Auroville International USA (AVI-USA)
An Ever-Dynamic Support for Auroville
The very first international Auroville support organization to be officially incorporated was the “Auroville Association”, set up in California on August 8th, 1973. It was just 5 years after Auroville’s inauguration and The Mother was 95 years old. The association’s purpose was “to support projects within the city of Auroville in India” and it received a non-profit status from the US Internal Revenue Service for donations received. Spearheaded by six American devotees – June and Albert Maher, Ida Cori, Kurt Paine, Ruth Villalobos, and Dimitri von Mohrenschildt. – they were looking toward the future and their aim was to build something new, with The Mother’s guidance.
There already had been two previous efforts to create an international support group for Auroville. The first was in America in 1969 and authorized by The Mother, but failed due to issues with incorporation in the state of New York. The second attempt was in Europe in 1972.
The 1973 success in California was followed 3 months later by The Mother’s passing on November 17th. One can only imagine what it was like for the 6 U.S. founders to hear the news from the other side of the world. What they understood Auroville must have seemed inseparable from the Mother’s guiding presence. Yet they, like the Aurovilians themselves (and everyone else), were forced to integrate this reality. And they decided to carry on.
The next step for building international support for the new township took place in 1983, when “Auroville International” was incorporated in the Netherlands. Its stated purpose was to “work for the advancement of the ideal of human unity by promoting the development of the International Township of Auroville and by encouraging the realization throughout the world of the aims and ideals of Auroville as laid down in its Charter and the numerous writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother” . The “Auroville Association” then changed its name to “Auroville International USA” and became affiliated as the recognized representative of ” Auroville International” within the United States.
Supporting Building & Development
Right from the start, AVI-USA was a dynamic and effective fundraiser for Auroville. Throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, AVI-USA carried out many significant fundraising initiatives, raising over a million dollars for land, the Matrimandir, and individual projects in Auroville.
One example is the International House, which sits across from the Tibetan Pavilion in the International Zone, and was built by a group of students from the University of Washington and funded entirely by AVI-USA!
The association also raised and sent funds that built dams in Darkali Forest, developed roof-top solar panelling throughout Auroville, enhanced and expanded the work of Auroville Village Action and outreach schools like Udavi and Isai Ambalam, and built the proto-type houses at Sacred Groves, among many other initiatives.
Upscaling our Efforts in Crisis Times – The Tsunami & COVID
When the massive tsunami struck the Coromandel Coast in December of 2004, AVI-USA marshalled support from around the world in support of the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project.
Then during the summer of 2020, governments around the world started responding to the COVD epidemic with lockdowns. Binah and Matthew of our Board were in regular touch with the folks from Auroville’s Unity Fund and Budget Coordination Committee and we began to get a picture of a potential major financial crisis if the COVID limitations continued. Auroville’s reserves were being drawn down, and the 2020/21 tourist season was a bust.
Seeing a dire possibility emerging.we began to reach out and let people know.
At that time, AVI-USA’s average annual budget had been around $165,000 per year over the previous five years, and we were sending about $140,000 a year to Auroville. There were a total of 310 donors : about 115 people donated every year and 184 had donated only once within the past five years.
It was in this context that a donor approached us and asked if we would like to take on a major project for Auroville that would have two primary areas of action:
– develop AVI-USA’s operations and donor base so that it would become a major channel for Auroville’s financial resources
– and support the scaling-up of existing Auroville projects that were addressing some of the world’s pressing challenges, including those relevant to the developing world. If these existing projects could develop partnerships and accelerate outside of Auroville, they could be more effective, and simultaneously create revenue that would be circulated back to Auroville for helping to develop other similar projects.
We said yes to the donor and the challenge ! Through our outreach in this extraordinary situation, between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, we were able to send over $540k to Auroville in COVID support. A good portion of these funds went directly to the Budget Coordinating Committee so as to cover Auroville’s essential needs.
Also,as the economy of the local villages in Auroville were seriously impacted, AVI-USA leveraged over $100,000 to support a paycheck protection program for local workers.
How did we accomplish this? First, we began with Board members Matthew and Binah working as contractors for a year. Next, we bought a subscription for a donor database, linked it to a payment processing software (more about this a bit later), and started building up the AVI-USA network and Auroville supporters community.
Building the Donor Base via Connecting & E-connecting
First, to increase our outreach, we developed a new website, created a dynamic and engaging monthly eNewsletter called eConnect, upscaled our annual print newsletter Connect, developed our social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram), and started hosting livestream events that broadcast Auroville across the globe, connecting people with Auroville and Aurovilians directly. Hundreds of wellwishers joined from their COVIDinduced isolation to touch and experience Auroville live on their computer screens !
Signficant firsts were a live concert with Nadaka and Gopika from Unity Pavilion on January 1, 2020, and the first-ever livestream of the Auroville birthday dawnfire on February 28th, 2021. (Since then, we have hosted dozens of such events broadcast live from Auroville).
Creating an Easy-to-Use Donation Platform
Aside from the immediacy of the crisis that called people to contribute, a big portion of the fundraising success can be attributed to the donor software that we put into use. Our previous platform was a bit cumbersome, especially for international donations, so we subscribed to a new service that can accept many forms of payment (credit card, bank wire, PayPal, GPay, Venmo, Apple Pay, etc.) – in any currency – and from any location worldwide. This software suddenly made it easy to donate to Auroville projects. Rather than needing to go to the bank and send a wire, which can cost up to $50 per transaction in the US, people could now just tap their phone for the donation to be complete.
This easy-to-use system is available for all donations to Auroville from anywhere: https://aviusa.org/donate (US taxpayers are eligible for tax exemptions via AVI-USA).
For Acres for Auroville, here’s a direct donate link: https://give.aviusa.org/page/a4a
Increasing Direct Support for Auroville Projects
Moving on from the immediate emergency, our work for the long-term became developing and supporting reliable revenue streams for Auroville projects and our new software became the basis for this, enabling us to create unique donation forms for any Auroville project and directly embed them in the projects’ websites. This feature empowered the projects themselves to receive funds much more easily. Today dozens of Auroville projects like the Botanical Gardens, YouthLink, Kuilai Creative Centre, Joy of Impermanence, and Aurokiya Eye Care all have donation forms embedded in their websites.
As a result of these tech solutions, AVI-USA began to receive donations from around the world. We currently have regular donors from both North and South America, several countries in Europe and Asia, and Australia. In 2022, we sent over $375,000 to Auroville.
Some of this came from our own direct donor development efforts. We stay in touch with donors and help sustain the bridges that connect them to the projects that they care most about in Auroville. We aim always to help people decide what in Auroville most excites them and then build bridges of connection.
And some of the success has come from providing training: direct coaching and mentoring in fundraising to leaders of service projects – what we call “capacity-building”.
Capacity Building – Flourish and BEAM
We hired Helen and Manjula in early 2021 to begin a survey of Auroville units to find out whether there was potential for scaling up and if so, what the major barriers and opportunities were. The project, was called “Expanding Auroville’s Capacity to Flourish “,
The survey was completed at the end of 2021, with a detailed report on the various aspects of the problem – from structural issues like the inability for Auroville units to take investments, to human resource issues like lack of opportunities for training and professional development. The consensus was that Auroville project leaders wanted to grow but felt stymied by lack of support, lack of skilled team members, as well as structural financial issues.
So at the beginning of 2022, a new AVI-USA unit was incorporated called “Flourish” , with the purpose of filling in the skills and training gaps for projects that aspired to grow their operations outside of Auroville. This unit has provided open financial management trainings for any Auroville project leader, and has been directly supporting several units with additional in-depth mentoring, coaching, and operational support.
During 2022, Matthew hosted several open fundraising trainings in Auroville. They were very well attended, with the enthusiasm and desire of service project leaders to learn basic best practices for fundraising. Given the turnout, Matthew started thinking about recruiting a team of Aurovilians who could learn best practices and then become on-the-ground trainers for Auroville service projects.
So he started spreading the word that he was looking for candidates, and by the time he arrived in Auroville in January 2023, he already had four. They decided to call the group “BEAM”, a symbol of light and hope. They spent February and March with training in the basics. They then focused on helping projects improve in five areas: websites, social media, email newsletters, in-person interactions, and donor data management. These five areas form the backbone of BEAM’s support package for Auroville projects.
Flourish and BEAM are our two main long-term capacity building initiatives within Auroville. We have offered many hours of direct mentoring and coaching in fundraising, organizational development, and leadership to dozens of service and commercial projects. AVI USA has also sent funds for supporting the Dreamweaving process,
Public Awareness & Building Community
In addition to donor development and capacity building, AVI-USA’s third main pillar is public awareness. In addition to our website, social media, and hosting of live AV events, AVI-USA produces the only monthly newsletter – eConnect – that represents many different Auroville projects and voices to a global audience. In 2022, Ioana joined our team and has been leading the public awareness initiatives. Ioana infuses all of our communication assets with her passion for Auroville, her keen eye for beauty and order, and her warm and inviting presentation style.
In a certain sense, the “USA” that’s part of our name can be somewhat confusing. We are of course incorporated in the USA, and non-US citizens can’t receive a tax deduction for donating through our platforms. But our reach, our scope, and our efforts are global. The community of people who subscribe to our emails and attend our live events is worldwide. And just like our regular donor base, we have subscribers and attendees from dozens of countries and all continents (except Antarctica).
Our aspiration is to continue to expand our reach to bring more support to Auroville and nurture the free flow of its gifts throughout the world.
The December Matching Campaign – starting on December 1st !
Thanks to the generosity of several friends. last December, we held a “We Match Your Donation” campaign where for every dollar donated to an Auroville project, AVI-USA matched the donation, doubling what the project received, with a limit of up to $2500 per project. It was a great success, and we ended up sending over $140,000 to Auroville for projects in January 2023. This year, we’re going to do it again.We have again raised about $30k in matching funds, which means that we’ve got that much to leverage to double your donations.
The campaign will launch December 1 and go through December 31, or until the matching funds run out. Last year we were able to keep raising more matching funds to make sure we could honor the match for all donations received in December. And it’s our intention to do that again this year too. A new feature is that we can help you set up a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. This means that each donor can create their own simple webpage and invite friends and family to support the project of their choice. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like help setting up a peer-to-peer campaign.
Legacies & Planned Giving
Each of us lives within the framework of mortality. But our love and support for Auroville need not stop when we depart from our embodiment. We can ensure that a portion of the money left when we go becomes a seed for the future of Auroville.
AVI USA is available to properly steward your parting gifts, either as support for our ongoing work, donations directly to an Auroville project, or by creating a permanent endowment to offer support long into the future. We have developed the legal and accounting framework for this, and we can accept donations in the form of cash, stocks and bonds, or crypto-money. It’s always best if we know your wishes so we can make sure that everything flows smoothly and that your contributions will reach their intended destination. We’re here to help !
So please, if you would like to leave a legacy gift to Auroville, be in touch with us to share your plans and confirm the language in your estate plan, will, or living trust.
Donating in Honor of Our Departed Friends
It seems that every month brings another loss of a beloved Aurovilian or friend of Auroville. We have recently had the honor of inviting well-wishers to make donations in memory of several dear recently-deceased Auroville friends, including Byran Walton, Shraddhavan, and David Nagel.
New -The David Nagel Scholarship Fund at The Auroville Botanical Gardens
AVI USA has created a special scholarship fund in collaboration with Auroville’s Botanical Gardens to realize our dream of a program for youth studies in forestry and ecology. The scholarship was created in the memory of David Nagel, originally from Brooklyn, who joined Auroville in 1978. David dedicated his life to Auroville’s forests, and the Nagel family wish to honor that by creating a support for Auroville youths in their pursuit of work in a chosen field of forestry or ecology at Auroville’s Botanical Gardens.
The David Nagel Scholarship Fund aims to provide a full living stipend for Auroville youths, to allow them a full immersion in their research area at the Botanical Gardens. It is designed to support a year-long study course, where the recipients of the scholarship will spend 40 hours a week working at the Botanical Garden, writing monthly reports about their studies, developing or deepening skills and proficiencies, bringing their newly developed skills in the service of Auroville at the completion of the program.
With generous support from HiDesign, all donations up to approximately $7333 will be matched or doubled. Our goal is to raise $14,500 to provide a full-year scholarship and a travel research fund for four Auroville youths. You are invited to join in for this goal !
Looking to the future
We at AVI-USA will continue to expand our work in our three main areas : supporting relationships between donors and projects, investing in capacity-building in Auroville, and sharing with the broader world the audacious hope that Auroville represents.
We believe that the world needs Auroville,
and that Auroville was created as a gift to the world.
As the old world and the old ways fracture, and as the challenges of tomorrow defy the tools of yesterday, we offer ourselves in service to the emergent in a spirit of hope.
Our job is to stand in the middle and reach our arms out to form a bridge of light. We seek to be conduits of money, care, encouragement, ideas, and partnerships in service to the new world that Auroville was created to help inspire.
Do you feel the same way too? Want to join us in our efforts and aspirations? Be in touch! email@example.com
“So the Light grows always.
As for the shadow, it is only a shadow,
and will disappear in the growing Light”