The Stitch Community is officially in crisis and needs help.
But not just any help.
You don’t need to do much. But if you care about the wellbeing of the Stitch Community and our mission to address social isolation by enriching the lives of older adults around the world, please read this article.
Without help from our members, Stitch won’t survive.
Why this article?
At a personal level, this is a really difficult article to write. I wouldn’t be writing it at all if I hadn’t been pushed to do so by Stitch members.
I should probably explain.
As many of you will know, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis we’ve been hosting virtual events for our members, to help everyone stay socially connected through what is an extraordinarily difficult time for anyone living on their own.
Some of these are what we call “Quick Stitch” events, where we host an extremely large virtual meeting with lots of members, which we then break up into small groups so everyone can chat in a more intimate social environment.
It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation when you’re on a Zoom call with 100 people, but having a chat with 3 or 4 people at a time is just perfect.
This is a really difficult article to write; I wouldn’t be writing it at all if I hadn’t been pushed to do so by Stitch members.
Last week I was hosting a Quick Stitch event for about 70 people. (At the time I thought that was a big event, but some of our upcoming events have over 200 attendees registered!) I usually give everyone a couple of icebreakers to help start the conversation. One of these was: “what’s something about you that you haven’t shared on your Stitch profile, and why?“
The event was great fun and a huge success. At the end we had a Q&A session, and one of the members asked me the same question: what was something about me that I haven’t shared on my Stitch profile, and why?
I don’t often get asked personal questions at Stitch events, so I wasn’t really prepared for it. My mind went blank.
I suddenly found myself blurting out the biggest thing that’s been on my mind lately: how stressed I am about Stitch being in financial freefall as a result of COVID-19, and that we don’t know how to ensure the community survives. I shared how much of a toll it’s been taking on me, and on the Stitch team.
The response was sudden and overwhelming.
Why haven’t you told anyone?
You need to let the community know!
You need to tell us how we can help!
So here we are. This blog post is me baring my soul (so to speak) and putting aside the brave face I usually strive for so that everyone in the community can know about the challenges we’re facing.
A financial crisis, courtesy of COVID-19
If you’re new to the community, you may be surprised to learn that in the six years Stitch has been operating, our membership fees have only ever covered a small proportion of our operating costs.
The majority has been met through a combination of government grants, donations, impact investment, and partnerships with organizations that are aligned with Stitch’s goal of improving lives by addressing social isolation, such as health & wellness providers in the US.
Within weeks of COVID-19 taking hold, all that support was gone.
Almost overnight, the rug was pulled out from underneath us as the world scrambled to come to terms with the new reality.
We were devastated on multiple fronts as the impact of the crisis sunk in:
- In the US, health plans nationwide cancelled support for any activities that involved in-person interactions for older adults. Every single program we had been working on, including community launches for Texas, California, Ohio and Florida, were immediately terminated.
- County and city health departments which had previously been helping Stitch establish new communities shut down all activity so they could focus on COVID-19.
- In Australia, local and state governments cancelled pre-existing grants programs designed to support social connections for older adults. Even grants that we had already been awarded were cancelled.
- The impact of COVID-19 sent our most important enterprise health & wellbeing partners into financial crises of their own, forcing them to furlough entire workforces and slash budgets. Social programs were the earliest casualties, which included support for Stitch.
In a single week in early April, Stitch lost 85% of the financial support that had been keeping the community running.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised last week when a Stitch member I hadn’t seen in a couple of years came to one of my virtual events and told me, “Jeez, you look OLD mate. You looked a lot younger last time we met. You need to look after yourself more.”
Stitch is a social enterprise founded to enrich the lives of all our members through positive social connections, and is responsible for building the web site and apps that power the Stitch Community. The Stitch Community itself is a non-profit charity, responsible for providing help to those who need it most and raising awareness about the impact of social connections on health through the charity’s website wipeoutloneliness.org.
Stitch is, in other words, built to do good.
Unfortunately, it costs money to keep Stitch running. More money than many members realize.
Software development and maintenance isn’t cheap. Web servers cost money to operate. Marketing to raise awareness & get new members to join has to come from somewhere. We have to cover staff wages, equipment, rent, legal fees, taxes, insurance, and a whole range of operating costs, just like any other Internet business.
Unlike those businesses, however, Stitch is constitutionally bound to act in the interests of its members. The ways most Internet companies make money — by exploiting their users for profit — could never be an option for Stitch.
It’s why we don’t sell ads.
It’s why we don’t provide member information to third parties.
It’s why we only partner with organizations which care about the wellbeing of our members, such health organizations, non-profits, community groups, or local governments.
It’s also why we have a free membership option, so that we can make a positive impact even for people who face severe financial hardship.
But it’s also why we face tougher financial challenges than most companies.
We’ve done our best to respond to the crisis by cutting costs to the bone.
Everyone on the Stitch team has taken voluntary salary reductions. We have closed our 6-person office space in Pyrmont, and the entire team is now working from home permanently. We have cancelled each and every expense that doesn’t directly contribute to being able to keep the community running.
But it’s not going to be enough.
If Stitch is going to survive, it’s going to need help.
It’s all about our members
I expect you’re thinking that when I say “help”, I mean donations, but I’m not. The Stitch Community may be a charity, but it was never intended to rely on donations to survive.
My goal when founding Stitch was to create a financially sustainable community that could fund itself by virtue of the impact it creates, without needing to rely on donations.
It’s a philosophy we are still very much committed to today.
If Stitch members are going to contribute financially to the community, we think it’s far better to provide them something of value (in the form of a Stitch membership) than to simply ask for handouts.
The reason is simple: when people choose to become a paying member of Stitch, it’s more than just an indication that they care about an issue; it’s proof that they see Stitch as part of the solution. Our members are proof that Stitch is making a difference.
If you are a philanthropic group or organization that wants to help address social isolation through Stitch, we’d love you to support us financially through donations. But if you’re a regular Stitch member, there are plenty of things we’d prefer you to do instead.
That’s what this article is for: to help spread the word to all Stitch members about what each one of you can do to make a difference and help the community survive.
What we need YOU to do
If you’re a Stitch member, your impact really comes down to three things:
- The membership option you choose
- How much you participate in and contribute to the community
- How much you help convince other members to join
With that in mind, here are the things we’d like Stitch members to be doing right now:
Upgrade your membership
If you are a Basic member, the best thing you can do to support the community is to become a Full member.
It’s only a few dollars per month and makes an enormous difference to us. If every Basic member joined, the community’s financial situation would be solved overnight.
If you are already a Full member, please consider upgrading to a higher membership level.
If you’re only on the lowest-level Community plan, we suggest upgrading to Community Plus. It gives you so many more ways to connect with other members in the community, and make a positive impact yourself. You get to welcome new members to the community when they join, and get access to dozens of extra capabilities that not only give you a much richer experience of Stitch, but help other members in your area too.
We now recommend Community Plus for anyone who wants to be an active supporter of the community.
If you are already a Community Plus member, consider upgrading to Community Manager, particularly if you are an active Community Champion. (You can choose to do so using membership points if you’d prefer.) The more Community Manager members we have, the more vibrant the community becomes.
Reach out to new members
Hundreds of new members join Stitch every week. Most of those don’t know anyone in the community yet, and are naturally a little hesitant as they try something new for the first time.
Reach out to new members to welcome them!
New members who have been welcomed by an existing Stitch member or attended a Stitch event within the first week of joining are 5X more likely to join the community as a Full member.
We send plenty of emails to new members when they first join, but it’s what they hear from existing members of the community that really makes a difference.
Remember that you can share your membership code with anyone you meet; they will receive 10% off their Stitch membership, and you’ll receive thousands of membership points.
It’s easy to see the new members in your area: just go to the Members page and filter for “Newest” members.
Participate in the community
New members are fifteen times more likely to become a Full member if they see there are active Stitch members in their area.
So start suggesting activities or get-togethers — which can be either in-person or virtual — with other members!
Create a Stitch Group for your area!
And make sure you attend any events organized in your area … it’s a fantastic way to show support for other members, make new connections, and have fun in the process.
Invite new members
The most vibrant Stitch communities are in areas where Stitch members have played a role in raising awareness of the community by inviting new members along.
First, invite everyone you know. After that, you’ll need to get creative.
Post Stitch flyers on noticeboards.
Post about Stitch on Facebook. At the very least, like the Stitch Facebook page.
Talk to your local Community Center or library about creating a Community Manager account and becoming part of the Stitch Community to help connect people in their area.
The more people you can tell about Stitch, the better the community becomes. For everyone.
Share your story
If you’ve got a spare few minutes, why not share your Stitch story with a video testimonial about what the community has meant to you?
All you need is a smartphone and a place to rest it: put yourself on camera and talk for 30-40 seconds about what Stitch means to you. It doesn’t need to have high production values, it just needs to be honest!
Video stories are the most compelling, but if you’re not comfortable on camera, written stories are fantastic too. Stitch members Richard and Anne recently shared their story with us, which we published on the Stitch blog.
We’re always looking for members who are willing to be interviewed about Stitch too. Here are Stitch members Linda and Jim from Sydney, sharing their story on the Today Show:
Media requests don’t come along all that often, but when they do it’s great to have members who are willing to talk about the community. If you’re interested in doing so, please let us know.
Write a review
If you have an iPhone or Android smart phone, you can do us a huge favor by writing a review of Stitch in the Apple App Store or Android Play Store.
Stitch members aren’t as likely to write reviews for apps as their younger counterparts, and that has meant we don’t have very many reviews in either app store. Worse yet, we’ve received reviews from people who are clearly not authentic Stitch members. The more reviews we receive from real, authentic Stitch members, the better.
If you have an iPhone you can find Stitch’s App Store listing here.
If you have an Android phone you can find Stitch’s Play Store listing here.
Or just search for “Stitch companionship” in the relevant app store on your device. You’ll need to be using your device in order to leave a review.
If all of the above wasn’t enough for you, please consider joining the Stitch Community’s Volunteering program. This puts a formal structure around many of the activities that our members are doing already, and helps them connect with other members who are helping make the community great.
You can find out more about the Stitch Volunteering program here.
And if you’ve done all that …
If you’ve done everything listed above, and you want to help even more, then send us an email and tell us your ideas for how you’d like to contribute.
We’re constantly amazed at the fantastic new ideas our members have for how they can make a diference. As long as you are making a positive contribution to the community, we’ll find a way to support you.
Thanks everyone. With your support, we know we’ll make it.