Dear Sangha Family and Friends,
Recently, a small sangha focus group met to discuss the future of Zen River Sangha. The overwhelming message that came out of this meeting was our desire and intention to continue to help Zen River mature as a community, which requires our sangha to deeply internalize a culture of dana (generosity), financially sustainable operations, and increased involvement in the larger Fox Valley community.
As many of you know, about two years ago we chose to commit to moving into our current location and did so with the intention of purchasing the building as a sangha as funds became available. Thanks to Reishin’s tremendous generosity and the sangha’s response to our fundraising drive, we could feel confident that we could sustain our operating budget for the foreseeable future—while settling into our own, beautiful zendo.
Nothing is permanent, however; we know this! Due to a reduction in pledges and donations, our operating budget is no longer in the black, requiring us to draw on the funds we have saved and preventing us from saving additional funds to purchase the zendo building or to expand our offerings and services. This gap is not a large one; we are bringing in about $700 a month and our expenses are about $1000. The bulk of our savings is still intact and the board has been vigilant about resource stewardship, avoiding expenditures whenever possible. And it is heartening to know that many sangha participants are still giving generously of their funds, time and talents.
We understand that it is deeply important that our sangha provides value commensurate to the financial donations we are asking for. We initially met with the intention of simply brainstorming around fundraising. What emerged, however, was a clearer vision for how we wish to be of service to both the sangha and the larger geographical community. Our belief is that through community service and engaged Buddhist practice, our sangha will strengthen, grow, and have access to additional resources, freely given, which will allow us to continue this cycle of service and growth.
The board would like to join the larger sangha in exploring how we can become meaningfully engaged in the community, with the understanding that this will both support and be supported by our desire to meet or exceed our necessary operating budget each month. Purchasing the zendo building is still a future goal for us, and one that has tangible financial and tax benefits, but we believe our operating budget and community involvement need to come first in our minds.
Our questions are these: How can we establish our mission and position outside of the zendo and in the community? How do we wish to serve and engage without proselytizing and while remaining in integrity with our essential Zen practice? What needs can we identify in the community that are not currently being met by other non-profit organizations, what gaps can we fill?
Put in a more personal context, what passion do you have that you would like to share with the sangha? What needs do you know of that you feel we could help meet? What resources do you know of that could assist Zen River in our mission to be “…a sacred order, bringing into being a harmonious and loving world, through the practice of meditative, compassionate awareness and mindful stewardship”?
Fundraising is, of course, still part of the puzzle that we’re addressing here. In that spirit, we’re including below a long list of “brainstorming” items that came out of our initial meeting. Our approach was that there are “no bad ideas” in this stage, so some of the suggestions may seem absurd or amusing at first glance. Please look over these and allow them to spur your own brainstorming, for both fundraising and community involvement activities. Also included is a brief SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) that we used to kick off our meeting. This may also assist you in your own consideration of Zen River’s unique characteristics.
We will be opening the floor for discussion of this letter and the attached documents after each Thursday and Saturday sit, following the dharma talk, for the remainder of May and into June. After that, the board will meet to discuss the feedback and to determine our next direction. If there’s call for additional meetings or brainstorming sessions, we will schedule those using this mailing list.
Please reach out after a sit or by email with your thoughts and feedback on this letter and the attached brainstorming ideas. Let us know your feelings on what Zen River could or should bring to the Fox Valley Community. Most of all, let us know how you are willing to help!
With gratitude and affection, and with particular thanks to Che Hun Erin Quick-Laughlin and Myoshin Renee Taylor for their participation,
Zen River Sangha Board of Directors
Liaoran Tess Grey
Kai Hui Jill Buckmaster
Jian Zhi Peter Tolly
Taiso Byran Bartow (ex officio)