The Universal House of Justice
[To a National Spiritual Assembly]
… As a national community grows, the activities undertaken by its members also increase in number and diversity. Some of these activities will be initiated and administered by the Bahá’í institutions. Others will fall in the realm of private initiative. When an initiative is in the form of a private business venture undertaken by an individual or group, the institutions of the Faith have little reason to interfere with their daily affairs. Only if difficulties arise among the friends involved in such an enterprise, if their activities could damage the good name of the Faith, or if they misrepresent their relationship to the Faith, would a Local or National Spiritual Assembly intervene. Bahá’í institutions, of course, applaud any effort by these private ventures to apply the Teachings to their operations and to use their position in society to further the interests of the Faith. Spiritual Assemblies would do well to offer them guidance, as requested or as circumstances require, and to help them develop their potential for the advancement of the Cause.
The private initiatives of believers need not, however, be limited to business ventures. The laws of most societies allow for the establishment of nonprofit organizations which, while private, are subject to special regulations and enjoy certain privileges. Customarily a board of trustees is responsible for all the affairs of such an organization and must ensure that its income is spent for the purpose stipulated in its by-laws. This board also oversees the functioning of the projects of the organization and the work of those who are in charge of them. An increasing number of believers around the world are taking advantage of this possibility and creating organizations dedicated to the application of Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings to the analysis and resolution of important social and economic issues. The House of Justice looks with keen interest on this growing phenomenon in the Bahá’í world. It only cautions the friends that in establishing such organizations they should exercise care not to become a burden on the institutions or unduly divert the contributions of the believers from the essential and primary tasks of supporting the Funds of the Faith and the activities of the institutions. It expects them to conduct their affairs according to Bahá’í moral and ethical principles.
A question that often arises in relation to private organizations dedicated to social and economic development is whether they are “Bahá’í” or not. Such a question cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” Clearly, the fact that they have their own management structures puts them in a different category from projects and organizations administered by Bahá’í institutions. In that sense they are not “Bahá’í” enterprises. In another sense, to the extent that they are owned and directed by Bahá’ís and strive to apply the Teachings and serve the purposes of the Cause, they may indeed be regarded as “Bahá’í.” In referring to these organizations, we must avoid giving the impression that participating in their projects does not constitute legitimate service to the Cause. Otherwise sincere and devoted believers will be discouraged from engaging in activities that are “Bahá’í” in nature.…