December 15, 2020

Reflections on 2020: A Q&A with IMS’s Director of Development and Communications

This year has been full of unparalleled challenges for all, and IMS was no exception. As 2020 comes to a close, John Spalding, Director of Development and Communications, reflects on our donors’ extraordinary generosity, and the exciting opportunities the new year offers.

John, what did the financial support of donors enable IMS to accomplish this year?

In short, donor generosity was the critical factor that enabled us to survive this most challenging year. 

Donor giving made it possible for us to maintain enough staff positions to keep IMS going, with income so dramatically reduced from the suspension of in-person retreats.

Our donors also enabled us to launch IMS Online, helping us to compensate teachers and maintain a small support team. These online programs have exceeded all expectations. Since we closed our centers in March, we’ve shared the Dharma with some 10,000 online participants. That’s more than three times the number of people we typically serve in an entire year through residential retreats.  

Thanks to the generosity of donors, we’ve been able to offer financial assistance to everyone who needed it to participate in an online program. Donor giving has also made it possible for us to offer a whole series of free Dharma offerings, including the IMS Book Club, the BIPOC Sangha Weekly Sitting Group, and IMS Daily Dharma sits. 

With our two centers closed, we’ve also undertaken donor supported maintenance projects and begun investing in health and safety upgrades in preparation for reopening.

As you look to 2021, what challenges and opportunities do you see for IMS?

Our biggest challenge in 2021 will be ramping up to reopen once a vaccine is widely available. Depending on that vaccine timeline, it’s possible we could open this summer, or perhaps in September. We’ll need to hire additional staff to support onsite retreats, and make important modifications to our physical spaces and processes to support safe practice spaces. The continued financial support of our donors will be crucial to reopening. 

In addition to welcoming yogis back to the Retreat Center and Forest Refuge, our greatest, most exciting opportunity next year will be further developing IMS Online. We were forced to create IMS Online out of necessity, but its potential to expand access to the Dharma and meet the needs of yogis in ways we’ve never done before is truly exciting.

What did you learn about the practice of generosity this year?

Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg often talk about how, throughout the history of IMS, whenever a financial need arose, a solution presented itself in the form of generosity. They grew to trust that such things would work out, guided by the Dharma. This year, newer staff members got to see and experience this for ourselves. It helped us appreciate more fully how this central Buddhist teaching, the practice of giving, has guided all aspects of IMS’s vision and operations from its earliest days. The tremendous generosity of donors this year has also been a heartening affirmation of just how devoted our sangha is to IMS and its mission.

What message would you like to send to our donors at the close of 2020?

First, I want to offer a huge “thank you” to all who gave to IMS during this most challenging year. Your donations have provided a financial bridge that is helping to sustain us until we can reopen the centers. Second, I thank you for your words of support and encouragement. They have been a great source of personal hope to all of us at IMS as we have navigated this year’s many obstacles.

We hope to see our donors back on campus in 2021. In the meantime, we will continue to expand our online retreats and other programs, and to work on the health and safety measures we will need to reopen in a post-pandemic world.