Regional Incorporation and Financial Unification

Over the last year, Northern California Shambhala has faced significant economic challenges due to rising rents in the Bay Area. The Silicon Valley Center is looking for a new space. Likewise, Sharchen Dzong in San Francisco has given up its downstairs space and Berkeley’s rent is quadrupling between 2015 and 2021.

Against that backdrop, a team of local and regional leaders has been trying to determine how we can best secure our long-term financial health. We have identified two fairly straightforward solutions: Regional Incorporation and Financial Unification of our “urban core.”

Since this spring two sangha lawyers, Rebekka Martorano and Shastri Manny Medeiros, have been guiding a team of leaders through the intricacies of legal incorporation as Northern California Shambhala Inc. While the actual legal documents are characteristically complex, the benefits of incorporating legally are quite simple.

Incorporation will bring clarity and unity to our accounting, allowing us to appear on paper as the larger organization that Northern California Shambhala is, rather than many smaller entities with smaller budgets. Unified bookkeeping opens access to credit markets, giving us the potential in the future to finally purchase property and remove ourselves from the vicious cycle of renting. Incorporation also provides legal protection between our local centers and any financial vicissitudes elsewhere in Shambhala. Finally, on an energetic level, it formally unites our Region, encouraging greater regional coordination and efficiency. Since incorporation will not change the stewardship of locally-generated funds nor the current staffing structure, it will not have any significant effects on the day to day reality of the Berkeley Center or the way in which members’ dues are spent.

Building on the momentum of incorporation, a team of leaders from Berkeley (myself, Chagdzo Scott Tracy, and Organizational Consultant Radha Chandra), San Francisco (Director Alex Van Gils and Chagdzo Kevin Walsh), and the Region (Director Cody McGough, Chagdzo Dave Rapson, and Vice Chair Gale Young) has been investigating the further benefits and opportunities provided through financial unification of these three entities. Through financial unification of the “urban core,” all SF, Berkeley, and Regional assets, incomes, and expenses would be consolidated into a single bank account, unlocking important benefits around programming, staffing, and accounting.

Historically, financial disunity has led to chronic competition between these three entities and a “perverse disincentive” against collaboration. Each organization is concerned with a different bottom line, leading to conflicts and inefficiencies such as crowded teacher visits, siloed marketing, and ineffective profit sharing.

Instead, we propose to instate a model of financial unification that already exists to good effect for the Shambhala Centers of Los Angeles, where one organization with a single corporate structure and bank account supports multiple locations.

After initial skepticism and uncertainty from some members of this committee, the benefits of the new model now seem numerous and considerable. Every program can be assigned to its ideal location, without the need to work out how to share the profits. Equally important, unifying gives all three organizations an equal financial stake in all of our events, incentivizing the efficient sharing of marketing, staff and volunteer resources. Finally, unification gives us collective insurance instead of individually facing large leases; in the future, we may also be able to pool resources to hire new staff to support both locations or strategically invest in newer and smaller sanghas, such as Oakland, Silicon Valley, and Mount Tamalpais.

Under this model, for the near future Berkeley will become the primary programming location for Northern California Shambhala, hosting and financially benefitting form such regional programs as weekthuns, vajrayana intensives, and Enlightened Society Assembly. We will also receive increased administrative support from the Region and greater financial security in seeing through a rapidly increasing lease that will reach nearly $9,000/month in 2021.

If we don’t take this opportunity to unify, our looming rent will require a steady increase in programming without as significant support from Regional staff. In five years, Berkeley will likely face a further and possibly untenable rent increase forcing us to shrink or move. Meanwhile, there will remain no incentive for Berkeley to support “Regional” programs at our own Center, meaning that the Region’s potential for growth is dampened. San Francisco will need to keep potentially large programs at Sharchen Dzong in order to maintain revenue, capping participants and diminishing revenue.

The Council will be meeting to make final decisions on both of these matters at the end of November. While both the Incorporation and Unification committees have agreed that these are the best paths forward for our Centers, further scrutiny and creative insight from the community is very much needed at this point. At “Rise Up,” our community meeting on Saturday, October 29th, we did a lot of good work in this regard—people brought their curiosity, intelligence, and goodwill. If you missed that meeting and would like to discuss this with me—or if you have had further thoughts since attending the meeting—I will be holding office hours from 5:00-7:00 PM on Wednesday, November 9th, Wednesday, November 16th and 4:00-6:00 PM on Monday, November 21st. Please don’t be shy.

3 thoughts on “Regional Incorporation and Financial Unification

  1. Thank you everyone for this very thoughtful plan to address the future of Shambhala at our center and in the region. Feels like lots of lungta here! Sorry I wasn’t able to participate Rise Up last weekend. Thanks to all who did!

  2. Hello Northern Cal! Sue Firer from Windhorse Retreat in Wisconsin. On behalf of Lion Region we thank you for so purposefully and elegantly laying the ground toward Regional Governance/Unification. The Midwest is just now beginning discussion of regional unification and are using documents that you all wrote up as guides. Much merit to you all.

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