President’s Column: Memberships

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By August Berkshire

Headshot of August Berkshire, smiling.

This month I’d like to talk about membership in Minnesota Atheists. Keeping track of memberships (and donations) is very detailed work, and I would like to thank Steve Petersen, Shirley Moll, and Brian Knoblock for the tremendous job they do.

Steve has compiled the following data about members and supporters of our organization:  

 Individual Memberships 173
 Household Memberships (representing 53 members) 35
 Sustaining Memberships (representing 16 members) 14
 Life Memberships
 Student Memberships
 Newsletter Subscribers 13
 Donors not in above categories

This amounts to 297 individuals who financially support us in some way. This is a decline from our all-time high, but it represents an improvement over where we were six months ago.

Last year we saw a decline in membership. I think this can be attributed to a number of factors, among them (in no particular order):

1) The Great Recession 
While we would like to believe that Minnesota Atheists is vital to our lives, the truth is that cause organizations such as ours are generally less important than food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.  Let us hope that we are experiencing an economic recovery now.

2) Electronic Newsletter Many members have chosen to receive their newsletters via e-mail instead of as a paper copy.  We appreciate this, since it saves us money.  However, members do not respond to e-mail renewal reminders as well as they do to paper reminders.  To overcome this, Shirley Moll has begun sending paper renewal reminders to lapsed members who were receiving e-newsletters.  This has yielded good results.  Thank you, Shirley and renewing members!

3) Ending Our Radio Show Our “Atheists Talk” radio program first ran from January 2008 to June 2009.  It was a natural source of interest in our organization and an obvious, concrete example of something for which we needed money.  When the show ended, these impetuses ended as well.  Fortunately, we have been able to resurrect our show, and the excitement over it is coming back as well.  This is leading to increases memberships and donations.

4) Much of the Newsletter is Free On-Line Websites that frequently add new content get more visits than those that don’t.  In our case, an obvious source for such material is our newsletter.  Part of our mission is educational outreach, and many articles in our newsletter certainly fulfill that purpose.  But this does raise the question of whether people are not becoming members (or not renewing) because they can get much of our newsletter on-line for free – so why pay for it?  However, I, for one, would not like to see us cut back on the great articles we offer publicly on our website.  Our hope is that people will see value in our organization that goes beyond the newsletter – and is worth supporting financially.

5) Many, many free events Often membership in an organization entitles a person to financial discounts and to attendance at special events.  In contrast, virtually everything Minnesota Atheists does or sponsors is free and you don’t even have to be a member to participate!  Jack Caravela in particular has done a fantastic job of setting up Meetups.  I would not want to change having many free events but, as with making much of our newsletter available free on-line, it does beg the question: Why bother to become a member?

So what does your membership help fund?  In the areas of community, communications, promotion, and education, your membership supports things like our Meetups and other gatherings; meeting room rentals and travel expenses for out-of-town speakers; newsletter printing, postage, and bulk mailing fee; our P.O. Box, phone line, and website; festival fees and free promotional handouts (pamphlets, pens, window clings, fans, etc.); cable TV fees, DVDs, and mailings; misc. supplies; storage for our library and other materials until we get a building; and providing resources for other freethought groups.

Beyond these material things, your membership supports two important causes: a rational, evidence-based worldview for individuals and advocacy for secular government for all citizens. 

A religious person might easily drop $5 a week into the collection basket, amounting to $260 a year.  In contrast, basic membership in Minnesota Atheists is only $35 annually – less than $1 a week. 

Please consider joining, renewing, or upgrading your membership in Minnesota Atheists, our state’s oldest, largest, and most active atheist organization.  Together we can have a greater impact than we can separately.

Minnesota Atheists

Positive Atheism in Action Since 1991