Canadian NSA Ignores Surplus, Issues Fund Appeal

Well that didn’t take too long.

The Canadian National Spiritual Assembly’s Treasurer, Mr. Enayat Rawhani, issued this letter recently:

At its recent meeting, the National Spiritual Assembly reviewed the financial position of the Canadian community as part of the formulation of a budget that would provide for activities related to the first year of the new Five Year Plan. A thrilling picture of Canada’s contribution to the growth of the Faith emerged from our review. At the same time, we noted with growing concern that the needs have substantially exceeded the flow of contributions to the national fund. Over the last few months, therefore, the National Assembly has drawn from funds set aside from bequests and endowments so that commitments to other funds of the Cause and the movement of the Plan in Canada may not be impeded. Examples include increased contributions to the House of Worship in Chile, an historic restoration of the Shrine in Montreal in preparation for the centenary of the visit of �Abdu’l-Baha, the winning of Canada’s international pioneer goals through the settlement of a large number of pioneers, international collaborative projects in Congo and Burkina, and of course, the personnel and operational costs of the processes of growth throughout the country.

Contributions to the fund fluctuate throughout the year, but by the end of March, the Assembly can usually foresee whether the contributions will meet the year’s needs. This year, contributions as of the end of March had reached $4,000,000, an amount which fell $700,000 short of the year-to-date expenditure budget. This gap moved us to immediately share the state of affairs with you, calling for a supreme effort to remedy this condition and in fact, welcome the new Plan at Ridvan with a surplus.

You can read the Treasurer’s full letter here. Interestingly enough, Rawhani is one of the longest serving members of the NSA with more than 16 years of continuous incumbency under his belt. But only the two most recent have seen him serve as Treasurer for the national body.

Most Baha’is will find nothing in the above letter surprising or out of the ordinary. After all, we are all used to receiving such exhortations about the fund. They are usually delivered with a breathless tone of impending doom and gloom. If we don’t immediately give sacrificially, who knows what will happen!

So why do I say, “well that didn’t take long?”. Because we just reviewed the financial situation of the Baha’i community. Based on the NSA’s own disclosure to the Canadian tax authorities, we know that the Canadian Baha’i community is doing very well financially. This is a chart that I shared with you already:

NSA Canada assets chart

Total liquid assets have been growing consistently and the NSA now has more than $32.5 million. If we count non-liquid assets such as land and buildings, then it is more than that by a few million.

In fact, just a few days ago, I wrote this:

I hope that with this warchest, the NSA doesn’t resort to the past manufactured financial crisis situations to motivate Baha’is to donate.

From the NSA’s own disclosures to the CRA, here is a concise summary of their annual financial status going back to 1996:

YearTotal IncomeTotal DisbursementsSurplus/(Deficit)
1996$10,128,341$10,374,676($246,335)
1997$9,678,961$7,864,324$1,814,637
1998$7,937,466$7,485,086$452,380
1999$9,631,089$9,090,259$540,830
2000$11,635,916$8,052,783$3,583,133
2001$10,059,902$7,646,536$2,413,366
2002$17,462,503$11,057,848$6,404,655
2003$9,707,904$9,603,921$103,983
2004$11,910,620$9,603,921$2,306,699
2005$10,804,786$8,877,218$1,927,568
2006$13,698,757$12,760,130$938,627
2007$18,984,048$16,177,993$2,806,055
2008$16,277,836$7,953,414$8,324,422
2009$14,389,555$19,888,513($5,498,958)
2010$14,980,518$12,178,743$2,801,775

The NSA has consistently banked surplus after surplus, year after year. The cumulative net surplus over this time period is $28.7 million which would account for almost all the accumulated liquid assets that the NSA has at this point.

The only time there was a large deficit was in 2009 when they decided to contribute $12.5 million to the Chile Temple project. This created a $5.5 million deficit. Without this there would have been a surplus of $7.5 million. This donation to the Chile project provided another interesting discrepancy that is yet to be explained.

There is just one month remaining in the Baha’i fiscal year so the above letter can be seen as a ‘Hail Mary’ to try to get Baha’is to donate within this window of opportunity to prevent a $700,000 deficit. What I balk at here is not the letter itself in isolation. But that it is merely one among many similar letters that present a completely different picture and tone to that which the NSA itself reports to the Canadian government. We’ve seen many similar letters sent to the community during previous years when the fund ultimately presented a surplus.

I balk at the selective disclosure that the NSA engages in to reinforce informational asymmetry within the Baha’i community. They have never disclosed the full financial situation. They have never reported the true financial status of the community to the members of the community. They never report the balance sheet which would then show the massive and growing assets, both liquid and capital of the NSA. They never report the full income statement nor explain what exactly they are doing with the funds or how they are making decisions about them.

The pattern of behavior exhibited by the NSA is one of extremely limited disclosure coupled with intermittent jeremiads, like the one above, bemoaning the state of the fund and asking for further donations to avert a crisis. I find this wholly contemptible.

  • Peyamb

    So what’s new? That’s the modus operandi for most NSA’s (especially the US). The question still remains- why do such expensive structures need to be built? Let the Chilean community build what they can. If for the time being it is a 9 sided straw structure, so be it. Maybe then funds can be used to actually do the activities that were more important, the charities that are part of the Mashriqu’l-Adhk??r; but in a sustainable/organic way. I know, I know, now I’m going to be beaten up by someone for being negative and not doing anything to help…

  • Baquia

    Peyamb, not much has changed. That is why it is important to let some sunshine fall on this issue. Each Baha’i deserve to be informed of relevant facts about their community. As well, such transparency and dialogue is part and parcel of Baha’i administration according to Shoghi Effendi:

    The duties of those whom the friends have freely and conscientiously elected as their representatives are no less vital and binding than the obligations of those who have chosen them. Their function is not to dictate, but to consult, and consult not only among themselves, but as much as possible with the friends whom they represent. They must regard themselves in no other light but that of chosen instruments for a more efficient and dignified presentation of the Cause of God. They should never be led to suppose that they are the central ornaments of the body of the Cause, intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit, and sole promoters of its teachings and principles. They should approach their task with extreme humility, and endeavour by their open-mindedness, their high sense of justice and duty, their candour, their modesty, their entire devotion to the welfare and interests of the friends, the Cause, and humanity, to win not only the confidence and the genuine support and respect of those whom they should serve, but also their esteem and real affection. They must at all times avoid the spirit of exclusiveness, the atmosphere of secrecy, free themselves from a domineering attitude, and banish all forms of prejudice and passion from their deliberations.
    (23 February 1924 to the Bah??’?­s of America, published in “Bah??’?­ Administration”, p. 64)

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  • Amin

    I randomly stumbled onto this.

    After reading it, I don’t know that it has really changed my mind. Having a surplus shouldn’t change how much the budget is or isn’t. Realistically, there should always be a surplus. Has has often been said, it is a privilege to be able to give to the faith.
    Sadly, I don’t think people view the fund the same way they view other things in their life. They are less likely to give up a creature comfort when times get tough. It’s far easier to give a little less to the fund. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just how we’re wired. We work everyday to try and change that.

    Honestly, I can’t think of a better place to put my money. You’re investing in not only your future, but the future of all of humanity. Just meeting the budget every year does no more then support the status quo. Setting our sights out further and having extra resources only helps guarantee that things keep growing.