My first visit to the United States was in 1991 and for the first time, I was exposed to the culture of philanthropy and organized support to the non-profit sector. I had very little understanding of how to go about fund-raising and was hesitant to go beyond asking support from people I already knew.
The first real exposure came when I presented SVYM at the Vedanta Society of Northern California. Swami Prabuddhanandaji had introduced me to American Service to India (ASTI) and I had spoken with Ms. Barbara Piner. She had invited me to make a presentation at the Vedanta Society in Hollywood where their Board was meeting. Murthy, my brother-in-law and a donor cum strong supporter of SVYM, took me to the Center. It was the first Sunday of April, when Daylight Saving Time change is made. We had forgotten this and reached the meeting venue exactly one hour late. The board members had waited for us for an hour and were just dispersing. My nervousness and discomfort was further compounded by this embarrassment and I felt lost. Ms. Piner was very understanding and got the Board to reassemble. ASTI agreed to receive funds on our behalf and transfer the same to us without charging any overheads. They also resolved to extend their support and promised a donation. From then on, we could ask our donors in the US to donate to ASTI, and they (donors) would get the benefit of the tax exemption. This arrangement with ASTI continued for a long time, till SVYM of NA was formally launched.
I returned to the US in 1997 and spent many months traveling around and raising funds. Though my fund-raising skills had vastly improved, Murthy pointed out that a gap of six years between visits was not appropriate. He was instrumental in getting me to understand the psyche and culture of the American donor and was constantly providing me with material to read and learn from. He suggested that we could consider having a center for SVYM in the US that could primarily focus on mobilizing resources for the activities in India. It was in the same year that I traveled around the east coast with our member Shailendra, making presentations at Chicago, Pittsburgh (at the famous Venkateshwara Temple) and at Asha and AID chapters in various universities in the Tri-State area. As we spoke on how he and other SVYM members living in the US could get involved, I mentioned to him the idea of starting our own center in the US. Shailendra was also supportive of the idea and promised to do the necessary homework.
This idea continued to incubate for a few more years and I returned for more fund-raising talks and presentations in 2001 and 2002. Nothing much had moved and Murthy wanted to understand whether we were keen on taking the idea forward. I was relatively helpless, as we needed someone full-time to focus on the legal paperwork to set up the center. It was then that Murthy generously offered to take on that role and suggested that we could set up a non-profit in the US, using his residence as our office. We prepared the necessary applications and sent them to the concerned department.
But the incidents of 9/11 had made the registration process lengthier and we had to wait till 2004 for it to complete. Both Murthy and I felt that we needed to clearly show the SVYM and North American connection in the name and hence this new 501(C)(3) non-profit was christened SVYMofNA. We thought that this legal status would give tax exemptions for our Canadian donors too. Only later did I get to know that the tax laws had been amended and we would need a separate legal entity for getting tax rebates in Canada. But by then we had already registered the name as SVYM of NA.
SVYM of NA continues to be shepherded and overseen by Murthy. He has been kind enough to not only spend time on fund-raising and stay connected with our donors, but also ensure that all statutory processes are undertaken every year. Murthy has not only been instrumental in sowing the seed but has also helped SVYM of NA grow. His support and encouragement has evolved from being a donor and well-wisher to setting up a platform for others to donate. But for his support, we would not have been able to create a presence for SVYM in the US.
Murthy has been constantly suggesting that SVYM of NA needs to grow beyond a one-man mission into a larger platform with more involvement of our members living in the US. We need to energize them to come together and re-engage with SVYM through this platform.