Atheist Priorities in Fundraising

A kitten in a computer asking

Consider two examples of crowdfunding projects aimed at atheists.

Just before the holidays, Secular Student Alliance announced that it would be matching funds donated to the Los Angeles-based Women’s Leadership Project. As stated on its Indiegogo page,

Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) fills a vacuum in a school district that has few programs that specifically address the intersection of sexism, racism, misogyny and heterosexism in the lives of young women of color. The program is designed to redress the normalized violence that young women of color encounter on a daily basis and has trained hundreds of 10-12th students to question and challenge the normalization of violence against women and advocate for safer school-communities.

a Japanese high school classroom

As the project is run by secular author and activist extraordinaire Sikivu Hutchinson, along with Diane Arellano, it has a heartily humanist bent to it. The campaign ended last night having raised just over its $1500 matching funds goal.

As one atheist-aimed project reached its end on January 6th, another had begun earlier in the day. This one was for Ryan J. Bell, the pastor who decided that, for 2014, he would try being an atheist in the sense that he would live as if there were no god. An interesting thought experiment, to be sure, but after the announcement of the experiment, the man lost his sources of income with his perhaps unsurprisingly irate Christian employers. A GoFundMe campaign was created in response which asked for $5000. By the end of its first day, it had raised  triple that amount.

When I re-posted the link to the WLP project last night, I got responses that attempted to explain why it didn’t garner as much attention and raise as much money as the fundraiser for Ryan J. Bell. There were the “well, what did you expect?/Welcome to reality where page views and click-bait rule” type; these express a sense of capitulation and resignation to the status quo that I do not share. However, most of them were more along the lines of “Oh, I never heard of this so it must not have been promoted enough.”

I am not suggesting that the disparity was on purpose on the part of anyone involved. I am not suggesting that anyone promoting one fundraiser and/or not promoting the other is an evil, awful person in any way. I doubt that anyone deliberately looked at the one and then the other and said “meh, those lower-income female students of color can fend for themselves, I’m going to give my money to a white male Christian.”

Ryan J. Bell

Via http://www.ryanjbell.net/about/

That’s precisely the problem. So many of us don’t critically examine to what we pay attention and why, to whom we give our money and why, of what sort of news we keep abreast and why, about what we find out and why. We fail to recognize the disturbing patterns indicating structural injustices that emerge when we consider all the factors at hand and how these sorts of situations play out.

Obviously, fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game. There is more than one cause in the world that is worthy of attention and money. As someone who has suffered financially as a result of religion, I don’t begrudge Mr. Bell the money he will need as he figures out what to do in this brutal American economic climate. In the end, thankfully, WLP did exceed its matching funds goal.

Why do I bring this up?

One of my friends is a Christian minister and he jokes that every atheist in America must have at least 3 websites apiece. He is on-point in that we godless types tend to have strong Internet presences. It’s about time that we take a good, hard look at which causes and individuals we choose to follow, talk about, and promote using these platforms. Furthermore, given that atheists tend to be in the upper income bracket of society, it is also important to look at to whom we choose to give our money.

Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar of jadehawk

    while trying to promote the WLP for this fundraiser, I had much the same realization about the patterns of giving/donation in the skeptic/atheist community. While I was trying to get enough people to donate so WLP could at least reach its target, another atheisty crowdsourcing project was also doing its last-minute promo. The other project is a fun one and I’m glad they made enough to do their thing, it was a bit of an epiphany to me: here’s a project that’s is supportive and potentially life-changing to young, under-served people, and it can barely make it; and there’s the project that will be fun and will entertain a lot of folks, and it’s made a lot of money.
    Basically, it made me come to the conclusion that I’ll be rationing which projects I support and promote much more strictly; because some projects need my help a hell of a lot more than others, and while in general helping may not be zero-sum, it is for me at a personal level: there’s only so much money I have to give to others, and there’s only so much mental energy I have for promotional work (which is difficult for me).
    This way, the under-served projects will get at least all of my attention and spare cash, and I will feel like my tiny contributions make a noticeable difference (which is good for my mental health)

  2. Avatar of Heather Dalgleish

    Please Google “identifiable victim effect”. This is a cognitive bias which is well-known, well-studied, and disturbingly fascinating about human behavioural psychology when it comes to giving.

    You could be correct in your assumptions about race and gender playing a role – but I suspect that the identifiable victim effect is far more significant.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy

      That very well could have played a role and explain some of why things played out the way that they did, but that hardly makes structural inequality and the lack of spread of information regarding projects involving people of color “assumptions.” Many of the atheist bloggers and personalities on other Internet mediums don’t really cover issues regarding people of color other than things like stories of people who left Islam and the like.

    • Avatar of jadehawk

      that’s a possible contributing factor only in the specific example Heina cited, but not for other projects that were crowdfunded at the same time as the WLP fundraiser. In the example I provided, There was no “victim” being helped at all, and yet it still got a lot more money.

  3. Avatar of Roy Wallace

    So out of the thousands and thousands of different fundraisers going on at any given time, you’re shocked that people didn’t see yours? Until Mehta mentioned it, I had no clue this charity was going on, and as Heather already stated, I don’t connect as strongly with this one as with a person having their entire life crumble away just because you believe differently. I have been through it, I haven’t talked to my religious family in 9 years (they ignore my phone calls, emails, and visits) due to my non-belief. So yes, I connect more with him than with this one. DO NOT get me wrong here, this is a valid and worthy fundraiser, and I hope against hope that you got all the money you needed, but understand that not everyone has the time to sit around perusing the web for this particular one. Bell is lucky I spotted the story in the first place to be honest, if it hadn’t been posted to my Facebook, and at the top of my news feed (I don’t sit there reading everything that gets posted, I have other things to do) I would never have known about it. Also, I might point out, that there’s more fundraisers going for this sort of thing than for Atheists coming out/already out and losing their entire lives, should we just donate only to the ones YOU think are more important? Just as you think yours is more important than Bell’s, others think the exact opposite.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy

      First of all, WLP isn’t my project, but Sikivu Hutchinson’s, as stated in my post. Secondly, the fundraiser already has ended with adequate funding; this too was stated in my post.

      Last, but not least, I’m afraid that if you thought you were giving a former-pastor-turned-atheist support by supporting Bell’s campaign, you’re sorely mistaken. He’s still a Christian, just one who wanted to experiment with atheism by living as if there were no god. If you’d like to support actual atheists facing hardship due to leaving religion, I’d suggest donating The Clergy Project: http://www.clergyproject.org/ As it stands, you donated to a theist, not someone who faced the same challenges you did.

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