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Creative Fundraiser: Send an Atheist to Church


by Jennifer McCreight

A lot of charity fundraisers lack creativity and pizzazz-maybe the fundraiser is a jar for collecting loose change on a table or another generic bake sale. However, if your secular group is anything like mine, you want to find a way to give back to the community and get some positive news coverage for nontheists. The Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University has a proven fundraiser that kills both of these particular birds with one stone, and without being so controversial that your club members would be stoned to death: Send an Atheist to Church. Held on February 18th and 19th and inspired by Hemant Mehta's I Sold My Soul on eBay, the premise is as follows:

  1. An individual makes a cash donation that will benefit a charity of your group's choosing. There was no minimum.
  2. The individual then chooses what Christian denomination of religious services the individual wants the atheists to attend by placing the donation in the cup for that denomination.
  3. The more money donated in the denomination's name, the more visits it receives. From the total number of atheists who volunteered, we simply divided them up proportionally (though you don't have to do it this way).
Photo of the Society of Non-Theists at the Send an Atheist to Church fundraiser table

All proceeds from the Send an Atheist to Church fundraiser went to Food Finders Food Bank of Lafayette, IN.

When we were still in the planning stages, I expected that maybe we would raise $50, tops. By the end of our two days of fundraising, we had raised $362.95! On top of that, the local newspaper ran a lovely article about our event, and many people thanked us for our efforts. Like any public atheist event, there were people who wanted to start a fight, but most of them were atheists who thought we were some Christian group trying to convert them!

Photo of the Send an Atheist to Church poster

The attention-getting Send an Atheist to Church! poster.

We're still in the process of visiting churches (by the way, the Episcopalians won, just nudging out the Baptists), and every place has been very welcoming so far. One pastor even treated us to a little pizza party for lunch! If you want to incorporate this fun event into your annual lineup, here are some tips.

  1. Chose a charity that both theists and nontheists can support. We chose our local food bank. The Richard Dawkins Foundation probably wouldn't have raised as much money.
  2. Before we added a church representing a denomination to our list, we called and made sure it was okay with the church officials. Email and call whoever is in charge of that place of worship, and even find a friend who can vouch for your character. Some places will say no, but church leaders are more likely to agree if one of their parishioners says you're awesome.
  3. You, of course, can add places of worship that aren't Christian; however, West Lafayette, Indiana, just isn't all that diverse.
  4. Hold the event in a high traffic area so random people can throw in some change while passing by. We had a table in our Union, so people saw us while they were getting lunch.
  5. Hold the event for more than one day. Some people might not have cash on them, and what you're doing is likely to spread by word of mouth. We made much more money on day two!
  6. Have a nice big bar graph that you keep updated with running totals for each denomination. People like competition, and they're more likely to throw in a couple bucks if they see their denomination losing!
  7. If possible, try to find less mainstream groups to visit. People (be they theist or atheist) get a kick out of sending a bunch of heathens to the Mormons or Scientologists. I wonder why they find that so amusing …

Hopefully some of you will try this event. Not only did we raise a lot of money for charity, but we (hopefully) showed that atheists are open-minded and willing to learn more about religion. And, of course, it was fun sitting behind a sign that made people do a double take-that means we must be doing something right!

Jennifer McCreight photoJennifer McCreight, president and co-founder of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University, is double-majoring in genetics and evolution with a minor in psychology. In her blog, Blag Hag, she describes herself as a "liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted atheist feminist trapped in Indiana."

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