Chakra Discussions

Trust and Informed Giving

by Chakra editorial staff

Posted September 29, 2003

One reason why Krsna consciousness has spread around the world is because in many cases young, energetic devotees are helped by older devotees, who though they may be tied to their situation by various obligations, are eager to provide financial help to others who are willing to do the hard work of setting up a Food for Life program, building a temple or setting up a goshalla. Together they can develop an attractive Krsna conscious project in a way that neither of them could manage working alone.

From the very beginning, Srila Prabhupada envisioned building devotee communities with the help of educated and wealthy devotees to provide needed funding. In the Gita-nagari Prophecy (1949), referring to Bhagavad-gita ("The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy." Bg 6.41.) Srila Prabhupada states, In order to give effect to the programme of the Geeta Nagari, it is necessary that at least twelve gentlemen, picked from the families of such Suchis and Srimatis, should form an association. And, with the help of these gentlemen, arrangement has to be made to provide the fund of Geeta Nagari with an income of Rs. 10,000 per month for the expenses of the Geeta Nagari. By the Grace of God, those who are born in the family of the Srimatas are sufficiently favoured by Laxmi Devi. As such, the Srimatas can make use of their wealth in the service of the Internal Potency of Godhead."

So the idea of combining the energy of one group of devotees with the wealth of another group in order to further the cause of Krsna consciousness has been there from the very beginning of Prabhupada's preaching.

Still, this is Kali Yuga, and over the years many of us have seen how funds painstakingly raised in good faith have been misappropriated or simply frittered away. Within the Krsna consciousness movement, as within so many other religious movements, persons with questionable motives, or simple lack of administrative skill, enter and take advantage of the generosity of pious individuals to raise funds which are not properly used for the projects that donors thought they were supporting.

So, if a donor takes interest in some apparently deserving project, how can he or she have at least some degree of confidence that their donation is being used to support the preaching project in an effective and responsible way? The problem is especially difficult in an international movement such as ours, where devotees from one country solicit funds from devotees around the world. It's not as if one can simply call the Better Business Bureau, or even check with a national registry of charities.

Still, there are important steps that a responsible donor can take to help insure that his or her trust is well placed, and no reputable charity should have any objection to such inquiries by a donor. The donor should look for the following:

  1. PLANS. There should be a clear statement of plans, providing at least a general detail, and also a timetable for the completion of various stages of the project.

  2. BUDGET. There should be at least a general itemized budget for the project, describing how much each aspect is expected to cost.

  3. PERSONNEL. There should be a listing of the responsible personnel who are overseeing the project, and a way to get in phone or e-mail contact with someone from the project.

    Its important to get an idea of the qualifications of those running the project. What's their experience? Have they run similar projects in the past? If so, which ones and how did they turn out? What kind of training do they have for the task they are proposing? References? Who's in charge of budget management?

  4. AMOUNT COLLECTED. There should be periodic updates to donors giving the amount collected to date. Does the charity have an accountant/auditor keeping their books in order? What percentage goes to administrative tasks, what percentage goes to producing results? This should be well balanced, as charities which artificially underfund those who carry out the work, may find that there is insufficient time to carry out the work when project managers need to work other jobs just to earn a living. On the other hand, overfunding of administrators saps revenue needed for productive projects.

  5. ANNUAL REPORT. There should be a somewhat detailed report of the amounts spent for various aspects of the project. If the project warrants it, the report should be even sooner or more frequent. Informative photographs can help donors see the results of their contributions. On the other hand, sentimental photographs may divert donors' attention from work that is not being done. In general, beware of an overly sentimental approach in pointing out need which is not balanced by a report of positive results actually accomplished.

    A well-run project will be pleased to supply donors with this type of information, just as an opportunity to demonstrate how well organized it is. A project being started by novices may find it a little inconvenient at first to put together this kind of presentation -- but in the long run, they will appreciate how this kind of focus aids effective planning. Those who are simply trying to exploit the sentiment of wealthy donors will probably be annoyed at inquiries like these.

  6. ASK THE EXPERTS. A final method of checking into the quality of a given project is to ask others who are familiar with that type of program. Many times, they may know the individuals involved. And, even if they don't, they can suggest the hallmarks of a well-run program so that you know what to look for and what questions to ask. Draw on the expertise of Food for Life managers, child protection leaders, ISKCON's Ministry of Cow Protection and Agriculture, devotee educators, and devotees who have been involved in temple construction projects, so that you know the right questions to ask for your particular project. In addition, there is a variety of helpful information on the internet.

    Not only will you learn about the level of competency in the project you are interested in, sometimes you may find out information that would be useful to that project. Or you may help attract the interest of devotees with special expertise or contacts that can help your favored project develop and flourish.

    On one hand, those who have the energy and inspiration to start an ambitious Krsna conscious project rarely have the funding they need, thus they turn to generous donors. But referring back to Prabhupada's quote about need for help from the Suchis and Srimatis, we have to remember that good projects need not only the wealth of the Srimatis, they also need intelligent guidance from the Suchis.

    Asking the right questions not only helps donors build trust, it also helps give project managers intelligent guidance in developing their projects. The result is a happy offering to Krsna.

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