can´t understand why exactly it is an insult.

anyway, I am confused...¨I have been straddling the fence for too long and now my balls hurt¨

Posted October 20th, 2008 - 11:00 am by from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
I agree with Alan

I think that the lifestyles chosen by the leadership are immaterial. I don't care about their drug choices as long as the org is properly run.

Posted October 20th, 2008 - 5:51 pm by from Brno, Czech Republic (Permalink)
Personally I had no problem paying the vetting fee. I didn't mind. I would be donating more if they showed any indication that they were a Not for profit other then "Casey said so."

I don't think that there is intentional misuse of funds. But they are showing that theymay not have a grasp of how to properly run things. Who is to say that they aren't misusing them unintentionally.

The charities that I personally give to have a less then 8% overhead fee. This way I can chose a cause I believe in and feel comfortable that they don't misuse the funds (as I have seen on their well documented websites).

I'd be happy to donate even if it was higher then that for CS, but I very well may be supporting a few people to travel around the world and enjoy themselves while there isn't enough money being put into A)web site infrastructure and local CS communities.

This doesn't mean that I have any issues with anyone involved. And I do appreciate the few people who are willing to make the unpopular choice of keeping these issues in view.


Posted October 20th, 2008 - 6:26 pm from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 6:51 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 7:06 am by from London, England (Permalink)
I know I really shouldn't rise to this but....

Danny,several people have written long, long responses to you. What precisely are your questions that haven't been answered?

Posted October 21st, 2008 - 7:26 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 7:38 am by from London, England (Permalink)
No, decency is not a problem to me Danny. Your questions, however, until now, have rather lacked clarity . We aren't going to agree on the tone of the different posts in this thread.

Well now:

1."What is the LTs response? Do they agree they are breaking the law?"

The LT to my knowledge have not made any response to this thread (beyond the one already mentioned which you yourself acknowledge is unsatisfactory). They have not, also to my knowledge, responded to any of the broader questions related to any of the issues raised, according to anything I can find in the groups, the CS FAQ, or outside blogs such as opencouchsurfing.com. There may be something I have missed, or private communication.
So, I don't know if they agree that they are breaking the law or not.

As you yourself agree, greater transparency is long overdue and part of the reason people are complaining.

2."If it is the case that it is illegal to have a director on a salary, why are they not being prosecuted?"

It would seem more appropriate to address that question to the relevant authorities. I am sure you will realise that, particularly where global flows of finance are involved, the legal/regulatory process is slow-moving and often insufficiently proactive. I can only assume that either the authorities are not fully aware of the potential discrepancies, or they haven't concluded investigating, or they are insufficiently motivated to investigate. Yet, since 501(c)3 charitable status has not yet been awarded, it would be premature to state that CS has been granted a clean bill of health from the legal point of view.




Well, that's just my take. I hope that helps. Maybe others will chip in.

Posted October 21st, 2008 - 7:50 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 8:09 am by from London, England (Permalink)
No of course not Danny.


While we don't know enough facts to say anything *definitively* that doesn't mean that we don't know *anything*. Those facts that are commonly agreed upon point to the possibility of impropriety. More needs to be discovered, which is why I think transparency is essential (whereas you say it is only preferable). It does not however come down to a question of preference, temperament or 'faith vs lack of faith'. There are facts, and they raise serious questions which require further, serious, and sober investigation - which, in the beginning of this thread, you ridiculed as being. tantamount to "spending a lot of time on nothing"

I claim post 100! Maybe we should leave it there.

Posted October 21st, 2008 - 10:33 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 11:48 am from Vestby, Norway
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 11:58 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 12:25 pm by from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Permalink)
I've been following this thread from almost the beginning, and now it's starting to fell that it's not going anywhere, so I decided to add my two cents.
First off all, thanks to Pickwick, Niel and the others who have raised these important issues. I'm actually verified myself, did that a while ago, just felt that I needed to give something back to CS for all the good times I've had with it. Never stopped to try to look for what they had actually done with my money. If it were now, I don't think I'd contribute again. It's really annoying that there's such a lack of transparency going on in the higher echelons of CS.
In the end, seeing this thread going on for a long time with legitimate questions and seeing no attempt at all from the direction to have them answered, it just makes me a little more sadder with the organization. But it's really important that these questions keep being made, if a critic mass starting asking them, eventually someone will have to answer!
Cheers,
Pedro Ivo

Posted October 21st, 2008 - 4:20 pm by from Sainte-Marie, Reunion (Permalink)
Or we will wake up one day and the threat will be gone. After a couple of days actively digging, it will be found again in the "Hula hoopers" group, with one or two threads around it showing the moderator and other active members still scratching their head on that strange "bug".

:-/

Posted October 21st, 2008 - 5:26 pm from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 5:42 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 11:13 pm from Albuquerque, United States
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Posted October 21st, 2008 - 11:52 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted October 30th, 2008 - 11:53 pm from Arnhem, Netherlands
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Posted October 31st, 2008 - 12:04 am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted November 3rd, 2008 - 4:07 pm from Arnhem, Netherlands
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Posted November 3rd, 2008 - 6:12 pm from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted November 3rd, 2008 - 6:26 pm from Utrecht, Netherlands
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Posted November 3rd, 2008 - 8:33 pm by from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
thank you Niels
also: privacy laws

Posted November 6th, 2008 - 1:39 am from Arnhem, Netherlands
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