An Open Letter to the Businesses Who Participated in the Humboldt Exchange Community Currency: We're Closing Down the Project

January 28, 2011


Dear Friends,


I am writing to tell you that Democracy Unlimited has decided to end the Humboldt Exchange Community Currency project.

In August 2009 we wrote to the larger community ( through the Humboldt Exchange Directory and the Democracy Unlimited newsletter to let you know that we would be evaluating the project over the next year to determine if it was feasible to continue.

The Humboldt Exchange has always been a challenging project but it has also always been one we saw as having great potential to offer an alternative to corporate capitalism and a corrupt monetary system, and to help our community meet our collective needs independently and creatively.

We took over the project in 2004 and have struggled to adapt it to serve the community ever since. There were some fundamental structural problems with the currency that we were not able to overcome, even as we tried to change it to address these issues. Unfortunately, money isn’t seen as something that should be fluid and adaptable. It needs to be reliable and simple to use, and our ability to make changes to the project mid-stream was greatly hindered by the perceptions of money and by the fact that it was already circulating in the community.

The Humboldt Exchange has also always been a resource intensive project to run. It has never supported itself financially, and it always required a large portion of our staff’s time. On the other hand it always served as a draw for volunteers and new participation from the community. Democracy Unlimited underwrote this project for six years in the hopes that the investment would offer a return in benefit to the community.

In 2010 we hosted a meeting for businesses participating in the Exchange. We put the call out for feedback and ideas for how to make the project work better. We were met with very little response or interest, which was in keeping with the attitude we were hearing from the community of participants in general – the project wasn’t serving people’s needs and there wasn’t a lot of interest in getting it to where it would.

We really appreciate the businesses (like yours) that took the risk and participated in the project. Unfortunately we have heard back that your participation wasn’t successful for you – either you didn’t get any currency, or you got way too much and had no where to spend it. It would have been so much better if we had had hundreds of businesses all coming on at once, all with the same commitment – taking the risk on together. There are projects like this (see, where it is planned out in advance and while it works better than our project, even those have challenges. That’s how we would have done it if we had started this project.

There are also more successful programs that are about individual-to-individual exchanges (see and We think something like this could work well in Humboldt County but would require a group of dedicated folks to oversee the project. It would also work best if the project could operate online (with strategies employed to make it available to those without home computers and internet) to minimize overhead costs. We always felt it was less than ideal to ask participants to pay $10US to participate in our directory, but there was no way to pay for the printing otherwise.

We feel a community currency could work in Humboldt County in the future, but it would need to be set up differently than the Humboldt Exchange. We learned some valuable lessons, and we’d be happy to discuss them with anyone who is interested in exploring community currency, or who just wants to know more about what we learned.

Democracy Unlimited’s interest in the community currency project was always at the core about mutual aid – neighbors and community members helping to train and support each other to meet our needs as a community. Through the Exchange project we developed some exciting and successful means to work towards these ends – our skillshare workshops, our pancake breakfasts, our clearinghouse role for community resources – all of these things can and will continue without the Humboldt Exchange community currency.

We warmly invite you to participate in these aspects of our work:

Pancake Breakfasts will still be a place for people to come together to share a meal, network and discuss ideas for making our community a better place and people’s voices more powerful. These breakfasts are the 3rd Sunday of every month from 10am-noon at the Duck House in Eureka (1402 M Street). Our breakfasts also serve as a place where people can bring goods to barter, and make announcements about services and issues of community interest. Enclosed is a ticket for a free admission to one of these breakfasts – we hope to see you there!

• Our Self-Sufficiency Skillshare Workshop program will continue at our monthly breakfasts. Workshops are 11am-12:30pm. Our goal is to set the schedule in advance this year and publicize these workshops more broadly. We are currently looking for presenters. If you have skills to offer your community (also a good way to promote your business), please consider leading a session. Details and application for workshop leaders can be found on our website (

• Our Organizing Skills Trainings program will continue as well. We hold trainings on the second Tuesday of the month on organizing skills and topics. You can see a list of what we offer here: We also welcome guest presenters for these workshops – if you have skills in these areas (or additional ones!) please contact us and we’d be happy to offer you an opportunity to lead a workshop.

• We are also excited to support the efforts of Reach Out Humboldt (, a project of Humboldt Area Foundation. Reach Out Humboldt has an online forum where community members can post needs, offers and network about issues they care about. We are glad that this resource can pick up where the person-to-person aspect of the Humboldt Exchange left off. It is free to set up a profile and participate in this project. We don’t need an alternative currency to participate in mutual aid.

To thank you for your community commitment in accepting Community Currency we are gifting you a one-year membership with the Humboldt County Independent Business Alliance project, at Founding Member status. This membership is a $250 value. If you don’t already know about the HumIBA, you can find out more about it here: and by attending our next Business/Community Mixer on Tuesday, January 25th at GreenWay Partners in Arcata (1385 8th Street, Suite K).

As a HumIBA Member you have an account on our website where you can login and modify your business listings ( Your business will also be listed in the 2011-2012 Local Options print directory, which will be unveiled at the mixer on January 25th. You can find out more about other member benefits online as well.

Again, I want to thank you for your vision and community commitment. I am sorry to bring you news of the Humboldt Exchange’s end, but I hope that we can find ways to work together through the HumIBA and other ways too. I know your business is an important asset to our community, and I appreciate all you do to make Humboldt a wonderful place that we all call home.

Please free to contact me if you have any questions.

Most sincerely,

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap
Executive Director
Democracy Unlimited

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