Why Are The Richest People Broke?

H. H. Sridhar Swami

I think we actually enjoy being broke. We are the wealthiest people with the best product in the most profitable market, and yet we are keeping ourselves broke. I am afraid that I don't know how to talk about this. I don't want to be offensive to sadhus (my audience) but some people need haranguing to get the message. I know we have God on our side; I know we are the only pure ones; I know that Srila Prabhupada's books will be the Law Books for the next ten thousand years; I know that all we have to do is chant 'Hare Krsna' and distribute books, and everything will happen automatically, mystically. But I also know there are a few details that we have to attend to. Srila Prabhupada once asked, 'What is the qualification for becoming Krsna conscious? A devotee replied (sincerely), 'Sincerity, Srila Prabhupada.' 'No!' said Srila Prabhupada, . sincerity and intelligence.'

We have intelligent and, more importantly, committed people in our movement. That alone is the greatest factor in building a successful team. Corporations literally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to instil a spirit of commitment in their leaders and subordinates. From top to bottom, we have people who are committed to the same goal. So the question arises: 'Why can't we develop a secure financial base by which we can escape from the crisis management trap and engage in our real business - preaching, teaching, book selling, counselling and ministering to the fallen conditioned souls?' The answer is: 'It beats me!'

The money is there: we just have to put our hands out and pick it up. 'When you have money in the bank, management is easy.' Prabhupada told reporters: 'If I just sat underneath a tree here in Juhu beach, Bombay, nobody would come to listen to me. Therefore I have built this grand temple.' Shall I explain to you the greatest 'get rich quick' formula for ISKCON: in America we say, 'It don't exist!' As Henry Russo, a leading guru in the 135 billion dollar a year non profit-making sector, says 'Fundraising is not easy'! No magic formula has ever been devised to transform a fervent, even desperate, wish into instant results. There is a discipline to gift development that progresses in logical order from preparation to planning, from programme execution to control.

This sequence of orderliness is depicted in a continuum often referred to as 'the cycle of fundraising'. Successful non profit-making organisations are as concerned about marketing techniques and their ability to prepare wise marketing plans as any profit-making corporation. The non profit-making - or social purpose - organisation must critically assess its worth and examine its mission, to determine whether this mission is being interpreted properly through measurable objectives and meaningful programmes and to evaluate its overall impact on the market area. The cycle can serve as an effective instrument to help executives of non profit-making agencies visualise the relationships of fundraising elements. It permits them to see the sequence to follow from preparation, or definition, of case through to the solicitation and annual renewal of gifts. Fundraising cannot be an haphazard impulsive action, improvised at the last moment in response to a crisis situation: fund-raising is an exercise in discipline.

But don't lose hope folks, there is still a chance. We are disciples and we can become disciplined. The International Membership Ministry and the ISKCON Foundation have been formed to teach devotees the skills and techniques of fundraising. Naveen Krsna Dasa, the personnel of the ISKCON Foundation and myself have studied and tested modern marketing methods such as direct mail, telephone campaigns, capital campaigns, special events, etc. I have complete confidence that ISKCON can succeed in a very big way. Techniques and skills are not enough, however. First you and I must create a paradigm shift. From where we are now, I would say it would require a revolution in our consciousness and the way we deal with our congregation. Based on the experience gained from my travels, and on a scale of one to ten, I would have to rate most of our temples at about three for 'quality customer care'. In addition, London Soho Street temple has recently conducted a survey, first with the devotees of the temple and later with the congregation. To everybody's surprise, both gave the temple a rating of three to four out of ten. Obviously you can't preach to, or solicit funds from, a congregation when your attitude towards them is negative or at best indifferent.

The first area where vast improvement can be made is in our dealings with devotees. We have to learn to treat the devotees the way we want the devotees (preachers) to treat the congregation. For example, meet with devotees on a regular basis and discuss the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee; discuss problems in devotee relationships and ways they can be solved by proper Vaisnava etiquette. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had a system in his math that every brahmacari would try to render five kinds of service to other Vaisnavas in the math every day. Therefore, think of ways to reward devotees who are good examples. Now, some people might think that this has nothing to do with building a congregation and collecting and paying the bills. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! In the business sector where people are paid to work and give service, the leaders of the Fortune 500 companies still strive to establish good relations with their employees: 'Motivate them, train them, care about them and make winners out of them ... we know that if we treat our employees correctly, they'll treat the customers right. And if the customers are treated right, they'll come back.' (J. W. Marriott Jr., Chairman and President, Marriott Corporation).

How to motivate devotees? In a five-year survey of workers in America, results indicated that being able to exercise creativity, obtain recognition for achievements and the feeling of being useful both to the company and society were the most powerful motivating influences in employment, with salary at number four or five. Managers and team leaders must constantly encourage the devotees and thank them for their service. Are these things Srila Prabhupada did? You bet your life they are. Even in his last days in Vrindavan when a disciple would arrive His Divine Grace, while lying on his bed, would cry out names, saying what a nice devotee they were and how he was indebted to them. You can perhaps understand what this did to the hearts of everyone present. When Srila Prabhupada was asked how his disciples would be recognised, what was the answer? They will wear dhotis? They will have large neck beads? They will have a big halo? No! He said they will be perfect gentlemen. Are our devotees perfect gentlemen when guests come to the temple or when they meet a congregational member? I don't know - you will have to be the judge of that. Soho Street devotees concluded not. Here's the secret: please think about it. 'What gets rewarded gets done.' Devotees will listen to what you tell them; they will believe what you do; but they will do what you reward.

In ISKCON at present, we only reward quantity. The number of books sold; the total money collected; the number of Life Members enrolled; the number of plates of prasadam distributed. We only strive for quantity and neglect quality. However, after reading one of those millions of books distributed, our congregation and people in general think: 'Oh this is a nice philosophy. After following it I wonder what kind of a person one becomes. Are they polite, courteous and attentive to my needs or will they just ignore me because they have something else to do at the time. Let me go to their temple and see for myself.' So we have to reward the devotees for what I call 'quality customer care' (the congregation, readers of our books and visitors to our temples being our customers).

Here's another truism: people do what gets measured. I cannot stress that point too strongly. Every important goal needs to be accompanied with a way to keep score so that you and your team of devotees can measure the progress towards reaching your objectives. Additionally, keeping score and letting devotees know how they are doing is a tremendous motivational tool. Just like in the non-devotee world, would people enjoy playing golf, tennis, soccer or whatever if there were no way of keeping score? Here are some things to look for:

1. Number of congregational complaints received every week (every temple should have a suggestion/complaint box)

2. Number of complimentary letters received every month

3. Number of square feet cleaned per day

4. Percentage of donations coming from repeat donors

5. Number of congregational devotees involved in service

I would also suggest you follow these guidelines when attempting to measure progress:

  • Don't let anybody con you into believing that you can't measure what they do. If what they are doing can't be measured, they aren't contributing.

  • Keep it simple. Otherwise, devotees will spend too much time measuring, rather than pursuing, their goals.

  • Measure progress toward goals achieved and not activities performed.

  • Remember that it is far more important to measure group than individual goals: team performance counts the most. We have a tendency in ISKCON to reward the top man without considering the team that backs him up.

  • Finally, remember that the best performance measures give devotees frequent feedback so that they can see how they are doing and adjust their performance accordingly. Put up a highly visible chart, poster or scoreboard and update it regularly. There are many different ways you can reward devotees - personal thanks, a trip to Mayapur, recognition in front of the community. I am sure you can use your imagination.


The second area we can immediately improve is the Sunday feast. I remember that in Los Angeles in 1970 the Sunday feast was a gala event, and we usually made five to ten new devotees each week. Many of those stayed to render years of devotional service. We actually started planning the Sunday feast on Monday. Every devotee had some duty ... from serving prasada, to watching the shoes, to sitting with guests and preaching to them. Devotees spent all week rehearsing plays and dramas. On Sunday, all visitors to the temple were greeted, given a tour and preached to.

Today we go out to distribute books, preach in colleges, etc., but when people come to our temples they often get indifferent treatment. Reception of guests is given a low priority. Srimad Bhagavatam 8:16:6 and 8:16:7 states that any guest in one's house (even an enemy) should be treated royally even if he comes unannounced. The homes where this kind of treatment is not given are considered to be homes of jackals. Obviously some temples are better than others, but my honest opinion is that we have fallen a long way from the standard. Managers must organise the training of devotees in this area and recognition should be given for outstanding service in 'quality customer care'.

Let me leave you with a few statistics to think about regarding what happens when someone comes to our temple and has a bad experience, and what factors contribute to a bad experience:

1. A typical business hears from only four per cent of its dissatisfied customers. The other ninety-six per cent just quietly go away and ninety-one per cent will never come back. That represents a serious loss for temples that don't know how to treat guests and a tremendous gain for those that do.


2. A survey on 'why customers quit' found the following:

Three per cent move away

Five per cent develop other friendships

Nine per cent leave for competitive reasons

Fourteen per cent are dissatisfied with the product

Sixty-eight per cent quit because of an attitude of indifference toward the customer by the owner, manager or an employee

3. A typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to ten people about his problem. One in five will tell twenty. It takes twelve positive incidents to make up for one negative incident.

4. Seven out of ten complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favour. If you resolve it on the spot, ninety-five per cent will do business with you again. On average, a satisfied complainer will tell five people about the problem and how it was satisfactorily resolved.

5. The average business spends six times more to attract new customers than it does to keep old ones. Yet customer loyalty is, in most cases, worth ten times the price of a single purchase.

6. Businesses having low service quality average only one per cent return on sales and lose market share at the rate of two per cent per year. Businesses with high service quality average twelve per cent return on sales, gain market share at the rate of six per cent per year and charge significantly higher prices.

Maybe we do have God on our side, maybe devotees are pure, maybe our book distribution is powerful, but maybe we should also use our intelligence and see how we can improve our preaching rather than rest on our past laurels and old paradigms. We are not the first group to try to spread a spiritual idea: Srila Prabhupada told us to take note of the management techniques of the Rama Krsna Mission, Tirupati Devasthanam and the Catholic Church. Maybe we have to take Rupa Goswami's advice - copy success and use it in Krsna's service. Perhaps our fund-raising will be then become 'fun-raising'.

Delivered as a lecture at the Fourth European Communications Seminar at Radhadesh, Belgium, in January 1993.