Sep 02

Tara Mandala Update from Executive Director, Joanne Brion

Dear Tara Mandala Community,

Tara Mandala is thriving and growing due to your support, devotion and practice!  Thank you to everyone that is part of Tara Mandala.  I recently prepared a detailed organizational update for the Teachers/Sangha Leader Retreat in June, and wanted to share these updates with our entire Global Sangha.  This post highlights our many accomplishments over the last few years, discusses new ideas and projects, and provides clarification on how we operate.  Here are a few of the exciting new policies and programs we will be implementing in the near future:

  • Lower retreat pricing to increase access for 2022
  • Simplified scholarship application process in 2022
  • New support for Global Sangha leaders, including annual meetings and other support

Current Status of the Organization

Financial Update – We have come through 2020, and despite the pandemic, we are in a stable and growing position.  Our ability to move to virtual programs was key to our ability to weather Covid -19 restrictions; and not holding in person retreats, along with reducing staff costs and positions, all helped us navigate this major challenge in the world.

  • COVID and Virtual/Online Presence: When Covid hit, we were fortunate to already have online programs running and some experience with online teaching.  Our team did an amazing job pivoting in a matter of weeks when lockdowns and social distancing pushed everything into a virtual format.  We had to cancel all in person retreats and move to an entirely virtual format.  The hidden potential in the shift was that we were able to offer retreats and teachings to people as far away as South Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Australia, people who would have had a hard time or found it impossible to attend in person retreats.
  • In May 2020 we offered a completely free five-day symposium called Voices of Wisdom in Times of Crisis, which included speakers from the Tibetan Buddhist, Native American, and psychology world who offered a perspective on what was happening in the world and how to take advantage of and learn from the pandemic.  In addition, wonderful musicians and yoga teachers offered their gifts during the symposium.  It was quite incredible how our staff was able to host such a big live event online, which was something we had never done before. Although this represented a significant financial investment for Tara Mandala, we felt it was an important offering to make to the world.
  • David Petit Sustainability Fund: In the last few years due to the generous gifts from our Sangha, we have been able to increase the holdings in the David Petit Sustainability Fund.  This is an endowment fund which is invested in socially responsible investments.  This fund is now generating enough interest to cover a portion of our operating budget, which allows the Board of Trustees to start achieving some of our longer-term goals, such as increasing access to our programs, lowering prices, better supporting Sanghas, and offering more scholarships as well as being in “right relationship”making offerings to teachers and staff.
  • People Served:  We were able to serve over 1,200 people through Virtual Retreats and almost 2,000 people through online courses in 2020.  In past years, we served about 500 people onsite and a few hundred people through online programs.
  • Operating Income:  Our operating income comes from two primary sources: donations (contributed income) represent 50% of our income, and programs, our store and other products (earned income) represent the other 50%.  Interest income is a third “other source of income.”  To date we have not had to spend any of our capital and thus, have been able to grow the David Petit Sustainability Fund.
  • Fundraising is a key part of how Tara Mandala operates.  Tara Mandala is a religious organization and does not receive any financial support from the government, nor are we eligible for most grants or foundation funding as a religious organization.  While we do benefit from our tax exempt status (such as not paying property taxes in Colorado) like most non-profits in the US, we need to fundraise throughout the year to cover our operating expenses.
    • We are currently planning our Annual Fundraising Gala for Nov 6, 2021.
    • We are working on a new 2022 Spring Campaign for legacy giving/estate planning.
  • Teacher Offerings:  In August 2020, we adopted a new Teacher Offerings program, and moved away from a dana-only model.  As the health and capacity of Tara Mandala increases, we want to better support Lama Tsultrim and the teachers who carry the Dharma into the world, so now we make offerings to teachers as well as encouraging Dana from students.
  • Financial Goal:  A key long-term goal of the organization is to grow the David Petit Sustainability Fund so it can generate enough interest earnings to give more to the organization, support the land, allow us to reduce our program fees and increase access to our programs.  We are beginning to be able to realize some of these goals now in 2021.
  • Financial Systems:  We manage our resources and spending very carefully and have spent the last several years overhauling our accounting practices and improving our financial accounting and reporting systems.  This allows us to better evaluate how to manage costs, and also decide when we can offer more generously across all aspects of the organization.  We are also now compliant with established accounting principles.
  • Increasing Access: We offered two “Pay It Forward” programs in 2020, which had a low base price, and ability to get a 100% refund after the retreats.  We served about 150 people in these two retreats.  We will continue with this concept through a new but similar “Share the Dharma” program that will launch later this year.  We hope to offer 2-3 of these programs this year moving forward.
  • Scholarships:  We offered 175 scholarships in 2020 totalling $29,000.  As of June this year, we have offered 166 scholarships.  We are seeing an increase in requests and trying to respond positively, equitably and generously.  We also offered a variety of discounts as well to members.  We are revisiting our application process and pricing for 2022 to make our programs more affordable.
  • Special Projects on the Land
    • Our large-scale building projects are on hold currently due to the rapid changes in how we operate.  The new building (Upaya) is on hold for now.
    • The Septic System project is underway and should be completed this summer.  This project remedies existing deficiencies we had in the system.  It does not include additional new capacity but addresses our current needs.
    • We are still working on a viable water treatment system design and looking for the right consultants to help us with this project.
    • We are exploring moving forward with the Fire Stupa project as part of the Master Plan Conditional Use Permit process we will start this fall.  This will allow for occasional cremation and a columbarium with places for ashes of Sangha members.
    • We are continuing to fund other small special projects related to maintenance and building repair on the land as needed.  The buildings are now over 10 years old and needing more large-scale repairs.
    • We want to get better live-streaming and webcast equipment in the temple (Nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya levels and outside the temple) so we can do higher quality live streaming.
  • PIR:  We developed the Practitioner in Residence Program this year, and our first session was a great success.  We hope to have another program in the fall.
  • Dakini Online Store:  We just completed the revamp of the online store, and it has been very successful.
  • Residents on the Land:  Currently we have a small, dedicated staff of 8 on the land and we recently added Immanuel Currah as added Maintenance Staff, Rae Jean as Dakini Store Manager.  More staff live and work remotely due to Covid.  This is a big shift for Tara Mandala.
    • Living Dharma Program Revamp:  We have moved away from a voluntary staff model at the Retreat Center and created the revamped Living Dharma Study, Practice and Service Program (currently on hold due to Covid).  This program was well received, more balanced and successful, and attracted some amazing students.
  • Retreat Land Revisioning: The board is looking at the role and purpose of the retreat center and land, and developing a new plan to increase personal retreats, building new cabins), new Buddhist study programming, such as a Buddhist Studies program overseen by Tulku Ösel, and holding larger more festival-like events including Drubchens and Drubchos, an annual Magyu retreat, and capstones retreats for other programs, while cultivating a more practice-oriented community during the fall to spring seasons.  More to come on these ideas in the near future.
  • Other Offerings to Sangha and Community: 
    • Sustaining Sangha Portal:  As a way to offer back we created the Sustaining Sangha portal, and we are exploring more content to offer members.
    • Monastic Support:  This last year, we have created a Monastic Support Grant Program to provide more support to individual monastics.  We are now supporting an elderly western nun through our generous members and others’ donations.  We hope to expand this program.
    • New Content:  We want to resurrect the “Words of Wisdom” series and expand the content of that offering, and perhaps include video clips, etc.
  • Right Livelihood and Relationship:  As a religious, nonprofit organization, we are focusing on creating Right Livelihood conditions for all Teachers and Staff (on and offsite, including Lama) as an organization.
  • Big Changes:  When I was hired, we had an operating deficit each year.  The goal was to stabilize the team, have a balanced budget, hire professionals with real experience and the skills we need to move us into more positive financial conditions.
    • We have achieved these goals.
    • We have an amazing team right now.
    • I could not do my job without our team.
  • Point of Clarification Regarding the Organization:  We hear many people refer to “Tara Mandala Colorado.”  Actually Tara Mandala is an International Buddhist organization.  Our retreat center is located in Colorado, and we are incorporated in the State of Colorado and subject to federal tax laws for nonprofit religious organizations.
    • We are no longer just a retreat center; the land in Pagosa Springs is, of course, the heart center and main pilgrimage site for the organization and always will be.
    • We are now a global international organization with many programs, offerings, teachers, activities, and smaller sanghas around the world.  This was a long-term goal of the board and we have also achieved this goal as well.

I appreciate what each of you offer to the Dharma and Tara Mandala. Thank you for your service and support.

We are truly blessed, and I am honored to serve in the role of Executive Director and help fulfill Lama Tsultrim’s vision, and the mission of Tara Mandala!

I welcome your questions! Please contact me here.

With deep appreciation,

Joanne Brion
Executive Director
Tara Mandala

Header, Dharmachakra (J.Brownlee), Tara statue (Bodhi Stroupe), Group (Miranda Viorst), Practitioner (Deborah Howe)

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