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Scientology fundraiser: ‘It was commonplace to lie to church members to get donations’

[Kay Rowe]

Continuing with our Saturday series of book excerpts, we’re happy to give you a substantial look at Kay Rowe’s book Over the Edge: A Pawn in the Scientology Money Machine, which came out last year. She is giving us a look at the world of asking other Scientologists for money, which is a neverending quest under David Miscavige.

I was trained in fundraising from November 1991 to February of 1992, aboard Freewinds, a cruise ship the church maintained as a religious retreat and a delivery center for its most advanced counselling procedures. The program included extensive study of Hubbard’s writings and lectures on the state of society, and how urgently the world needed the salvaging only Scientology could provide.

If I recall correctly, Hubbard expressed his low opinion of existing educational systems, the middle class, the news media, the medical profession in general and psychiatry in particular, politics and government organizations — with particular attention to the judicial system, the FDA, and IRS. Most of these writings were from the late 60s and early 70s — the hippie era, when it was fashionable to be “anti-establishment.” Again, in all his materials, Hubbard presents Scientology as the only workable solution to these, and all of mankind’s other ills. Another focus of the training program was “registration” — the term the church uses to refer to sales of its training and counselling services.

Church salespeople are called registrars, or reges. The idea that registrars sell services is sometimes skirted in church writings. The preferred narrative is that they sign people up (register them) for services, and accept their donations. Although fundraisers did not sell training or counselling, they still received registrar training so they could convince people to donate to various church-related funds, causes and crusades. The subject of control is given special attention in some of the founder’s writings on registration. One essay explains that the ideal personality type for registration personnel is one that can control others. Another essay asserts that “control equals income,” and explains that any control exerted to achieve a sale (a Scientology sale) is completely justified, being for the greater good.

With my fundraiser training completed, I was sent to the IAS’s Western U.S. Membership Office in Hollywood, on Berendo Street (later renamed L. Ron Hubbard Way). I was to work under someone who had been with the IAS since its formation in 1984.


In addition to direct, one-on-one fundraising, my work included setting up fundraising events for myself and for other fundraisers, ordinarily in cities with a church or large mission. I’d usually arrive at an event location 48 to 72 hours before the event. I’d have been assigned daily quotas for amounts to be raised, and for numbers of “confirms” – people contacted and confirmed as planning to attend the event. It should be noted that these events were usually very sparsely attended, due to the fact that most members abhorred being solicited for donations. To say I had my work cut out for me would be an understatement.

While setting up the event, I was also expected to meet my daily income quotas and report up on them. My daily schedule was also supposed to include time for studying Scientology materials. There were penalties for not making the daily quotas, as well as for not putting in my study time. Not a very pleasant experience, to say the least, but I kept my chin up and bore it as a dedicated Sea Org member. It goes without saying that I had no time to build a relationship with a significant other. In fact, I’d had such a relationship going before I was transferred, but was persuaded to end it. Also, there was virtually no time for family. Despite that, I stayed in touch and even made a point of spending a few hours with my family in Denver at Christmas time, around the mid-90s — but only because I happened to be in the Denver area for a fundraising event.

My senior and I didn’t get along very well. He had a habit of telling me what was wrong with me, something that was frowned upon, according to the founder’s policies. He also criticized me for having “poor case reality,” meaning that I wasn’t on the same page as the most committed Scientologists, who understood that we have a “brief breath” of time to “salvage mankind,” and if we didn’t succeed, we’d be “in the dark, in pain, alone and oblivious for an eternity.” My initiation included statements from my senior to the effect that all people lie about their money. He even went to great lengths to relay stories of members who had lied to him, when he knew they had lots of money they were withholding information about. How he got the data about their finances, I don’t know.

The stress was on “hard sell.” In so many words, it was drilled into us that “hard sell means caring about the person and not being reasonable about his/her barriers, but caring enough about the person to get them through the barriers to get the services that would rehabilitate them and give them everlasting life.” If I failed to get a substantial amount of money from any parishioner, I was reprimanded for being “soft sell.” There were not only reprimands, but penalties or “too-gruesomes” for anyone who failed to meet their assigned quotas, and get the public to donate substantial sums (Note: a “too-gruesome” was a penalty that was so awful that you wouldn’t dare fail to comply with an order, meet a quota, etc.) Penalties included (but weren’t limited to) things such as:

— Not being permitted to sleep, sometimes for days on end, or being allowed just a few hours of sleep a night.
— Being kicked out of one’s office and not allowed to return until a quota was met.
— Married couples losing their living quarters (married couples were ordinarily assigned private quarters, while unmarried staff lived in same-sex dormitories; losing your married couple quarters meant you and your spouse had to live separately, in dorms).
— Being assigned to cleaning duty in the galley – washing pots and dishes, cleaning walls and floors, etc.
— Being assigned to clean “rats’ alley” (a crawl space infested with mice, rats and roaches) and/or the grease pits or dumpsters.
— Serving meals to the crew (where you’d be ridiculed and scorned by your fellow staff members).
— While on tour, not being permitted to return home until a quota was met.
— Being sent to a tour area that was known to be a set-up for failure, then being required to meet unrealistically high donation quotas, regardless.
— Being permitted only rice and beans at meals (all meals).
— Being billed personally for long-distance fund-raising calls.

If your production wasn’t up to expectations (no matter how unrealistic those expectations might have been), you could expect to be screamed at and threatened, usually from within an inch of your face. Executives also encouraged staff in the office to exert “group internal pressure” on their fellows. This took the concepts of accountability and peer pressure to brutal extremes. As just one example, in our office late one night, a fellow fundraiser lashed out at me and cut into my wrist with her nails; I still have the scar. As another example of the systemic lack of compassion, my life was put at risk countless times during my years as a fundraiser. I was routinely required to leave the office and go raise funds — many times late at night, usually unaccompanied and with no means of self-defense — in high-crime areas of cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, and in foreign cities like Johannesburg, South Africa. Once, while working in a high-crime area of Sacramento, I arrived at a church member’s house at the same time a burglar was attempting a break-in. It scared the living you-know-what out of me! Fortunately, it scared the burglar, too, and he ran away. It turned out that the family’s children were home alone; they let me in, and I made sure they were safe, called their parents and waited with the kids until the parents returned.

Though I reported the incident, the powers-that-be didn’t change the way they operated. They continued to put me and others at risk. Apparently, money was more important than safety, let alone a staff member’s life.

Another troubling but routine aspect of fundraising work was deceit. During my tenure as an IAS fundraiser, as well as in other IAS positions, it was commonplace to lie to church members in order to “get in the door” and obtain donations. For example, out of desperation, I would often go to their homes or workplaces, unannounced — usually without even the courtesy of a phone call to request an appointment, since most people would not agree to meet. I’d use statements such as, “I haven’t been able to reach you, and I was concerned,” or “There’s something extremely urgent you need to know about right away — otherwise I wouldn’t have come unannounced,” or “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by,” or even the supremely lame, “May I use your bathroom?”

I wasn’t the only one who used such methods; many of my fellow fundraisers did, too. In fact, I’d learned the tricks from more experienced colleagues. While we were encouraged to make appointments whenever possible, the pressure never let up on meeting quotas — so we did what we had to do, and tried our best to not create an upset with a member in the process. It was a double-edged sword: there were penalties for not making a quota, and penalties if a member reported you for having created an upset. I couldn’t win for losing! Quite often, I would be teamed up to fundraise with a high profile Scientology personality – a movie or TV star, for example, or the winner of a major award from the church. In my opinion, such team-ups were arranged to leverage church members’ interest in meeting the celebrity, as a way to extract donations. Also, note that these celebrities (as well as other public who raised funds for the IAS) earned a 10 percent commission. At one point, some of them were earning in excess of $250,000 a year. It wasn’t long before a new policy came down: once they hit the $250,000 mark for a fiscal year, any IAS fundraising work they did beyond that would be pro-bono.

During the holiday season in particular, most church members were reluctant to accept fundraising calls or visits. Nonetheless, there was no excuse for failure to meet a quota, so I sometimes had to get very creative. I often chose an artistic solution: I’d write parodies of popular songs, then e-mail them, fax them, sing them over the phone, or even go directly to prospects’ homes to win their hearts and get donations. Our managers instilled in us the attitude that the public (regular church members) were beneath us; that we (staff) were superior, and that they were lazy dilettantes, of low moral character. The “reasoning” here was that if they weren’t lazy they would already be on church staff or in the Sea Org! The least they could do to make up for their sorry lack of dedication was to donate large sums to the IAS. During interviews with prospective donors, I would receive phone calls coaching me on how to “close” the prospect, and threats that if I ended the interview without money in hand — no matter how late it got — I’d be dealt with severely (see penalties above). We established a network of church members and church staff all around the world, called “bird dogs,” who supplied us with leads: They’d tell us who had come into money, who was “loaded,” who was a “good guy” (and also well-qualified to pay). If they assisted directly in the fundraising interview, they would earn that 10 percent commission. In the event that a bird dog couldn’t be on the scene to assist directly in closing a prospect he’d alerted us to, we’d get a public fundraiser to do the interview so the bird dog would at least get a split of the commission. We did this because at the time, there was a rule in force that one had to be present when a donation was closed, in order to claim any commission.

Quite often a bird dog could not be present, but we wanted to reward them for their work. These bird dogs also alerted us to people who had been “bad” (violated church ethics rules), and therefore needed to make amends. Of course, they mostly tipped us off about “bad guys” who were also in a position to make substantial donations. In some instances, such people were wheedled and guilt-tripped into making over-the-top contributions that used up just about every resource and credit line they had. Bird-dog leads even included church staff and Sea Org members, despite the fact that such people were already contributing their very lives to the cause. Once a “hot prospect” was found, the approach to be taken would be painstakingly worked out in advance. Such plans often included calling on people with influence over the prospect to help in “hard-selling” them, to secure the biggest possible donation. Our preparations included learning a prospect’s “buttons,” whenever possible, so these could be stomped on hard. For example, if we knew a prospect had a keen interest in a particular church project (drug rehab, for example, or kids’ education), we would carefully script our approach to give the impression that their donations would go to that cause.

In fact, there was no way we could honestly promise such a thing, and we were strictly forbidden to do so under any circumstances. We had to be very clever to give just the right impression, and come away with funds in hand. Judging from the bits and pieces of communication I picked up during my fundraising days, only a very small portion of the donations taken in were ever used on the projects we promoted. The most important aim and purpose was “building the war chest.” That was a nebulous statement at best; I was never told where this “war chest” was located (though there were allusions to its being overseas), who controlled it, exactly what it was used for, or how much was in it. It seemed to me that it must be a defense fund, to be used to protect the church from legal and PR attacks. We used all manner of tools to lead prospects to believe their donations would “save the day” by funding this or that “vital project.” High-profile church celebrities would guest-speak at fundraising events and team up with us on interviews. We had videos of the church’s lavish international events, featuring such big names as Tom Cruise and Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige, exhorting parishioners to donate, or touting this or that IAS-funded project or campaign. Again, neither fundraisers nor donors were ever told how much, if any, of the funds raised actually went to the causes mentioned.

It should be noted that at times, in the process of my fundraising, I would run up against questions and objections from regular church members and staff, particularly those who worked or volunteered for the projects and entities the IAS claimed to be funding. Some would say that they had received very little or no funding from the IAS. This came up often enough that eventually, everyone in the IAS offices where I worked was ordered, in no uncertain terms, to submit detailed reports on anyone making such complaints. The implication was that any such claims were false and unfounded. At one point, it was explained to us that IAS could only legally fund certain specific things, and could not fund staff pay, airfares, etc. I don’t recall the whole list, but when it came right down to it, there was very little we could fund, legally – so it seemed to me the complaints from regular church staff and volunteers might not be false after all. Fundraisers were advised to steer away from complaints, and to give a “no-answer” (an evasive or misdirecting answer) if questioned on the matter.


In retrospect, I realize that I was being used as a tool to lure public into donating; my very good reputation for being compassionate, genuine, and kind was being exploited. Since I was considered “soft-sell” (that is, because I was known to avoid using the hard-sell techniques employed by the top fundraisers) I became a favorite bird dog for the big-money guys. I would nurture prospective donors, help them mend personal issues with the church and in their lives, and get them into a favorable frame of mind. Then I’d set them up for interviews with high-dollar IAS fundraisers who would “hard sell” them to donate just about everything they had. All “for the greater good,” of course. Sadly, the donors truly believed that, and so did I!

Although I was never part of any IAS Financial Planning Committee (a select group that worked out how IAS funds would be allocated), I did witness how some of the donated funds were spent. Early in my fundraising career, when I worked in what was called the West U.S. Membership Office, there was a short time when we were paid regular wages, rather than the $50 weekly allowance paid to other church staff. As mentioned earlier, the church provided regular Sea Org staff with food and living quarters (sub-standard though they were). When we IAS staff began receiving normal wages, it was announced that we would be expected to use those wages to pay the church for our room and board!

During that same period, we would sometimes be awarded “bonuses” after particularly successful weeks of fundraising. These were not necessarily funds paid out to us, however, to spend as we saw fit. Instead, the organization often “donated” the “bonus” amounts, in our names, to itself! My rough estimate is that I was “awarded” $10,000 in this way. I never saw a penny of it. It all went into an IAS account under my name, to be used as the IAS saw fit. The only benefit any of us received under this scheme was elevation of our “member status” in the IAS. Sometime in the mid-90s, our office was renamed the IAS Western United States Membership Office (or something to that effect). Though still legally a separate entity, not officially part of the Church of Scientology, we were moved into a very nicely renovated space in the church’s Western U.S. management building. Our pay system also changed again. Instead of weekly wages (which we had to use to pay the church for our room and board), we were given a weekly allowance, and our room and board were covered by IAS Administrations. Our allowance was supposed to be $50 a week — the same as Sea Org members were meant to receive. However, just like in the Sea Org, what was actually paid out (if anything) depended upon the organization’s income and expenses for a given week. Still, IAS staff were generally far better off than Sea Org members, financially.

Eventually, a system of bonuses was established, mainly for fundraisers who made their quotas, and for weeks when the office made its overall donation quota. As I recall, early on in my tenure, our office quotas were on the order of $175,000 to $250,000 per week. For a long time, my personal minimum quota was $20,000 a week, in order to be eligible for a bonus. This was eventually increased to $30,000. The bonuses weren’t large, but enough that I felt secure in obtaining a few credit cards, with a combined credit limit of $10,000. I ended up donating most of that amount to the IAS. When I was eventually transferred from the IAS to a regular church management position — one with even lower weekly allowances and almost never a bonus — I was unable to pay off the credit card debt I’d accumulated.

It should also be noted that there was so much pressure to make quotas that the rules were often bent. Specifically, on many occasions we were allowed to include sums received as part of a week’s income total, even though the funds had actually come in minutes or even hours after the official administrative week had ended. (To Scientology staff, and according to clear and definite policy, this is blatant and unethical cheating.) Of course, such cheating made it possible for us to meet our quotas and be “bonus eligible,” not to mention the fact that our office would be rewarded for our “good work” with a healthier allocation for the week, by the financial planning committee. Among the other benefits of working for the IAS, we were usually well provided with vitamins and nutritional supplements. Our food allotment was also fairly good, so that we ate well, even when the other local Scientology organizations couldn’t afford proper food for their staffs. We were also well dressed, in very classy, expensive uniforms. This while regular Sea Org members had to make do with just a few uniform parts, of questionable quality, and had a hard time getting replacements when anything wore out. The expense was justified by the idea that IAS people had to look very polished and professional to raise the sums we were after. At one point, our uniforms were being custom made by Mr. Lim, of High Society in downtown Los Angeles.

I have no idea how much this cost, but I recall seeing photos on display in Mr. Lim’s shop, depicting some of the big-name celebrities and VIPs he’d worked for. His clientele also included church head David Miscavige, who supposedly wore hand-made Lim suits in the $5,000 range. (Remember, this was while a regular Sea Org member’s weekly allowance — when it was actually paid out — was at most $50 a week.) At one point, after accumulating some cash bonuses, one of my seniors encouraged me to have Mr. Lim make me a tailored three piece suit. As I recall, this cost me about $600, thanks to deep discounts he extended in recognition of all the business he did with the very highest church officers. In my later years with the IAS, we were sent to Brooks Brothers to be fitted for full wardrobes, including blazers, pants and long winter coats. We each had two full sets of uniforms, one for fall and winter, the other for spring and summer – each with four shirts, four pairs of pants and two blazers, if I recall correctly. Women also carried seasonal Coach purses to match their uniforms. Additionally, we usually received handsome Christmas gifts. Hermes scarves, Coach bags, a Seiko pocket electronic dictionary/encyclopedia, nice luggage, etc.

We also contributed handsome (for us) amounts for Christmas and birthday gifts for David Miscavige, and a bit less handsomely for the head of the IAS Administrations. No expenses were spared when it came to “staff awards,” either. It was not uncommon for us to be treated to a nice restaurant dinner, then a movie or a play. In fact, in 1993, after the IRS awarded the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status, our entire office of ten or so staff were flown to Las Vegas for a show and dinner, followed by a couple of days’ stay in a top hotel, with some meals at 4- and 5-star restaurants. When I occasionally worked out of the IAS’s office in New York, instead of eating with the regular Sea Org staff there, I was given travel expense money to eat all my meals out. I don’t recall how much, but it was at least $25 a day. Quite a lot, by church staff standards and in those times. If we would have had our meals provided for us in the Galley, with the non-IAS Sea Org members, we would have only been required to pay perhaps $7 per day for meals. In addition to that, when any of our staff went out of town on tours (which was nearly every week) we were disbursed travel expense funds.

One time in particular is worthy of note; I got a call from a staff member in our Treasury Department, inquiring about my accounting for some travel funds I’d been given. Specifically, I was informed that any gifts, such as flowers or thank-you cards I purchased would be a red flag in an audit, so I should either pay for them out of my own pocket, or come up with an alternate description of the purchases — that way they wouldn’t create a problem. I did the latter, of course. One other item of note is that the president of the IAS at that time, along with a few other top IAS executives, were known to have a passion for shopping at high-end stores. They would also sometimes sell off their used designer wear. I bought a few of the former president’s used clothes, paying upwards of $100 for an individual item — so you can imagine what she spent to buy them brand new. The above took place many years ago. I’ve heard that such extravagances have long since come to an end, but that too is just hearsay.

I want to expand on the way some of the IAS’s public (regular church members and staff) were handled. I’ll give a couple of examples that typify the utter disregard for their welfare and state of mind, and the total fixation on extracting their funds. More than a decade ago, I believe it was in 2002, I was on a fundraising tour in San Jose, California. I had recently had a bombout of a fundraising event, and now desperately needed to raise substantial funds to make up for it. My senior at that time assigned a top fundraiser to assist me over the phone, as needed. I met with a fairly new church member, who was working with other Scientologists in a real estate company. I got her so excited about donating that she was willing to borrow from anyone, pawn her jewelry, etc. — whatever it might take to make a big donation. I was instructed to stick right with her — just about live with her, if necessary — to get that money. The only thing I didn’t do was sleep at her home, as that was forbidden; I stayed someplace nearby, though. I was with this poor woman all day long for days on end, working with her to find a source of funds and at the same time being coached continually on how to extract the maximum possible amount.

Throughout this episode, I repeatedly told my senior that I had a bad feeling about it all, and that I wanted to drop it — I did not think it was in the woman’s best interests, since she was not factually in a good position to be making a substantial donation. My concerns and pleas were rebuffed and refuted, and I was told I wouldn’t be permitted to return home until I’d gotten the funds. Late one night, while driving with the prospective donor after yet another failed attempt to raise the money, my senior called me on my mobile phone. With the woman right there, able to hear every word, my senior literally screamed at me for minutes on end. Needless to say, the woman was extremely upset. I had my hands full to patch things up, but I managed it. When I called my senior again, she still would not let up! She demanded that I persist and get the money. Eventually I bailed. I was unwilling to continue with something I knew was grossly unethical, and willing to face the penalties for failing to secure the funds. The whole project was turned over to the top IAS fundraiser to finish, as far as I recall. The woman still went full-steam-ahead, trying to raise money to donate, even after I had left the scene. Eventually, though, she said the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time — apparently displaying some sort of psychotic behavior — and the project was dropped. To make matters worse, it turned out that she was a relative of a very high-profile celebrity (one who was not and is still not a Scientologist), which intensified the flap and further potentially tarnished Scientology’s reputation. I ended up taking the fall for the disaster. I was accused of not caring about the woman, and severely penalized — removed from my position and assigned to menial labor. Meanwhile, my senior and the fundraiser who took over were let off with a mere “slap on the wrist,” if anything.

This was just one example. It was commonplace for a fundraiser to bear the wrath for an interview gone sour, while the senior who had mercilessly driven the process took virtually no responsibility.

Another example occurred in the mid-90s, when I was teamed up with another fundraiser. We had gotten a hot tip from a church member who claimed that a friend, a very old man (who also turned out to be suffering from dementia), was loaded with money. He was in his late 70s, and lived in low-income housing just a short distance from the big church complex in Hollywood. We must have spent at least two full days talking with this gentleman, trying to find the money he supposedly had. He insisted all along that he had no such funds. Finally, the person who’d given us the tip-off came to the old man’s home, and found his bank passbook. It showed he had $40,000 in the bank, in CDs. We were in communication with our senior through all of this. No matter what we told him, he demanded we persist and get the money; there was no way we would be allowed to drop the project no matter what the circumstances might be.

When he learned about the CDs, he was ruthless in insisting we get nearly the entire sum, with no regard for any possible consequences for the donor. There was even a question as to whether any of this was legal. The old gentleman wasn’t expected to live much longer — someone might have been named in his will to inherit the funds; he might have been keeping the money secret so he could continue receiving needed relief from the state, etc. I recall voicing all these concerns to my senior, and having them all brushed aside with threats of “you better get it, or else.” Well, after all that drama, the elderly man finally did make a donation.

To this day, I don’t know what became of him and am ashamed that I played a major role in wiping out his assets.

— Kay Rowe


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,175 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,778 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 321 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 209 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,384 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,158 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,932 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,278 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,844 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,512 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,772 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,812 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,524 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,050 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,139 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,279 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,599 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,574 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 930 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,232 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,338 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,741 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,613 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,195 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,700 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,944 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,053 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 14, 2018 at 06:10

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