- What is Atheism
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- Christians Take Over Interfaith Army Chapel in Combat Zone
- Press Kit
- 9/11: 'Never Forget' Must Include All Victims
- Atheists Advocate Separation of Church and State at DNC
- Congressman Pete Stark to Speak at 2013 National Convention
- American Atheists Announces 50th Anniversary Logo Design Contest
- American Atheists Announces Harassment Policy for Conventions and Conferences
- American Atheists Jubilant Over Latest Religion Report
- American Atheists Removes Religious Billboards from Charlotte
- Former Pastor Now American Atheists Public Relations Director
- Former Pastor Teresa MacBain New Public Relations Director
- ITALIAN JUDGE LUIGI TOSTI ACQUITTED!
- American Atheists to Protest Bradford County, FL Decalogue on May 19
Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Making the Commitment
Making The Commitment: Becoming a Formal Non-Profit Organization
Many of our affiliates started off as little more than Meetup.com get-togethers to share dinner and a drink with like-minded friends and colleagues; and indeed, this is perfectly fine and worthwhile in itself. But many of these groups have also recognized a desire to 'get organized' and become a more 'formal' organization with an elected board and officers that can plan more extensive events and activities and perhaps even raise money to cover the costs of those events.
AA has some pointers and advice on how to make that transition, what obstacles you need to navigate, and suggestions on the best outcome.
Every increment of activity and community involvement for your organization generally requires a commensurate amount of formalization and leadership. While posting a meeting notice on-line once per month to your Facebook account or your email list may be sufficient for a coffee or brunch get-together, it’s unlikely that that will be adequate for any plans of expansion of your operations.
The key is to get other people involved and to provide some measure of planning and predictability into the future.
How to get people involved in a planning role? That generally requires a working document that spells out the common vision of what your organization wants to ultimately do and provides a structure of governance that all can agree on. By providing a structure of governance, you can parse out the responsibilities of the organization into smaller pieces that volunteers will more readily step up to fulfill.
How does one create a common vision? This generally starts with creating and filing Articles of Incorporation for your organization.
While the AofI can provide your common vision, filing it provides legal benefits to protect your organization and the volunteers contributing to it. Filing Articles of Incorporation with your local government as a non-profit group will give you credentials that can open doors to venues and services otherwise unavailable to you. Filing for tax-exempt status with the IRS will also position you to give your donors a deduction on their tax filings, making them more willing to fund your operations. (Note that while these two steps are often done concurrently, they are separate actions and have separate consequences.)
Filing Articles of Incorporation usually requires establishing a mission statement or statement of purpose, and selecting leaders to represent the group. What you decide your mission statement to be can determine both whether you can be recognized as a non-profit group as well as whether you can qualify for tax-exempt status. Note that most atheist groups define themselves to be educational non-profits. National organizations such as American Atheists have sample templates that you can use to complete these filings.
With leaders and a formal organization, you generally want to set down some rules for how your organization will be run, what responsibilities your leaders will have, and how leaders will be replaced. Those rules are called Bylaws, and they provide a structure under which you can launch projects and manage funds. Again, sample bylaws are readily available from most other established atheist or other non-profit organizations for the asking.
Many organizations have newsletters. This often has information on upcoming and past meetings, programs that your organization is promoting (like sponsoring a street cleanup, having a table at a fair, etc.), or even education and advocacy actions like writing to your local elected officials about an issue. Many atheists love to see their own articles in print, as well as copies of recent letters to the editor. A newsletter accommodates all of this for your group.
The downside to a newsletter is that it is a long-term commitment. They require a lot of ongoing work, as someone responsible for the newsletter (aka "the editor") has to either constantly solicit contributors for articles, surf the web for interesting and unusual content, and/or write the pieces themselves. Printing and mailing them is relatively expensive too, if you do not choose to use an electronic/on-line format. Before embarking on such an endeavor, carefully plan the purpose (mission) of the newsletter, decide what frequency of publication you can really support (monthly? quarterly?) and identify several regular sources of articles to draw upon as needed, and assemble a committee that can all pitch in to get the work done as needed. Also note that an internet website may replace many of the reasons why a group would want to host a newsletter as well as provide an electronic method of any newsletter distribution.
Our Group Wants to Have a Larger Influence in our Society. How Do We Do That?
The best way to increase your influence is through affiliations with other freethought groups. What those affiliations can look like depends on both your group and the larger affiliate group. Some larger groups are centralized and require you to follow their rules and/or send them chapter dues to be “officially” affiliated; other groups, such as American Atheists, are decentralized / democratic and allow their member organizations to have a say in operations and may not require member organizations to provide dues. But regardless, both of these kinds of organizations will have certain rules / requirements that your group will have to meet before you are officially affiliated. The benefit, of course, is that your group’s voice is combined with groups across the country to speak out and stand up for nontheist rights on both the regional and national stage. You can also participate in newsletter exchanges (which can provide content for your newsletter), information exchanges, referrals for new members, etc. that can be difficult to originate or support locally.
American Atheists has an application packet for local groups that would like to be considered for formal affiliation. It explains the requirements and rights that a formal affiliation will convey. For a copy of this packet, please send an e-mail to: [email protected].