A recent event has prompted us to write this article with regards to temple fundraising in lieu of us having to progressively and repeatedly help answer a stream of enquiries from various parties.
What exactly does temple fundraising means? Generally, it may be defined as a process of which a temple initiates to solicit financial support to accomplish the temple’s specific objective. However, the definition aforementioned is very broad and general and does not explain much about specific processes, the roles of offices and individuals involved there-in-under as well as to the limitations of the entire processes per se. The essence of temple fundraising far transcends mere asking for money. It also reflects the ethical conduct of the particular temple and the ways it imparts religious knowledge and behaviour, how it builds and establishes relationships between the Sangha (monks) and devotees, brings in and retains foundation support as well as how it attracts new donors and followers. In other words, it is a reflection about the overall responsibility and accountability of the temple’s modus operandi. A seemingly simple temple fundraising process actually comprises a complicated web of sub-processes which, if not carried out properly, will open the floodgate to fraud and deception.
We have in the past twenty over years participated in various temple fundraising processes through assuming different roles and obligations within those processes. Each role has its specific set of duties and limitations. In this article, we will share our experiences in pertinence to the process of temple fundraising and hope you will find these information useful.
Financial Sources of Temple
Before we delve into the topic of temple fundraising, allow us to provide you with a general knowledge of the constituents of temple income in Thailand. Most of the temples derive income from the rental of property (temple land) and kiosks (shops and stalls within temple compound) and the sales of religious items such as flowers, incense, candles, offering products, and specifically sacred objects such as amulets and statues. The aforementioned channels of income constitute a temple’s long-term revenue which is usually used for general maintenance of the temple.
Technically, these activities are governed by Ministerial Regulation issued in accordance with the Sangha Act which gave birth to what became known as ‘temple committee’. Nonetheless, both laws do not specify the method of appointment or qualification as well as the authority and duties of office holders thereby indirectly conferring upon the abbot the discretionary power to appoint persons he deems appropriate. In this article, we will not be visiting the benefits and problems arising under such system but suffice to make our ground that an abbot has sole authority to fill the “temple committee” as he deems fit.
Purpose of Temple Fundraising
With a steady flow of income, temple fundraising must, therefore, be confined to the premise of specific purposes that require stipulated amount of money to accomplish, for examples, the restoration of 13th century Chedi in Wat Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat; the construction of Ubosot and Phra Phrom shrine in Wat Noak, Bangkok; the construction and extension of temple activity compound in Wat Bangplad, Nakhon Pathom and et cetera.
Under such circumstances, a temple will usually organise a range of activities to raise funds to accomplish the specific project. In the process of fundraising, a temple usually forms a network to reach out to potential donors. This network comprises individuals and groups assigned with specific tasks to help the temple accomplish its mission.
Roles and Duties of Individuals in a Fundraising Process
The network of individuals may be broadly categorised into five groups as follows:
(1) temple project committee;
(4) dealers; and
Temple committee members formed for the purpose of a project may comprise ad hoc members specifically appointed for their competence for the purpose of fundraising with or without participation of temple’s standing committee. Project committee activities are case specific with objectives concentrating on overall project purposes and specific deliverables in soliciting funds and ensuring funds solicited are efficiently utilised on the said project. In other words, not only do temple project committee members work hand-in-hand with other relevant parties in related processes such as event organisers, advertisers, distributors, dealers and et cetera, they also have access to the books to ensure funds raised are not abused.
The project committee or its members neither solicit donation nor sell sacred objects. However, they may refer potential donors directly to the temple. The status of project committee members dies with the project.
Agents are directly appointed by the abbot and charged with the responsibility to reach out to a wider community by creating awareness of the temple’s ongoing project so as to gather contributions of money from individuals, businesses, and institutions. Their core duties, amongst other things, include providing donors with correct information, such as the temple’s name and address, the purpose of fundraising, total amount of donation solicited, the means for solicitation, potential dates for commencement and completion of project, arranging for donors to meet up with the abbot or project committee when authentication is being requested and et cetera.
Names and photographs of appointed agents are published in temple’s circulars, newsletters, magazines, brochures, official website or other platforms of communication to preclude impostors from deceiving unsuspecting donors and damaging the temple’s reputation. Agents are the only group among the six authorised to raise cash donation. However, official temple receipts must be issued for cash collected.
The status of agents either die with the project or upon termination by the abbot whichever earlier.
This role is usually fulfilled by prominent dealers in the amulet trade. The responsibility of distributors include stockpiling sacred objects specifically made and consecrated for the particular project and distributing them to willing amulet dealers without mark-ups. This is to ensure dealers are not price-disadvantaged. The list of appointed distributors is published by the temple in its brochures and other communication platforms.
The status of distributors expires when stock becomes unavailable.
Dealers are businesses seeking profit from the sales of sacred objects and are not directly associated to the temple. Unlike distributors, they are not constrained by temple pricing. Moreover, the advantage of dealers is that they provide a ready and diverse client-base that temples can tap into to raise funds.
Runners, sometimes also known as petty-dealers, are traditionally individuals who buy in small units either from dealers or direct from temples in the hope to make a profit by selling their purchases to relatives and friends. Currently, runners may also take aim at strangers through the Internet.
A legal fundraising project must necessarily include donor’s rights. What are the donor rights? Of course, donors have many legal and moral rights to pursue, however, there are basically three more obvious and pertinent donor’s rights in relation to temple fundraising. Firstly, a donor has the right to voluntary donation based on true and sincere information with regards to the project. Secondly, a donor must be provided with the venue to seek verification and/or authentication that his donation has been duly received by the temple. Thirdly, a donor may request to witness the progress of a project or see the physical finished product(s) if the fund solicited pertains to specific objects such as statues, murals, and so on.