Creating a set of internal agreements, which makes up the vision, mission and strategic goals of the organisation, is often an early and challenging task for a newborn community. It usually takes quite a lot of time and effort as it requires individual opinions and motivations to meet somewhere in the collective super-ego, melt together and ultimately create a shared and mutually supported identity. However, the challenge is not over yet as another, very large and important factor must be taken into account that may require a completely different level of thinking and writing: national laws. These laws can compel the group to come up with a formal constitution, also known as “The Statutes” of an organisation.
Each national state has a set of laws, which can be complex, entangled and contradictory (sometimes to the point of madness), but nonetheless regulate the legal status of almost all intentional communities. So it’s a wise idea to look into your national legal codes, preferably with the help of an expert, and get a clear picture of the limits imposed by the laws. Especially important to know are the sanctions that apply to various infringements, and the accountability of different stakeholders.
|Legality of private loans
In Germany it is a criminal act to ask for private loans that exceed 12,000 Euros. People doing that are conflicting with bank laws, laws that are there to protect citizens against organisations that may be gambling with other people’s money.
The legal representatives of communities that ask for private loans, may be committing a criminal act - without knowing it!
Not every group will need to have legal statutes, as it is also possible to remain “informal” and avoid the troubles and complications caused by legal registration of your entity. But keep in mind this does not in any way mean that the group (and its members) will not be held responsible for their actions, either collectively or individually. This may place group leaders in a vulnerable position, without being fully aware of the possible consequences.
An informal group is fully entitled to exist, and several intentional communities have chosen to remain informal for years. But this condition places the group in a sort of legal limbo, gives it limited powers, lacks an interface that society can recognize and decode, and, in a way, it deprives the group of the ability to speak and interact officially with formal authorities. It can lead to a situation where, if merely a few people leave a project, it will dissolve and have no existence on its own. Projects that have a legal entity are much more likely to survive for a long time than projects without one.
Apart from giving the community a formal frame, legal statutes can also be necessary if you need to buy common properties, sign contracts with suppliers and consultants, or request funding from public or private sponsors. If properly designed and written, the statutes can also add important elements to the group identity, strengthening the sense of belonging. The choice to found a cooperative instead of a commercial company, for example, means assigning one vote to each member (emphasis on the person) and not one vote to each share (emphasis on the capital). It therefore reflects the values and vision of the organisation.
The constitution must respect the national law, and to some extent also European Union prescriptions. It should also include a short version of the vision and mission of the group in the first part of the document (generally in the section “Aims of the organisation”). It should deal in detail with formal aspects that will have a big influence on what happens in the case of conflict, such as regulations about how to vote and come to decisions, rules for formal and informal settlement of disputes, and rules for how people leave the project.
Creating the constitution can be a real challenge for some groups, as it forces people to think in ways that are different from everyday reality. Becoming legally literate can be a significant moment of collective growth and evolution. Several questions that are important include:
- How do we preserve our identity and translate it into legal terms?
- What adjustments do we need to make in our organisation so that we do not conflict with current laws?
- How can we protect ourselves and our project from legal suits, financial losses, debts and bankruptcy?
- How will this impact our internal balance, and how will it affect internal rank?
Looking at some organisation from a formal or legal perspective can be a very sobering and healthy experience. It can provide elements of reflection that force the community to implement necessary changes in order to avoid future, and potentially fatal, problems.
The ability to speak various languages, including the legal language of the local and national government, can only make the community stronger and more resilient.