In the spring of 2014 a discussion amongst friends centered on how we would go about starting a rural community in the United States if a large sum of money happened to fall into our laps. We thought about the need for intentional design and considered the logistical reasons as to why community development has not yet happened successfully for ISKCON in America.
When, in the fall, devotees from an urban temple expressed their desire to start an ISKCON rural community someday, my thoughts precipitated as a four-page letter which was meant to express my initial, rough understanding as to why ISKCON in America, due to limitations inherent in its federal tax-exempt church status, could not be the entity to establish such communities. I also shared information about an alternative legal structure which potentially could work—one referred to by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as “501(d),” or tax-exempt “Religious or Apostolic Association,” which, according to the Internal Revenue Manual, is for the purpose of operating a “religious community where the members live a communal life following the tenets and teachings of the organization.”
I later met devotees in several places who fortuitously engaged me in conversations about rural community development. I found, however, that when I tried to explain my thoughts and understandings regarding the 501(d) legal structure, many responded with blank stares, doubts or objections. I realize now that before someone can accept the 501(d) model as being worthy of consideration, one needs background information concerning the need for, the purpose of and the nature of community—particularly, the type of rural Kṛṣṇa conscious communities that Śrīla Prabhupāda asked for, which he referred to as “our farms.” Thus, after further research, that original four-page letter has evolved into the form of this paper.