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Atheists Read Religious Texts for Charity

Planning time2 to 3 weeks
Group Size4+
Staff #2+
Event DateAnytime

Activity Overview:
The idea is exactly what it sounds like! Events like these are a great example of student groups promoting themselves to the public without being offensive or abrasive. What's more, they're a great mini-service project, and a fantastic excuse for awareness tabling.

This packet mostly covers things specific to this project; other generally advisable practices are available in the service project packet.

Planning timeframe:
This doesn't take too long to set up, but if this will double as a publicity stunt, you'll want to have a media strategy in place about two or three weeks beforehand. We suggest obtaining volunteers to manage the table first, as that could be the most time consuming planning step.

Two or three coordinators are needed to schedule readers, take and forward donations, and work with media. You'll want at minimum two volunteers at the table at any one time, one to read publicly, the other to handle the cashbox. Keep track of who volunteers to run the table at what time, and remind everyone of their commitment a couple days before the event.

As for the charity aspect, you can either get the charity involved in the event, or simply write them a check afterward. This will depend on the nature of the charity. Some may not want to get too involved and risk turning off any religious donors, and since they probably rely on donations they might not be able to risk that.

Material requirements:
Have your usual tabling supplies (banner, flyers, literature) on hand. You'll also need a cashbox to handle donations, and possibly a receipt book. The religious texts are central to the event, and should represent a variety of faiths and practices - besides the Bible, Tanakh, and Koran, try to get the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Dianetics, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and others. Think about creating a handout of titles, to include descriptions and suggested passages. Your university library should have copies of everything you need; for those hard-to-find or -carry books, you may be able to find them online, although reading from a laptop doesn't pack the punch of reading from a book. Remember to order SSA tabling supplies

Be sure to email your members with your group email list, and promote via social media. Email religious student organizations on campus to let them know they're welcome to attend and donate, and to explain your intentions. Alert the student newspaper, our in-depth press release guide will help you. Remember to take photos, and maybe even video, during the event. Be sure those in the photos are OK with them being shared online. Check our Group Promotion guide for more ideas. 

Suggested Walkthrough

  1. Select a nonreligious charity to make donations to. We recommend the Foundation Beyond Belief and the organizations they support. Also consider local charities like a food pantry, animal shelter, LGBT safe house, etc. Figure out how you'll charge for reading; perhaps it will be by the verse, the page, time, or some other criterion.
  2. Solicit volunteers to read, and schedule them. They should be able and willing to speak publicly. Choose trustworthy people to handle the cashbox.
  3. Draft a press release to give to local and campus media. You'll want to give this to them about a week before the event - this will give their reporters a notice to cover it, both before and after the event. 
    If you're going to be handling cash, there are some important things to keep in mind. You'll need a cashbox, which you can borrow from student activities or purchase, as well as someone trustworthy to handle it. Decide beforehand what forms of payment you can take - usually cash, sometimes checks, only rarely credit. Think about using a laptop for people to access PayPal, or use a Square if you have that. Customers may ask for a receipt - you can get a receipt book at an office supply store. This can help you inventory so nothing gets lost!
  4. Plan to set up your table in a high-traffic area for a few days - the longer you're there, the more interest will build. 
  5. Read your texts for charity! Generally, people will come up and request a particular text or passage, but other people who don't know what to pick some way of doing so. You may want to skim the passage before reading. Your volunteers may be unwilling to read passages that are intolerant or immoral, or better yet, you may be able to charge extra for those. Whatever your policy, post it beforehand.
  6. Take photos, and maybe video too, during your event.
  7. After your event, thank your volunteers, coordinators, and donors!
  8. You can send photos to photos@secularstudents.org or submit at Brag It Up form, which could get you a free book or other materials for your group.

One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at organizer@secularstudents.org!

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