Is this because we’re atheists?

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was so excited when I read the beginning of this post at Friendly Atheist.

You see, atheist groups have a pretty good history of giving, and giving a lot and well. We’re the number one group in donations on Kiva, for example. Hemant Mehta, the friendly atheist of the blog linked to above, is on the board of a charitable organization called Foundation Beyond Belief. It’s specifically designed for atheist donors to be able to give money to non-religious charities. (It’s a bit more complicated, but we’ll go with that for now.)

So, as Hemant says (emphasis his):

A couple months ago, philanthropist Todd Stiefel came to the Foundation Beyond Belief board … with an excellent idea.

Every year, the American Cancer Society sponsors an international event called Relay For Life. … As it turns out, your local group can also be part of a National Team… which is perfect if you’d like to help the cause with a huge group of people who don’t live in the same area.

So, Todd said, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get atheists around the world to participate in their local Relays — but under the umbrella of the Foundation Beyond Belief?

To sweeten the deal, Todd made another proposal: His family would contribute up to $250,000 in matching funds! So, whatever amount your local group raised (under the FBB National Team banner), Todd would double that donation up to a quarter-million dollars.

Ah man, wouldn’t it be awesome to have yourself described as a philanthropist like it’s your job? “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a philanthropist. I give money away.”

Back on topic, Todd gave some money to FBB to help organize this effort, and he also contacted the ACS to get FBB listed as a national team. Here’s where I was really excited, thinking Yes! I can do something to help! And it will mean something because it won’t just be me!

Wellll…. I suppose I should’ve read the title to Hemant’s blog post a little closer.

So, back in July, Todd got in touch with one of the people who runs Relay For Life — I’m going to call him “Bob” — and explained what he wanted to do. Bob said this shouldn’t be a problem — not only could we have the team, the ACS would take care of everything on their end while Todd went out of town for a couple weeks. When Todd returned, though, he hadn’t heard back from Bob. Todd sent an email asking Bob how things were proceeding. Another two weeks passed without a response. No phone call. No email. Nothing. Todd called them again and left a message expressing his concerns about their lack of responsiveness, asking if we should look to partner elsewhere. Two more weeks passed without response.

Think about that for a second. You work for a non-profit organization and a donor calls to say they essentially want to hand you half a million dollars. What do you do? You get back to that person as-soon-as-goddamn-possible. But the ACS didn’t respond for over a month…

The rudeness alone makes me want to declare that there are other organizations committed to eradicating cancer. Let’s go look at them! But, alas, the sad story continues…

After a while, Bob got back in touch with Todd and told Todd that they couldn’t have FBB be a group after all. The reason? Website changes. That’s right, they’re changing their site and can’t be bothered to add us in while they do it. They don’t have the resources to add “Foundation Beyond Belief” to a couple places on their site and then sit back and take half a million dollars from us.

Hemant has an imagined scripted version of a conversation and I think is probably just as circuitous and round-a-bout as the real conversation. When people are being irrational and stupid, after all, conversations never go in a logical manner. In short, they denied denying us because we’re atheists, but they won’t bend any rules for FBB, even though we want to give them $500,000, but it appears there is rule-bending going on for other organisations.

It seems like they’d rather give up $500,000 because it’s raised by atheists… than do a minimal amount of work on their end, or make an exception that could benefit so many people, and give us a National Team to make it easier to mobilize our community to hit that goal.

For what it’s worth, the ACS did agree to provide support to our intern to help get teams organized and they offered to provide some promotion of the Matching Challenge… but it’s a far cry from what could have been. I have to wonder if a donor representing a large national Christian group would have been treated the same way.

If you’d like, you can contact ACS here.

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