What is “Our Future Fund”?
Investigation by Barbara Blouin
Version 2 of this article, based on corrections sent by Connie Brock (April 7, 2009).
President Reoch sent an e-mail to vajrayana students shortly before Shambhala Day, announcing a new fundraising vehicle called Our Future.
Shambhala Day will be different this year. I am writing to all Vajrayana practitioners, including you, so that you know what is happening and how you can support it. … The annual fund-raising will be for a new, unified fund known as Our Future. Our Future will not only support Shambhala’s core services that all of our centres benefit from, but also the Sakyong’s year of retreat. For more information about this integrated fund please click here.
I will be launching the fund on the Shambhala Day broadcast, and I would love to announce that our Vajrayana students around the world have already paved the way with their donations. That would definitely inspire others to follow your example when they gather on Shambhala Day.
Please consider making your annual Shambhala Day offering today so that we can boost the energy on the broadcast. It would be a tremendous gesture of support for our beloved Sakyong and his mandala.
If this captures your imagination, and you want to help me get this message of generosity across to the whole mandala on Shambhala Day, please click here.
In the radiant vision of Shambhala,
Here is the Our Future Fund web page which was linked to the President’s letter. I have put certain parts of this document in bold because I have questions about them. As you are reading this, if you too have questions, please post them at the end of this article.
Our Future: Building Strength in the Year of Retreat
The “Our Future” appeal aims to strengthen the ground for the future of our lineage and also for the central services of our mandala as a whole.
The goal is to raise sufficient funds to meet the following targets in the course of the Sakyong’s year of retreat:
1. Direct support to the Sakyong for his expenses during the year of retreat, and to provide monthly income since he will not be receiving the same level of teaching gifts in this year when he is not teaching widely. This includes the cost of travel, housing, communications and the offerings he will make at the monasteries where he will do his retreat and the pujas he will perform.
Estimated: $263,000 (expenses); $144,000 (annual income, distributed monthly)
2. Strengthening the ground for the lineage manifestation during and beyond the year of retreat. This involves improving the salary level for the Tibetan attendant to Khandro Tseyang, raising funds that will help to maintain the lineage residences in Boulder and Cologne, and generating a significant sum that can help to stabilize the financial strength of the lineage at this time of change.
Estimated: $ 9000. (attendant support); $77,000 (Boulder and Cologne Courts); $100,000 (financial stabilization)
3. Support for teachings and program development. The Sakyong has been teaching on multiple levels and the fruits of the teachings that he is offering need to be gathered and presented so that they can be much more widely and systematically offered. This includes transcribing the commentary that he is almost continuously dictating on the Shambhala Terma of the Druk Sakyong, continuing work on the development of the Way of Shambhala program which he is working on with Acharya Adam Lobel, and maintaining the current level of staffing in the Shambhala Office of Practice and Education.
Estimated: $26,000 (transcriber); $54,000 (salaries for acharya and part-time staff member)
4. Putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold and use this year to experiment with taking a step towards a more integrated approach to fund-raising for the mandala as a whole. Thus, Shambhala will not conduct a separate fund-raising appeal at the end of the year, nor on Shambhala Day. Both these occasions will be rolled into the integrated campaign for “Our Future”. The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways. First, we aim to meet the target previously set for the end of year campaign for 2009 ($85,000). Second, we aim to meet the target previously set for Shambhala Day 2010 ($130,000). Third, we are seeking to raise sufficient funds to restore the shortfall in previously planned donations for 2008 and 2009 ($170,000).
Speaking tour in North America: explaining and promoting Our Future
After Shambhala Day, Lodro Rinzler, Development Officer, and Joshua Silberstein Chief of Staff of the Sakyong Ladrang, have been traveling around North American centers to speak and answer questions about the new approach to fundraising. They came to Halifax on March 13. Around sixty sangha, young and old (though more old ones than young ones) attended the Halifax meeting. Several people expressed deep confusion about the new fundraising approach, and about the Ladrang. For example, one person said, “I don’t understand the relationship between the Ladrang and Shambhala International. Why isn’t it more fully explained at the nitty-gritty level?” I do not think Mr. Silberstein answered the question directly, but readers can decide for themselves. (You can hear the whole Q & A for yourself on the Chronicles web site.
Someone else asked, “Why is there another name? Why another legal entity?”
Mr. Silberstein explained by saying that in the West we lack a cultural entity that would correspond to ladrangs in Tibet, and that it would be good to follow the Tibetan model. This was his only response to the question. The same person asked, “Is Our Future an entity within the Ladrang?” Once again, Mr. Silberstein did not answer directly. He said, “Our Future [and the Ladrang] are joining together to support each other in raising funds…. As entities, they’re both nonprofit organizations.”
This answer only deepened the confusion because, I think, he was referring to the Ladrang and Shambhala International, but not to Our Future, which has no separate legal status. (There is more on this matter later in the article.) At this point Lodro Rinzler jumped in and said, “The account itself is a joint account.”
The next questioner asked about existing unrestricted automatic withdrawals, which for many years have been directed to Shambhala International. Where, she wanted to know, would they go now? Mr. Rinzler replied, “If you are already giving to Shambhala [International], it continues to go to the same Shambhala account. … It continues to support the Our Future campaign. It just is not in the same bank account.”
Finally, a very senior student asked what was essentially the same question about unrestricted donations. “Is there another fund? I know what the Ladrang is, and I know it is being handled separately. So there’s a lot of confusion that started on Shambhala Day. I myself am confused as well.” Mr. Silberstein replied, “We may not be able to resolve the confusion, [ed: !] but let me take another stab. … Every gift that has been given to the Ladrang or to Shambhala since October 1, 2009 is part of Our Future.”
Then Mr. Rinzler spoke up: “It [the Future Fund/Ladrang] supports both. Sorry. What I mean by that is: Normally, when you support Shambhala, you’re supporting the Sakyong and his activities and the core staff that carries out his vision. So nothing’s changed there. Only, if you’re giving to Our Future, it’s going into a separate account.”
Other Halifax sangha members also expressed their confusion and asked for clarification. But most of the explanations seemed only to create further confusion. What it comes down to in the final analysis is that all donations to Shambhala International, other than restricted donations (for example, to local centres and practice centres) go to the Sakyong Ladrang, which is now called Our Future Fund. And there is no oversight of the Ladrang because the only directors are the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo. (This statement will be clarified in the section called “More about the Ladrang.”)
Back to the text of the Our Future appeal.
Although I have been able to learn a few things about Our Future, much remains either unclear or completely opaque. The best place to begin is with what I have learned.
When the various dollar amounts spelled out in the text are added together, it looks like this:
°In the first three categories—for the Sakyong’s year of retreat, which also include amounts earmarked to support the Sakyong Wangmo, and donations to monasteries, which presumably include monasteries founded by Namkha Drimed—the total fundraising goal is $673,000 ( $56,083 a month, or $1,844 a day).
° The fourth category is called “Putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold” and refers to “the mandala as a whole.” The total goal for this category is $385,000 ($32,083 a month, or $1,054.79 a day).
In other words, of the total fundraising goal, the amount earmarked to support the Sakyong and his projects is 57%, compared to 43% for the rest of the mandala.
“The Our Future appeal aims to strengthen the ground for the future of our lineage…” It isn’t hard to read behind the lines here: the primary goal of this fundraising is for the Sakyong Ladrang, but the Ladrang itself is not named. “United States donors can make checques [sic] out to ‘Our Future’ and send them to Historic Highland Building, 885 Arapahoe, Boulder, CO 80302.”
¿ Was there no space to accommodate the Ladrang at the Shambhala Centre in Boulder?
¿ When a sangha member makes a donation of, say, $500 to Our Future, or an unrestricted donation to Shambhala International, how is the money allocated? Is 57 % given to the Sakyong and his projects, and 43% for staff and related expenses? Who makes decisions affecting exactly how this donation is allocated? Are certain expenses prioritized above others?
¿ A portion of the Sakyong’s expenses in his year of retreat is for “offerings he will make at the monasteries where he will do his retreat and the pujas he will perform.”
What, exactly, does this refer to? Which monasteries will the Sakyong visit? Do they include any or all of the monasteries that form part of the Sakyong Wangmo’s father Namkha Drimed’s organization: Rigon Thupten Mindrolling in Orissa, India; Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastry in Pharping, Nepal; and (I think) another monastery in Tibet.
How much money does the Sakyong plan to offer? No information is provided on this possibly very large expense.
¿ In the second category the goal is $186,000. This money will be used for “generating a significant sum that can stabilize the financial strength of the lineage at this time of change.” What does this actually mean? Of this total, $9,000 will be used to top up the salary for the Sakyong Wangmo’s Tibetan attendant. A large amount, $77,000, is for two of the Sakyong’s residences—in Boulder and Cologne. $100,000, a nice round figure, is intended for “financial stabilization.” Other than the salary, how will these monies be used? For mortgage, taxes, heat, etc. for the Sakyong’s residences? Or for renovations and furnishings and so on? Or for both? How will a large amount to “stabilize the financial strength of the lineage” be used? $100,000 earmarked for “financial stabilization” offers no information whatsoever. What is the distinction between these two categories, one of which includes the other, which are described in almost identical terms? What does “stabilization” mean in this context?
¿ $26,000 is earmarked for the salary of a transcriber for the commentary that the Sakyong “is almost continually dictating.” Compared with the very low salaries for most core staff of Shambhala International, $26,000 is a large amount of money. (In the “real world,” $26,000 isn’t much, but it is a question of scale, and I find myself wondering just how much the services of core staff are valued.)
The fourth and last category is described as “putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold and us[ing] this year to experiment with taking a step towards a more integrated approach to fund-raising for the mandala as a whole. … The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways. First, we aim to meet the target previously set for the end of year campaign for 2009 ($85,000). Second, we aim to meet the target previously set for Shambhala Day 2010 ($130,000). Third, we are seeking to raise sufficient funds to restore the shortfall in previously planned donations for 2008 and 2009 ($170,000).”
This is a big subject, one that deserves a much fuller exploration than I am able to give here. First, I want to say that I find this quite alarming, especially since so much more money is being asked for the Sakyong and his projects when compared with funding for administration. My guess is that by now, everyone who pays dues and is wired (most of us) knows that core services (called “mandala services”) are suffering from severe underfunding, and that this has been going on for many years.
¿ What is the amount of the shortfalls? $85,000 for 2009? $170,000 for 2008 and 2009? The way this is worded, it looks as though 2009 has been listed twice. Is that correct? Does $170,000 represent $85,000 each for these two years? What about the “target ($130,000) previously set for Shambhala Day 2010”? What does “previously set” mean here? What has been changed, and what has not been changed?
¿ Finally, the meaning of the following words is confusing: “The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways.” It seems as though the ways in which the money will be used are essentially the same—to attempt to make up for shortfalls in donations in previous years. Why, then, is this goal described as “three different ways”?
This seems as good a place as any to comment on the poverty-level salaries given to Shambhala International staff. According to the 2008 return submitted to the Canada Revenue Agency, 26 full-time and 15 part-time staff were working for Shambhala International during the fiscal year. The total amount paid to these 41 staff was $247,242, or an average of about $6,000 per staff member.
These figures speak for themselves. They raise the question:
¿ How do staff manage to support themselves, let alone save anything for retirement, at these levels? To be fair, I need to say that “It has ever been thus.” During the lifetimes of the Vidyadhara and the Regent, salaries were also far too low.
More about the Ladrang
The Ladrang was incorporated in Colorado in January, 2009. Portions of the Articles of Incorporation state
The corporation is organized as a church of the Sakyong lineage of Shambhala and a charitable organization as defined in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The supervision and control of the corporation shall be vested in a Board of Directors which shall include at least one (1) director. No part of the net earnings of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of or be distributable to its directors, officers, or other private persons; except that the corporation is authorized to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the corporation’s charitable purposes. …
To put this in plain language: the Ladrang is set up as a “charity” whose control is in the hands of two directors—the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. There are no other directors; in other words, there is no board of directors. Connie Brock, bursar, and Sol Halpern, who does strategic development for the Ladrang, manage this account. Although the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo are not supposed to receive the net earnings of the organization, there is an exception: “Except that the corporation is authorized to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the corporation’s charitable purposes …” In other words, although it may be in keeping with IRS rules for a significant portion of the net proceeds to go directly to the Sakyong, it seems to me to be a stretch to call the Ladrang a charity. [Posted April 7:] I have overstated the degree of opacity. I have learned from Connie Brock that “the 2009 year-end financial report and the 2010 Shambhala central budget are in final review and will be posted to the Shambhala web site in the next two weeks.” (Connie Brock in an e-mail, April 6)
The heart of the matter
Historically, Shambhala International/Vajradhatu has been accountable to its board, now called the Sakyong’s Council. However, there is no equivalent board for the Ladrang. The Sakyong’s Council has a lesser authority than the Kalapa Council, and the Kalapa Council has a lesser authority than the Ladrang.
The Kalapa Council, created by the Sakyong in 2008, appears to have a much diminished role and no direct relation to the Ladrang. Minutes of the Kalapa Council are not accessible to the sangha.
Therefore, knowledge of the activities and finances of the Ladrang are entirely limited to what the Sakyong (and his wife) choose to release to the sangha and the public at large. So far, if we are to judge from the “financial overview” of the Our Future campaign discussed in this article, that knowledge may be hard to come by because the goals described are so vague. In other words, there is so little accountability that we do not really know what is going on, and we do not know how our donations will be used. [ed: Eventually we may learn more, once the budget for 2010 is posted in 22011.]
This raises the matter of what I see as a danger for the Sakyong, as well as for the administration. If sangha are unable to understand—and, therefore, trust—Our Future (the Ladrang) and how it is related to Shambhala International, there is likely to be a decrease in donations altogether, and possibly a shift in the proportion of unrestricted and restricted donations.
¿ Has this danger been considered and prepared for?
The next step
Radio Free Shambhala is sending this article to President Reoch, Joshua Silberstein, and Lodro Rinzler. We will be asking them to answer the questions raised in the article. If we get a response, we will post it.[Update: On April 2 I received a brief e-mail from Lodro Rinzler: “Dear Barbara,I’m sorry to hear you felt disturbed after the Halifax community meeting. I wish we had a chance to touch base after so I could have heard your feedback in person. Perhaps it might be helpful for people on Radio Free Shambhala to listen to the audio recording of the community meeting. That audio has been placed on the Chronicles Project should you wish to link to it. I believe President Reoch and Josh Silberstein are in a Kalapa Council retreat at this time. I will get in touch with them when they are back about responding to your suggestion. Best, Lodro Rinzler”
This response makes it clear that Mr. Rinzler did not take the time to read this article. I am still waiting for responses from President Reoch and Joshua Silberstein.