Reflections and doubts on the morality and legality
of how grass roots funds are used in Balanced View
Hello, my name is Anthony and I am a Balanced View participant. I appreciate what I am receiving from the training, but I am not comfortable with all the claims that the organization makes with regard to being a global grassroots movement for social change.
A crack in the (grassroot) dam
I have been involved in several grass roots movements in my life and I have a specific passion for participatory governance in all its many forms that are in use in groups and movements in the west, with their successes and failures. Part of the reason I joined Balanced View was because it seemed to advocate a vision whereby people are heard and empowered rather than subsumed under hierarchical authorities.
I see that the Balanced View approach that is centered on personal empowerment and “self leadership”, is a very promising one, since all forms of participation require mature people, who have gone beyond their self-centredness and are able to manage their own emotional world without acting out their fears and desires onto others.
Nevertheless, the way the global Balanced View organization is structured presents some outstanding contradictions. Among those, the one that strikes me most is the lack of transparency in their financial matters. Balanced View does not disclose its financial reports to its members. As a result, nobody other than the management team currently in power, knows how much money comes in nor from where, and how much money goes out and to where, while at the same time there appears a constant request for more money.
This is an essential fault in their grass roots model which, in my opinion, actually invalidates their claims. Without transparency from the leadership regarding how they manage the organization’s money, I think there cannot be any social empowerment or social justice.
The lack of financial transparency harkens back to a time when narrow oligarchies decided what was beneficial for the masses in a patronizing way, and demanded complete trust due to their superior ability to discern the good from the evil.
What’s hidden behind this?
I’ve never really understood why the Balanced View management team still insists on hiding information about their finances. All Balanced View local communities have a transparent model for managing money. A treasurer is elected who provides a monthly report that is shared in the community and all questions and concerns are addressed in the group.
The same thing happens in the main Balanced View center in Sweden, which is a non profit organization in itself. There, if you are a member you are invited to an annual general assembly and you are informed of all the details of the financial year. You can ask all kinds of questions and get to know the reasoning behind all decisions. You can do it not only during the assembly but also afterwards, as the treasurer is currently very friendly and competent, ‘one of us’ so to speak.
Balanced View’s central office (or “global office” as it is called within the community) is the only ‘black sheep’ in the Balanced View archipelago and yet the one that, most likely, manages the greatest part of the finances. Why?
I have friends who’ve asked these questions several times but nobody to my knowledge has ever received a convincing answer. A trainer, whom many consider to be the CEO of Balanced View, was heard saying in a training group: “We are thinking on how to disclose the finances, but we do not want to risk that this information is used against us”.
Now, how can the truth about the finances be more damaging for Balanced View’s reputation than the sheer fact of hiding it? Are they doing something on the edge of legality?
It seems likely to me that there is a secret in the Balanced View finances that this management team, who have been in power from the beginning of Balanced View, is trying to protect.
Follow me in my investigation and let’s see if we will find some answers.
Clues and footprints under scrutiny …
As I said, there is no financial report shared with the community, but we have been informed that a specific form needs to be sent to the US tax office to comply with the regulations on non profit organizations entitled to tax exempt and deductible donations. These forms are made available to the public on line.
Although there is not much explanation in these reports, and they are published at least a couple of years behind the current date, this is a good starting point to begin our investigation.
What you see in the above document is the first page of the form for the fiscal year 2015, the latest of the available records which start from 2005. To keep our investigation simple, let us consider the last available six years from 2010 to 2015 and see what we can discover.
The first interesting thing to look at is the revenue. Here are the annual revenues and their total from 2010 onward.
Well, there is definitely a big chunk of money coming in, more than half a million dollars on average every year with a $825,000 spike in 2015. Considering that the number of core participants is around 300-500 that works out as more than $1000 per individual a year. We are a generous community and the figures seem to confirm this.
But the form does not give details on where exactly this money comes from. We are told that each trainer needs to pay Balanced View 30% of their gross income (i.e. before any expenses) as a kind of franchising, while each local community pays 10% of their gross fund raising (i.e. again before any expenses). Considering that each trainer may have an income of $1000 a month, they will have to give $300 to balanced view for a total estimate of $120,000 a year (based on 30 trainers). Then there are Candice’s trainings, and especially the bi-weekly transmissions, for which a minimum contribution of $70 a week per person is required (although many people pay much less than this, due to the organization’s openness to help people with low income). Based on a contribution of $20 average a week per person for 50 weeks a year for 300 people,this amounts to $300,000 per year. In addition to that, Balanced View runs a teacher training which is also a source of income ($20,000 in the 2015 report).
An expensive machine to run …
This revenue breakdown more or less explains the figures and in my opinion shows the extent of financial pressure that participants and trainers are willing to sustain to support the organization, given that this half a million dollars is only the part given to the central office in Bolinas (CA), and does not cover the basic expenses of the local trainers, local communities and local centers. To have an idea of the whole flow of money entering the Balanced View system, we also need to consider the money paid by participants to enroll on the many courses, calls and gatherings and the many specific fundraisers that support the living expenses of the 30 trainers, their travelling expenses and the expense needed to run the Swedish and Indian centers, plus all other local expenses.
Balanced View counts on an extraordinary amount of free labour, 300,000 hours a year is the official figure given on the web site, but I am not sure this includes the free service of the trainers, who are on duty 24/7 for the organisation, sometimes using their own savings or family financial support to be able to do so. If all of this free labour was monetized it would account to millions!
Notwithstanding these free generous resources and half a million dollars given to the central office every year, there is a constant request for more money, with the clear message that the current funds are insufficient. All these many hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions if we monetize the free service, of input every year only seem to be just enough for the organisation to survive.
On the website a figure of “over 12,000 cities” is given as a measure of the spread of the organization but of course this does not refer to real people in real cities and probably comes from Google Analytics statistics on numbers of clicks on the website. Between England and Sweden, the most developed Balanced View communities in the world, there are about a dozen cities with an active group.
Balanced View with its few hundred actual members and with a limited geographical reach, which counts just a few dozen local groups in the whole world, is certainly an expensive machine to run.
Although this picture points to the great generosity of the community, it also raises concerns about the effectiveness of the economical model and its sustainability.
A first look at the expenses
Trying to understand the expenses without the ability to ask for details and explanations presents many challenges. For example, what happened in 2010/11 to require legal expenses of the amount of $58,000?. And what are “other expenses” accounting for a remarkable 7% of the revenue, i.e. $35000 a year in the time frame considered here ?
I think the only way to get some clarity about this would be if, after the publication of this article, the management team finally decided to disclose further details of the accounts.
A river of money leading to Bolinas….
However, one thing that emerges from these figures is that the vast majority of Balanced View resources appear to be spent in Bolinas (CA) to directly support the travel and living expenses of the management team, which is made up of only 5 members. Very little is used to support the local communities and trainers in terms of services and development of projects (For example, the website and IT only come to about $20,000 a year).
We see the purchase of 4 cars in 6 years, and $35,000 for travel every year, which is likely to only cover the Summer gathering in Sweden and a few other missions of the founder in the US.
There is a figure of $40,500 a year for occupancy. Occupancy costs refer to expenditures required to occupy and maintain the physical space a business inhabits, but in this case this could well mean that Balanced View uses this money to pay rents and bills for the 5 members of the management committee. This does not apply to any other trainer in the organization and the lack of funds has also, in recent years, caused the narrowing of the bursaries for people with low incomes wanting to spend time at the Swedish center.
Balanced View is an expensive machine to run, however, this appears mainly to be down to the expenses of the management committee consisting of just 5 people (you can see a picture of them here), and of these most appears to go to just one person – Candice O’Denver
An executive wage for Candice O’Denver
A large chunk of Balanced View’s revenue has gone to the founder, Candice O’Denver over the years. In the 6 year time period looked at, this accounted for 22% of the total, at $690,000.
It was settled at $150,000 per year consistently from 2011, until it suddenly dropped to zero in 2015. I will talk more later about this dramatic change.
I do not think giving Candice an executive wage is a bad thing in itself, maybe a bit on the higher side for a non profit organization but she is in indeed an executive.
However given the great emphasis that Candice puts on social change and the pioneering of a new revolutionary system, this appears quite disappointingly conventional to me. The disproportionate amount of resources allocated to her is striking. Most of Balanced View’s participants, and especially its trainers, probably only earn in a year what Candice receives in a month.
But the main question is: why does Candice need $12,500 per month to live? What kind of lifestyle does she have that would require such a high income? Also bear in mind that Candice’s bills, travel costs and many other things are already likely to be covered by other expense items in the accounts, such as “occupancy”, “travelling”, “automobile”, “other expenses”, etc.
What makes this question even more relevant is the repeated requests for more money to support Candice. A few years ago a specific group called “Empowering Generosity and Devotion” was created with the express purpose to invite members to donate more money to the founder.
At one point a specific fundraiser was also created to raise money to buy a car for her. This fundraising campaign gave the impression that Candice was a person in need of financial help. But why would an executive with $150,000 a year need crowdfunding to buy a car? It does not make any sense.
This particular fundraiser left quite a few participants disenchanted. You can see the official email below.
In one of the several attempts to ask for clarification about the amount of money given to the founder, a management team spokesperson said that, “Candice is very generous and always supports Balanced View projects with her own money.” From this declaration Candice would seem to spend most of her money to fund Balanced View projects and that is why she does not have enough left to even buy a car for herself.
This seems to me twisted logic, especially for a grassroots movement. Why give so much money to the founder, and then have them to decide what to fund with it? Would it not be better to fund these projects directly in a transparent and participatory way?
And on a more practical level, Candice’s wage is likely to be taxed as private income and a significant slice of it would therefore go to the US government: with as much as $30,000 of grass root funds lost every year.
A “Real Estate Empire” in Bolinas
That the management team is pursuing the ambition to create a Balanced View headquarters where the management team will be living in the future is not a mystery. It is even stated in the official website.
Of course in terms of grass root governance one may immediately question why such a decision, requiring a massive financial commitment, has been taken without any consultation with the communities, and is being developed without any transparency regarding money, plans and timelines.
It is also interesting to read that this center “[…] periodically serves the local community as the site for invitation only trainings with Candice. [..] Visits to the Center are by invitation only”. In other words, as participants we are invited to contribute to the construction of something we have not given any say about, we do not have any right to visit and, from the sound of it, not even the right to apply for participating to the activities done in it.
Nevertheless, let’s look at their public records and see if we can find anything about this building project to have an idea of the financial resources committed to it.
Two of the expense items are relevant here: “Balanced View Center Ex” and “Sanctuary Expenses” (see below from Financial Report 2014).
People who are familiar with Candice trainings know that by “Sanctuary” she means a building in Bolinas, supposedly the place where she lives or a house adjacent to that. Therefore, we can be reasonably sure that these two expense items refer to building expenses operated on properties located in Bolinas.
When we look at these two expenses in this six years period we see that more than one million dollars have been allocated to them. And still we do not know what happened in years 2016 and 2017, which may add a lot more.
Considering the amount of free labour that we know has been put into the renovation of these properties by Balanced View volunteers, this amount of money looks too big to only justify renovation expenses, unless these properties are really very big.
Moreover, the year 2015 presents an enigmatic anomaly with expenditure for the BV center accounting for $626,000 in one go.
We just need to know a bit more about these properties, and again the open American information system comes to help with plenty of public records available.
Location of the Balanced View “Estate Empire”.
Based on an extensive internet search I found out that the two properties, constituting the Balanced View “sanctuary/center” system, have these addresses: 165 Grove Rd and 180 Hawthorne Rd, both in Bolinas and both at the same zip code. Google earth confirms that these two houses and their grounds are adjacent and constitute a single compound with an ocean view.
In fact the sum of the land of these properties is quite big, almost 9000 sqm, about 10% more than an international soccer field, with a 400m+ perimeter.
Nevertheless, the houses are not that big. Here are their features:
|Num of bedrooms/bathrooms||Surface|
|165 Grove Road||2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom||1,131 sqft (105 sqm)|
|180 Hawthorn Road||3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms||1,271 sqft (118 sqm)|
They are modest houses sizewise, which cannot justify in my opinion the amount of expenses committed to renovate them. The only explanation that I can find fitting in this picture is that the million+ dollars of the financial report have actually been, at least in large part, used to buy the properties themselves.
Again, apart from the above mentioned lack of transparency and lack of grass roots consultation, this would not be a problem. The big set of buildings in Sweden which host the BV Swedish center are in fact owned by a local non profit associated to Balanced View.
Why there is no mention of buying or building these houses in the official reports but instead the word “expense” is used to tag a figure of more than half a million in 2015?
Well, the time has come to see who the real owner of these two houses is, and honestly I almost fell from my chair when I discovered it. Balanced View does not own any of these houses, rather they are privately owned by Candice O’Denver.
At this point whether the million dollars has been used to buy them or to renovate them does not change the evidence that massive grass roots funds have been given to the president’s ownership in one way or another.
Candice’s estate capital
Let’s have a look at how much Candice paid to buy these properties and how much their market value is.
The first of the two houses at 165 Grove Road was bought in 2014 by Candice for almost one million dollars with almost $200,000 loss on the previous owner’s purchase value. This previous owner happens to be also part of the Balanced View management team.The second house at 180 Hawthorn Road was bought just a year later by Candice for $750,000 So in just two years Candice was able to raise $1.6 million.If we look at the commercial value that these houses have today, we can see that Candice can now count on a total capital (see 180 and 165) close to $3 million.
This evidence opens deep and embarrassing questions for the whole Balanced View movement. Many of us associate the Balanced View brand with the heartfelt aspiration to spread a message of grass root social change. I feel sadly betrayed by these figures and by the lack of clarity of the financial management.
Where did Candice find $1.6 million to buy these houses?
In all honesty, there cannot be a definite answer to this question without Candice and the management team being willing to be transparent about the finances. Whatever the details, one cannot help but notice that in 2014 Candice had received a total of $700,000 in wages over the previous 5 years and that these wages were clearly considered to be ‘insufficient’ to pay for her living expenses.
Equally, one cannot help but see that while Candice O’Denver paid $750,000 in 2015 to buy her second house, there is a $600,000+ expense item for “the center” in the official BV accounts. At the same time, the regular $150,000 yearly wage abruptly drops to zero, leaving doubts that what was previously tagged as a living wage was not actually needed for that purpose, but rather to accumulate the money to buy the house.
It is also worth noting that in the 2015 tax report, there is a $7,427 property tax expense popping up for the first time in the records. It is not clear to what property it refers, since all properties are owned by Candice while the non profit owns nothing.
All these reflections cannot officially prove that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given privately to the founder by the non-profit organization through some bookkeeping artistry, however, they certainly call for some substantial explanation and convincing evidence of the contrary from the management team and Candice O’Denver herself.
Until such explanations are provided, I am unable to trust in the leadership and I have the reasonable suspicion that the founder of Balanced View has a private financial interest in the Balanced View business.
Why the law tries to prevent this in a non-profit organization
Once again, surprise and embarrassment do not come because the founder of an organization can make a lot of money from their entrepreneurship. This is a business success when it happens, but it cannot be disguised as a non profit grassroot movement without exposing some dishonesty. If Balanced View global had just kept it simple and incorporated itself as an educational company there would be no problem in this respect.
Moreover, Balanced View qualifies as a ‘non-profit organization’ that allows it to be exempted from income tax and let US donors to deduct the donations from their taxes. The legal constraints of a non-profit organisation are explained within Balanced View’s deeds of incorporation: (available online here by searching “Balanced View” and clicking on it, then opening the pdf files in the list).
I would not be surprised to see a federal tax auditor scratching their head when looking at these accounts and try to determine if the compensation directly and indirectly given to the founder is ‘reasonable’ as it should be. The words of the Balanced View CEO may perhaps now make sense in terms of “fear of financial records being used against us”, the non-profit qualification might be challenged indeed.
The real secret behind the secret: Balanced View ‘is’ Candice O’Denver
A familiar answer provided by the management team members to anyone who asks for clarification on all these contradictions is to argue that Balanced View is not a conventional organisation and therefore cannot be treated as such.
In reality, what makes Balanced View non-conventional in modern society is, for me, the anachronistic guru-based devotional model, where a supposedly enlightened being is seen as the only reliable source of wisdom and salvation to whom one is invited to merge in mind and spirit.
The real secret, it seems to me, is the fact that Balanced View is genuinely conceived as an extension of its guru’s mind and body, rather than a movement made of individuals. Candice is ‘everything and everywhere’. From this perspective, gifting her with ‘all the riches of the world’ looks like the most natural thing to do in order to foster prosperity on the planet and to demonstrate gratitude for receiving a new life.
I believe that the members of the management team, coming from this deep belief, are unable to see Candice as a person separate from the organization and so struggle to apply reason and logic in terms of private property and financial boundaries. What is given to her is given to all.
This post is like a message in a bottle when other attempts by me to constructively engage with the management team have been ignored. If you find it valuable I invite you to share it with other people who may be interested in getting some perspective on this subject.
I said in the beginning that I have been satisfied with what I have received from the training so far, however it is difficult for me to predict how long I will be able to live with all the things that I have pointed out in this article. My staying in the movement depends on the responses of the Balanced View leadership to the points that I have raised here
Thank you for reading.