Guidelines for Agreements with Non-shareholder Members

These guidelines for residential intentional community agreements are to help shareholders in a cooperatively managed property or business ensure that their needs and preferences are met. At the same time, it is important to create a respectful environment for those who are not shareholders. Some balk at any perceived inequity or hierarchy within community. However, it is fair that those who have invested most and have the most to lose should have more power over final decisions. Ideally, non-shareholders will have a path to become shareholders. Clarity about shareholder decisions can help potential new members of a community understand whether these decisions will be workable for them. If non-shareholders are interested to join in and make substantial contributions, they will need to know about the decisions that have already been made.

Written Agreements Help Clarify Expectations

These guidelines prompt you to discuss and decide on important issues before they become problematic. You will likely experience less conflict and disappointment if you find a good fit from the start. There are many groups of idealistic and motivated communitarians who discover only after substantial investment that their fervent ideals are not in as much alignment with each other as they had assumed. From reading about many founders’ successes and failures, we’ve learned that tackling some of these challenging issues from the start can help groups base their community formation on a more realistic understanding. The lists within the linked guides and templates are meant to tip you off to various alternatives you may not have considered.

the need for written agreements: describes several crucial benefits that written agreements provide over verbal or implied agreements

the limits of written agreements: two group facilitators with decades of experience living in intentional community speak to why we resist making explicit agreements or contracts

Two Sets of Agreements

Some residential cooperative communities choose to have graduated levels of buy-in with commensurate increases in decision-making authority. Work-contribution contracts or rent-to-own can also be a path to co-ownership. This graduated model respects the fact that those with resources may have worked a substantial number of years to accumulate them, and at a sacrifice of other pursuits. Sharing of these resources can be a great benefit to others, and those without physical or financial resources can reciprocate in many ways. Inequity of resources and power is a challenging topic for intentional communities.

Here are some thoughts about power-sharing and it’s limits:  

the benevolent dictator

The current page is adapted to assist you in creating agreements between shareholders and non-shareholders. For a similar page that is adapted to groups of founders who are investing relatively equitably, see the following link. Groups of shareholders might use the following page for agreements among themselves only.

Guidelines For Intentional Community Agreements

Templates for Your Written Agreement

In each main section of the pages linked below, there is a link to where the guidance or tips are found (from the sections in this page). The list of headings is pared down to allow you to easily scan to see what you haven’t yet filled in. The sections below have descriptions and prompts to help you consider a variety of options. You can cut and paste these options into your Google doc or other word processing app. The Microsoft Word document has the advantage of headings already formatted to match a table of contents.

Googledocs version of Agreements Template

Microsoft Word version of Agreements Template

Suggestions for General Strategy for Written Agreements

  • Keep in mind that you may want to add in more members over time. If there are options in the agreements that everyone in your founders group is okay with, leave them for a later decision instead of deleting them.
  • In as much detail as you have agreed on, write up the preferences of your founders group regarding the various topics. This will help you communicate with others whether they’re likely a fit or not.

Governance (Decision-making)

In a community that houses both shareholders and non-shareholders, you may find it workable to have one form of governance among the shareholders and a different form chosen and implemented by the non-shareholders. This could be helpful if the non-shareholders have common-use areas that aren’t occupied or used by the shareholders. The shareholders likey don’t want the job of policing the non-shareholders, except in rare cases when a community member is consistently failing to keep their agreements.

Here are our guidelines for writing up your founders group’s agreements:  

Agreements for Governance Model and Process

The planned housing ownership type and purpose of the residential community will determine what legal structure and exact location makes most sense for your group. The shared purpose might include a business offering products or services. All these options are governed by laws that can change by jurisdiction. Thus it’s helpful to discuss these topics as a group and with a local lawyer before making a final decision about legal structure. You can note in your community description which you are considering or leaning toward. The Contracts page in the footer points to templates, but possibly the best place to start is the following list of legal structure options that has been reviewed by an estate planning lawyer for accuracy.

Legal Structure Options 

Financial Agreements

Sharing can get complicated pretty quickly when people start to feel entitled based on reciprocity norms or what they thought was promised. If we can do a better job at creating realistic expectations up front and sticking to negotiated commitments, we have a better chance of success. 

This document covers topics that are prominent in the forming phase: financial risk tolerance, visiting fees, required disclosures, application fees, joining fees, expected regular financial contributions, and recouping investments if leaving. These topics might be hammered out in more detail later, and formalized in legal documents. Yet at this phase they might be best seen as working documents subject to revision. These can help you refine details before you make formal contracts. These can also help you recognize who you can trust to keep agreements.

Here are our guidelines for helping you write up your group’s agreements:

Financial Agreements

Benefits and Accountability for Work Contributions

It is important to ensure that your agreements about benefits and accountability for work contributions are written. Encourage recording of work time and task completions for all members that receive some type of benefit for their contribution. It is helpful for members to take a photo of finished work each time. If there comes a time that someone hasn’t noticed the work begins to question a member’s level of contributions, they’ll have something to show. Unfortunately, psychologists have noted that people tend to have a bias to overestimate their own contributions and underestimate the contribution of others. A bit of record keeping can help everyone counter that bias. The guidelines linked below are intended to help you create a first draft of a written agreement. These agreements should eventually be included in your legal contracts if there will be money or property exchanged that would cause a hardship if lost. It’s important to make sure everyone is really on the same page. Please see the Contracts page for more counsel about making long-standing agreements.

Agreements About Benefits and Accountability for Work Contributions

Regular Work Assignments

The previous section covered work accountability agreements from a macro perspective. This section is about the day-to-day scheduling. We recommend you use

We would love to include more trial-and-error tested approaches so intentional communities can level up more quickly. Here are our guidelines for writing up your group’s agreements:  

Agreements About Regular Work Assignments

Food and Health

These written agreements help you record (a) to what extent you plan to have communal meals, and how to organize those; (b) to what extent you are seeking to produce your community’s own food; and (c) what high-need health conditions you might be seeking to accommodate or unable to accommodate.

Here are our guidelines for writing up your group’s agreements:  

Agreements About Food and Health Practices

General Use of Common Spaces

This section is about upholding shared agreements about what is or isn’t allowed in spaces that are shared, which could include the whole residence or property. These guidelines include the following sections: 

  • use of age-restricted recreational activities and visitor access to the shared spaces
  • cleaning up after yourself
  • what changes you can make without group agreement
  • noise restrictions
  • technology use
  • parenting decisions that affect the community, such as the extent of supervision expected on site
  • farm animal and pet restrictions

Agreements for Use of Common Spaces

Resource Sharing

This gets to one of the most attractive parts of community. Resource sharing can provide a high quality of life at much less expense. As you negotiate sharing from within a larger culture with strong private ownership norms, it is important to get clear about everyone’s unspoken expectations. Even with the best of intentions, misunderstandings occur. As much as you may dread the tediousness of creating written agreements about resource sharing, spelling out the details can prevent misunderstandings that could lead to conflict. Here are our guidelines for writing up your group’s agreements:  

Agreements for Resource Sharing

Membership Selection Process (Joining & Leaving)

It is important to be clear about requirements so that prospective members have clear expectations about a path to long-term membership. It needs to be written, so it can feel consistent and fair. It’s important to agree on a process that everyone can live with. Remember that it’s ideal to select your members in a way that does not leave you vulnerable to allegations of discrimination in housing or employment.

Agreements for Membership Selection Process

Agreements for Diversity and Inclusion

Conflict Management

What is your planned conflict management strategy? The page linked below points to three helpful resources: (a) notes from a talk by Diana Leafe Christian on resolving conflict in ICs, (b) a summary of group processes that focus on conflict management, and (c) a page on personality types to help your group in understanding each other. Opposite temperament styles can cause division and difficulty, but by reading up on the strengths of other styles, the differences can be valued as bringing balance and important alternative perspectives. Here are our guidelines for writing up your group’s agreements:  

Agreements for Conflict Management

Cohesion-building (Getting Along)

Here are our suggestions for helping you write up your group’s agreements about maintaining good vibes and harmony:

Agreements for Cohesion-building (Getting Along)