The outgoings for a marae are numerous: electricity; repairs and maintenance such as painting; plumbing expenses; fuel; telephone charges; accountancy fees; advertising and stationery; bank fees; catering expenses; fire extinguishers; pillows and linen; kitchen equipment; replacement of worn or damaged mattresses; petrol and repairs for the lawn mower; and any replacement of or repairs to features of the buildings, including carving, tukutuku panels, kōwhaiwhai patterning and whāriki (mats).
In rural marae there may also be repairs and cleaning of septic tanks, along with water to purchase when high usage or a dry summer has meant the rainwater tanks are low.
A big cost is insurance, which for even a small marae can total several thousand dollars a year.
To cover these expenses, the marae sets a daily charge for hui and meetings. Most marae do not charge for tangi, but the whānau will give a koha (donation). Where church services are held on the marae, they are also generally on a koha basis.
As an example of a marae with various income streams, Iwitea marae near Wairoa receives fees each year from locals who set up maimai (camouflaged shelters) and go duck shooting on the nearby lakes. One Māori incorporation holds their annual general meeting at the marae, and there are two other Māori land incorporations and trusts that rotate between the marae in the area. The marae receives koha from the land administrators, and some whānau may also give an annual koha, or donate regularly to the marae because they live elsewhere and cannot be at home to help.
Marae trustees occasionally call for working bees for maintenance tasks such as painting buildings. This means the marae has to pay only for materials such as paint and brushes and for hire of water-blasters and other equipment.
There is generally still a shortfall that must be met by fundraising activities. These can include raffles and fundraising events such as dinners. If a training provider agrees to a teaching module being held on the marae, this may also provide income. The marae receives fees from the training organisation for providing the venue and facilities, and the tutors may also donate their fees to the marae.
These days some marae are based in non-traditional settings such as hospitals and schools, and are managed innovatively. Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa, the marae at Auckland International Airport, is governed by a board of six trustees, three appointed by the airport and three by Tainui iwi. Day-to-day operations are run by a team supported by the airport and Te Roopu Kaumatua (a group of elders).
Sustaining the marae
Keeping a marae alive and functioning well is a huge task.
In the greater Wairoa district in 2012 there were 35 existing marae and a handful of whānau working to re-establish marae that disappeared in the previous century. In 2006 the total population of Wairoa was around 8,400, of whom around 4,800 were Māori. Not all those Māori were affiliated to or able to devote time to a local marae. It is therefore little wonder that some of those 35 marae were in a state of disrepair or simply unable to afford insurance.
Yet many dedicated people work hard to keep their marae going, often devoting their lives in service of this most essential of Māori institutions.
The marae is the place to which Māori return most often in their times of greatest need, at tangi, even if most of their time is spent elsewhere. It is thanks to the dedication of the hau kāinga (people who live nearby and support the marae) that their ancestral house and marae is still there for them.