Sunday, December 17, 2017

Eight Simple Steps for Social Media Fundraising

As the number of fundraising for poor and sick individuals and family members keep rising on Facebook, WeChat and other fundraising platforms, it is getting harder and - to some extent - even suspicious of these unknown beneficiaries.

To sustain these fundraising efforts in the long run, it is important that fundraiser understands the basic process of verification.  I was one among the first to embrace the platform of Facebook to raise funds for poor and sick people in India. I will share my personal experience with the hope that it will be of some help for fundraisers as well as contributors such as potential donors and sponsors like you.

Let me explain in simple steps:


After I came to know of poor/sick individual, the first thing I do is to verify if he/she is actually poor at the local office.  If found poor, I inquire whether he/she is a recipient of welfare fund from the Department of Home (poor) or Department of Health (sick) based in Dharamsala, India.


Once verified and convinced that he or she is genuinely poor, I request to meet the beneficiary (poor or sick people).  At the meeting, I listen to their story and observe their life style.


Then, I seek their consent to take photographs or videos of themselves and their homes.  I also explain the consequences of sharing photos and videos on social media platforms.  Without consent, I don't share their photos and videos at all. I highly respect individual privacy.


At the meeting with potential beneficiary, I make a simple mind computation of their needs vs wants. I also assess their personal assets including bank balance and loan payables.  Once I have have a clear figure on how much they need as help, I share with them the process of fundraising - money coming directly to them via Western Union, bank transfer and/or hard cash.  I also make clear that no other person will seek donation on their behalf as long as I am involved. 


After the meeting, I speak to people of their camp or village to learn about what they have to say about the beneficiary.  This is really helpful for the management of fund.  For instance, many poor and sick people are very bad at managing their own monies.  So, if you as a fundraiser fail to manage the raised money, it will not help the beneficiary in the long run. 


To support the fundraising efforts, I try to gather as much supporting documents from the local office, non-government organizations, village leaders, etc as possible. These documents are helpful to gain the trust of potential donors.


Once the story of beneficiary is published, it's a lot of work to track each and every contacts from potential donors.  The most important work is to track the total requested fund vs. actual raised fund.  Once enough is raised, it is important to update donors with statements of receipts and expenses.  To maintain transparency after the fund is raised is harder than the fundraising effort itself. So, the most important work for a fundraiser comes after the fund is raised. 


Fund utilization could take weeks, months or years.  It is important to have a closure when the last penny of the raised fund is spent for the purpose it was meant for.  This closure must come with a statement from the fundraiser on whether the condition or status of the beneficiary has improved, slightly improved or no improvement. 


Let me conclude with one of the advise from Federal Trade Commission when it comes to charity, "don’t assume that pleas for help on crowdfunding sites or social media are legitimate. Real victims’ pictures and stories can easily be misused to con you." Let's make our Tibetan community stronger by supporting the poor and sick.  At the same time, we have a responsibility to not promote the culture of begging. 

Also read:

A Shift in Tibetan Preferred Spouses; and

Being One of the Shi-Chak Wala

Monday, November 20, 2017

Was Penpa Tsering wrong to see $1.5 million as Accounts Payable?

The explanation from Sikyong last night at Toronto, Canada was very convincing but runs short on the legality as well as fiscal aspect of this entire loan vs grant/donation saga - specifically from someone with a law background.

There is no doubt that The Tibet Fund as an IRC 501(c)(3) registered tax exempt non profit organization is not in a position - legal as well as fiscal - to give away $1.5 million to another registered non profit organization based in Washington DC. So, to protect its own integrity and organization, there is no question that this amount was given in the form of a loan with an unwritten understanding that it will be written off someday as grant. A formal loan agreement seems to be in place according to 2015 and 2016 financial statements of The Tibet Fund.

In both 2015 and 2016 financial statements of the Tibet Fund, 1.5 million was mentioned as Accounts Receivable from the Office of Tibet, Washington DC (registered as Tibetan Community Development Fund Inc) with interest rate and maturity date. In the world of accounting, when there is accounts receivable, there must be accounts payable in the recipient organization's financial statements. This is where the entire episode of mistrust between current representative of North America and Kashag seems to have begun.

What could have been done to stop this from the beginning?
  1. In a country (United States) where the rule of law is given the utmost respect and regard - though it is an internal understanding - there should have been a formal written document between the Tibet Fund and the Office of Tibet. As this could be against the law of the land, this document should have been written in Tibetan language and marked as Highly Classified. The drafting should have been done in consultation with Kashag.
  2. This highly classified document should have a clause on how the process of writing off of this loan amount will begin and end.
  3. This highly classified document should have been handed over to new representative with a copy to Kashag at the time of handing-taking.
  4. In order to follow the general rules of accounting, the loan amount of 1.5 million must be accounted for in the books of the Office of Tibet's financial statements. Remember that it’s easier to write off accounts payable than accounts receivable.

To conclude, without any documentary evidence of this internal understanding/adjustment, there is no guarantee in the eyes of law that someday the Tibet Fund will not ask the money back. For information, the Tibet Fund is managed under a board.

Please note that this piece is written to share information that many might not see due to lack of working experience.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How Penpa Tsering Got Ejected?

Prior to winning the second term of Sikyong, Lobsang Sangay la's plan was to appoint Ngodup Tsering la as Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to North America.  Everything was well planned except something happened at the last moment.  That something came from the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Thus, Penpa Tsering la became Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to North America against the will and wishes of Lobsang Sangay la and his Kashag.

As the designated Representative, Penpa Tsering la inherited the task of clarifying the findings of annual audit report conducted by Auditor General of Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala, India. In the audit report, there is a case where the auditor has raised eyebrows about the cost of business class air ticket for Sikyong which was charged to the sponsor of His Holiness's US visit.  This was during Lobsang Sangay la's first term as Sikyong.  Please note that though Sikyong visited the US during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's trip, he is not a part of His Holiness's entourage.  This makes his visit independent and his expenses the responsibility of Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala.

Penpa Tsering la got stuck in this truth while Lobsang Sangay la needs to clear this one out from the report.  When two people with different versions of truth come together, there is bound to have a friction.  Now, this friction erupted as an earthquake.

At the end, with no explanation from Kashag or its secretariat, Penpa Tsering la was ousted from the post of Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to North America.

However, the bigger question now is:

Did Kashag ousted Penpa Tsering la with due consent from the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama? 

Spoiler Alert: Please note that this is a fake news :P

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dilemma of Choosing the Right Buddhist Teachers: Feelings of a 21st Century Buddhist

A recent letter dated July 14, 2017 signed by current and ex-members of Rigpa, the international network of centers and groups founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1979, surfaced on the internet detailing abuses allegedly committed by Sogyal Rinpoche.  A week later, Rigpa made a press release stating that, "we respect Sogyal Rinpoche's decision to enter a period of retreat and reflection." 

If I have not read it wrong, the press release was an indication that Sogyal Rinpoche is no more associated with Rigpa.  Even if I have read it wrong, it may be very difficult for Rigpa to welcome Sogyal Rinpoche back to its centers around the world after what His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said on August 1, 2017 at Leh, Ladakh, India.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama shared on a video, "Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend. But he (is) disgraced." As a 21st century Buddhist, I never had a good feeling about Sogyal Rinpoche since my childhood days. 

My first encounter with Sogyal Rinpoche was at a teaching held at Dzogchen Monastery, Kollegal Tibetan Settlement, South India more than a decade ago.  At that time, I didn't know anything about him except that he was the elder brother of Dzogchen Rinpoche and author of the best selling book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

At an age where you are just a teenager, you don't have the luxury to make an informed decision on your own than to follow your parent's footstep.  I attended this teaching with my parents but I felt a strong disconnection with what Sogyal Rinpoche was saying.  I console myself at that time that it may be because of Sogyal Rinpoche's strong involvement with western students and their cultures. 

After coming to the United States for my graduate program, I came to know about sexual assault allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche.  If you google, you will find many articles and a couple of YouTube videos.  For instance, according to The Guardian, in November 1994, an American woman known as Janice Doe filed a US $10 million lawsuit against Sogyal Rinpoche, charging him with sexual, mental and physical abuse. The case was dealt with out of court and Janice Doe signed a non-disclosure agreement in return for a cash settlement. Also, watch on YouTube a short documentary called In the Name of Enlightenment - Sex Scandal in Religion. If your memory is strong, you may also remember seeing him dancing with his student on a Facebook video.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama repeatedly speaks about examining your Buddhist teachers, I have been personally very careful about who should I seek my spiritual guidance from.  I have become extra cautious when it comes to receiving long life empowerment or paying a hefty fees for teachings from any Rinpoches or Trulkus.  If you live in New York, you will see teachings or empowerment from Buddhist teachers almost every month.
Snapshot of the event from TCNYNJ Facebook page

One such teaching of Sogyal Rinpoche was organized by The Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey Inc. on June 11, 2017 at Elmhurst, New York.  I shared with a couple of my friends that I am not going to attend teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche because of my hesitation of seeking spiritual guidance from someone who has been accused of sexual harassment. 

So far, these conversations of examining Buddhist teachers has remained behind closed doors primarily because of many Buddha disciples who think that its a sin to doubt or question high lamas.  Sadly, in the Tibetan Buddhist community, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has to take the first step in denouncing any form of practice that is against Buddha teachings. Once he said, no one even think of doing their own research to learn more.

This video statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Sogyal Rinpoche could be optimistically viewed as the beginning of a more informed and cautious Buddhist community, and the possible end of disgraced Buddhist teachers.  As a 21st century Buddhist, we all have the responsibility to examine Buddhist teachers and make public those who practice against Buddha's teachings.

In the same video, His Holiness stressed, "they (Western Buddhist teachers) create some very bad impression among people. Then I told them all these people not follow Buddha's advice/teachings. We cannot do. Only thing is - Make public through newspaper, through radio. Make public. Although they don't care about Buddha teachings but they may care their face.  I told them at that conference (Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers), 15 years ago."

The advice of making public should be extended to all lamas including Rinpoches, Trulkus, Khenpos and monks.  Sogyal Rinpoche is disgraced now but there are many many Buddhist lamas who teaches for money, sleeps with their disciples, falls in love with women, flirts on the social media sites, and sexually abuse minor monks at monasteries around India, Nepal and Bhutan.  As I repeatedly said, there needs to be a structural reform in all Buddhist monasteries where regulations should be put in place to protect minor monks and to dig out disgraced and dishonored lamas from the monastery.

To conclude, I hope Sogyal Rinpoche and other disgraced Buddhist teachers and lamas listen to what the July 14, 2017 letter says at the end, "our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma."