Fundraising with Beginner’s Mind

Current Center

The Shambhala Meditation Center of Columbus is a small center. For the last ten years, our home has been a cozy-but-beautiful rental suite on the second floor of an office building. With less than 1,000 square feet of space overall, our shrine room can comfortably accommodate about eighteen people, which means we can support most of our weekend retreats and open sitting but have to seriously limit our family programming and WoS classes. And so, a few years ago, we began to look modestly outward for ways to attract more space.

When the local Waldorf school closed in 2011, the WEC board generously offered the school building at a price we couldn’t refuse. With only about fifteen members and less than a few thousand dollars in the bank, we needed many consensus-building meetings in order to raise confidence that we could, indeed, purchase the property. What we realized was that although we lacked fund-raising experience, our core group was deeply invested in Shambhala and each other. This empowered and enabled us to approach the process with a beginner’s mind. As we’ve navigated our way, we’ve begun to see firsthand how generosity begets more generosity, on levels large and small.  And although fundraising is not always easy,  we’ve learned to depend upon each other through alternating experiences of fear and inspiration in order to collectively move forward.

Future Center

Our first step was to dig deep into our own pockets, which yielded the $20,000 required for the down payment. Nearly every council member (plus some others in the sangha) put, as one member joked, “some skin in the game” and contributed between $500 and $1,000, raising about $5,000. Determined to secure the initial down payment, one sangha member was inspired to loan $10,000, which in turn inspired another council member to expand their membership dues to help repay this loan, out of gratitude for the generosity and as a comprehensive commitment to our dharmic community. We then applied for a grant from the Shambhala Trust, which awarded us over $3,000. And finally, good friends and long-time Shambhalians offered a $3,000 donation if the community could match it in one month—their challenge was met, and we had not only raised the down payment but had a little to spare.

We now own the building, which brings us to our next goal of raising $40,000 for repairs and renovations. This time, however, we must look for funding outside of our sangha members. Not knowing where to begin, our center director called Phil Cass, former president of ALIA and local resident. Last year the ALIA summer institute convened in Columbus, Ohio, for the first time, and Phil had joined others to raise over $100,000 in just eight months. One of the first things Phil said was that fundraising works best if your commitment is authentic and deep, that this whole-heartedness makes it easy to talk to others. He advised us to have a hundred conversations like conversation she had with him, and said that conversations were a way of planting seeds, although we’d have no way of knowing how and when they would bloom.

This practice has worked in unexpected and delightful ways. We began to better understand the energy and flow of money by reading Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money, recommended by Jim Drescher, the co-director of Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia. And a conversation with the Dean of the College of Social Work at Ohio State University (OSU) led to our hosting a learn-to-meditate workshop for the faculty in the College of Social Work, which in turn allowed us to attend an Art of Hosting training. Then through our relationship with local leaders affiliated with the Art of Hosting and ALIA training, Shambhala co-hosted a meditation retreat that developed new alliances with extraordinary people and resources in our community.  These ventures and conversations have generated several thousand dollars for our center, but the nourishing new relationships are invaluable.

Our first formal fundraiser was a sit-a-thon planned by our treasurer, Lindsey Ibanez. She enlisted the support of numerous sangha members, including our director of Web Development, Phong Nguyen, who coded and designed a beautiful website where people could pledge donations for participants, as well as sign up to sit. Lindsey wrote a powerful personal letter to her friends and coworkers, explaining why she practices meditation, inspiring us all to really think about what brought us to this path and how to communicate the benefits to non-practitioners. The sit-a-thon generated about $3,000 and included donations ranging from Shambhala teachers to unaffiliated donors who were supporting their friends and family.

Our second fundraiser was also the product of spontaneous generosity. Inspired by a raffle at the Akron Shambhala center, our former center director, Rose Krouse, purchased gifts and practice supplies such as offering bowls and incense, shawls and art work, dharma books and other inspirational items. She arranged them into thirteen themed groups and photographed and numbered them so they could be displayed. Then we sold raffle tickets for them, with many of us buying tickets for other sangha members as gifts of appreciation. Our dekyong, Kate Curlis-West, helped launch the raffle at the Harvest of Peace. We concluded this event with sangha children dramatically selecting winning tickets. The raffle raised about $1,000.

In addition to the more formal events, we also held a yard sale, which provided an invaluable opportunity to meet some of our new neighbors; and our director of Membership, Albert Vernon, launched a membership drive that included beautiful postcards and online resources to make automatic monthly payments.

Our next opportunity is an art auction. Local gallery owner Carol Hershey has offered her High Road Gallery to us next January, and both artists and leaders in the community have volunteered to help us plan. The event will feature affordable arts and crafts donated by supporters.  Although we are asking for contributions, our ongoing question in all outreach is “How can Shambhala support you?” So hosting an art auction will undoubtedly illuminate new ways for Shambhala and artists to support each other here in Columbus.

Further out on the horizon is our idea to produce a book of a collection of 21 stories about the experience of basic goodness. We are asking for submissions from teachers, practitioners, and friends in Shambhala and aspire to publish it by Children’s Day. The book would be distributed online for $20, with 15 percent of the proceeds going to the center of the mandala.

Through these efforts and by allocating unspecified donations to our new building fund, we’ve raised more than $30,000 and aspire to raise $30,000 more, all the while aligning our efforts with our values and Shambhala vision. We are finding that the result of our efforts has been more than just monetary—our forays into fund-raising have spurred a reciprocal demonstration of extraordinary generosity, kindness, and support. The decision to purchase and uplift our building has quietly motivated SMCC to forge ever-widening relationships with a new array of communities, and deepened our experience of  just how central Shambhala is in our lives and how committed we are to seeing our center grow and flourish, both in and for our city.

+  +  +

If you are inspired to help support insulating our new center or installing a hardwood floor, please click here

If you would like to share your basic goodness experience, please submit your 150-300 word story to Marcelle Gilkerson (via by December 5, 2012. Thank you!