A crisis can clarify who your friends are. A small meditation center in rural Dane County is finding out it has a lot of them.

Joyful Path, an all-volunteer entity, is facing the possibility of losing the historic building it renovated in the village of Blue Mounds. An online crowdfunding campaign has shown early promise and could keep the nonprofit group in its home.

The group wants to raise $45,000 in 45 days through the website Indiegogo.com. It has raised about $26,000 so far. The campaign extends through Dec. 12.

“We’ve had a lot of early success, but we need to balance that with a continued sense of urgency,” said Lisa Antoniotti, a Buddhist monastic whose ordained name is Pema.

The rest of the $45,000 probably will be more difficult to raise, she said, as the people most familiar with Joyful Path likely donated right away.

Joyful Path offers classes, group gatherings and one-on-one training in meditation, stress management, nonviolent communication skills and other practices its teachers consider healing to the mind and body.

The organization’s financial difficulty is not the result of poor budgeting, fiscal mismanagement or a lack of interest from the public in the services offered, said Antoniotti, who lives and teaches at the center. Rather, Joyful Path has become collateral damage in the meltdown that befell financial institutions during the recent recession.

The historic building that houses Joyful Path in downtown Blue Mounds dates to the late 1800s or early 1900s — records are incomplete — and was first a pharmacy. It had not been used for anything commercial for many years when Antoniotti and others founded Joyful Path in 2008 and purchased it for $160,000. The group spent another $110,000 or so to renovate it.

The founders took out a commercial balloon loan, a common mortgage type in which, after a certain number of years, the remainder of a loan comes due in a lump sum. At that point, the loan often is refinanced. All was going well until Amcore Bank, the original lender, went bankrupt and shut down.

Another bank bought Joyful Path’s loan, but it does not offer the same renewal option Joyful Path was counting on. That has sent Joyful Path scrambling for yet another bank. Problem is, banks in general have become more conservative in their lending practices since 2008.

“The landscape has changed a lot,” Antoniotti said. “Banks want higher down payments, and they may internally value a building lower because of a rural setting. That’s what’s happening to us.”

In shopping around for another bank, Joyful Path has learned it will need $45,000 for a down payment on a refinanced loan, Antoniotti said. Without it, the organization’s current bank could begin foreclosure proceedings, she said.

The financial problem is somewhat ironic given the organization’s frugality. Five staff members, including Antoniotti, live on the building’s second floor but take no salaries, pay rent for their living space, and keep material possessions to a minimum. They work part-time jobs elsewhere and donate their time to Joyful Path.

“They have a tremendous concern for all aspects of sustainability and a real consciousness of living simply,” said Pam Atkins, a Joyful Path board member.

Crowdfunding sites provide organizations access to a large number of potential donors, who then can easily pledge money online. The most successful campaigns usually are one-time efforts that clearly articulate a well-defined goal, according to the magazine Nonprofit Quarterly.

Antoniotti said her group went with Indiegogo because the site offers an option in which the organization trying to raise money can collect whatever is pledged, even if the fundraising goal is not met. This differs from Kickstarter, another popular crowdfunding site, which uses only an “all or nothing” model. The tradeoff is that if Joyful Path path does not make its full goal, it will pay a small penalty to Indiegogo, she said.

Reporter Doug Erickson explores matters of faith, values and ethics in Wisconsin. You can reach him at derickson@madison.com or 608-252-6149.

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