Planning Pagan Events

484371_89971521Like many Pagan organizers, I go through cycles of burnout. In the past years, I’ve managed to keep from totally burning out by pulling back some on the amount of events that I organize until I have the energy to do more again. One of the consistent frustrations I face that leads to that burnout is a combination of lack of attendance, but also, people who don’t seem to recognize the time and effort that goes into planning an event.

And, if you’ve ever planned an event, you know that it’s not easy.

Even when it’s a simple event, there are challenges that your participants don’t see. Heck, there are challenges in planning and promoting an event like an open Pagan ritual that even many of my organizers and volunteers don’t see unless they are volunteering for that particular area. For instance, how much work goes into promoting an event even just by posting it on Facebook or via email. Or one of my least favorite things–waiting for people to pre-register. I am so often on pins and needles, waiting for people to register for an event so that I know it’ll cover costs, and people wait til the last minute. It’s nerve wracking.

But let’s go back to the emails and comments that I frequently field. Now, I’ve done a lot of personal work, and I teach communication. So I’ve learned to “hear” some of the comments people offer me that come across as snarky, and realize that most of them probably aren’t trying to be snarky. That most of the time if I’m defensive, it’s because I’m protecting an old ego wound. That being said, I really would like for more Pagans to understand the impact of their words and actions.

Here are some of the comments that I regularly field when I plan an event in Chicago:

  • Can’t you do that event further North in the city?
  • Can’t you do events on the South Side?
  • I’ll come when you do something near (far out suburb).
  • That’s on the sabbat, I have other obligations.
  • Why can’t you do events on the actual sabbat?
  • Is your event kid friendly? I want to bring my kids, but no, I’m not willing to volunteer with other parents to offer kids programming or trade off watching kids at the event.
  • I live near (a part of the city on a train line that can easily get to the venue), I’ll come to something when it’s closer to me.
  • I can’t come to your event, I’d have to take a bus and a train.
  • Oh, I can’t come to a ritual that day, I have to get my hair done.
  • I can’t afford to attend (an event that is clearly listed as sliding scale)
  • I can’t afford to come to your event (person later that week posts about buying new expensive items on their FB)
  • I’ll come next year.
  • Can’t you just do women’s rituals? I don’t want to come if men are there or if you’re invoking the God.
  • I can’t come to your event, I’d never park my car there.
  • I won’t come to your event, it’s by a homeless shelter, it’s not safe.
  • How dare you host an event in (a particular) city park? There are drug dealers (ie, brown people) there! Why can’t you host something in (far out suburb) where I live?

You can probably see me sitting at my computer beating my head against a desk at some of these. For the comments I get containing racism, classism, or the occasional genderist or homophobic comments, I start to see red a little bit on the edge and this particular vein starts to pound.

What I usually want to tell people is, “Sure, you plan the event and incur the costs of renting a space, then we’ll talk.” But I understand that most people just don’t understand how much work goes into putting on even a small event. How much most venues cost to rent. For that matter, I doubt anyone has any idea how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into researching potential venues in Chicago, through online searches and in person visits.

I take a lot of factors into account when choosing a venue, but the primary one is usually rental cost. Well, and finding an available date. I also look at proximity to public transportation, availability of cheap/free parking, accessibility. The space itself has to work for the intended event; some of the local bookstores just don’t work well for classes or rituals, for instance, because they don’t have a large enough room or they don’t have a door that closes.

At 1900 Fulton (the Mankind project community space in Chicago) we’ve found a really great deal. There’s a large room for ritual or vendors, there’s an outdoor space and firepit for rituals if we want it, and there’s small rooms to the side for break out groups/workshops. There’s free parking on the street, and not-too-bad access to bus and train within a block or three depending on where you’re coming from. It’s a fairly central space and close to the highway, so folks who are in the suburbs and looking for a ritual to attend can easily get there and park.

Cost

As a community organizer who is, putting it bluntly, living way below the poverty line, I can’t front the money for a venue. I’m completely dependent on at-the-door donations to make things happen. It’s limited what I’m able to do. I’ve done a few events that didn’t cover costs over the years. Thankfully, a few community members who had $25 or $50 or even $75, or even an extra $5 or $10 helped to bring my local group (Ringing Anvil) back in the black.

However, it’s been disheartening for me as an organizer to know how much money an event will pull in, and to know that doing anything more expensive than that probably isn’t going to work most of the time. A further challenge is that the space I currently use for rituals and events is raising their prices; they’ve been giving me a discount, but they need to start making the full amount since they are getting more bookings.

Thing is, I love offering things on a sliding scale. It fits my values. But at the same time, I can’t even articulate how nerve wracking it is not knowing if we’ll pay the event costs until the event is done. I don’t get stressed out about putting on a public ritual or teaching classes. I sit with rather a lot of anxiety over, ‘Is this event going to cover costs?” It’s actually a testament to how much I love serving community that I keep doing it, knowing how stressed out I’ll be about money running up to, and during, the event.

August 10th, I’m taking a big risk. I’m bringing in 2 Pagan musicians to host a concert with  Sharon Knight and SJ Tucker. It’s a risk because we not only have to pay for the venue, but we need to make sure that the artists get paid too. We’re doing a Lughnassadh ritual first, and the concert after. I’m hoping that this will work out and that a lot of local people will be inspired to come on out, because if it does well financially then I’ll be able to afford to bring other artists and presenters into town.

Challenges in Organizing
I think picking dates, and picking a venue, are my two least favorite things about planning an event, because I’m guaranteed to disappoint people because they’re busy on that date, or the location is too far. But then again, what I’ve heard from people over and over is that they really aren’t willing to rearrange their schedule to attend a ritual or even a really cool class. Literally, I’ve heard: I have to get my hair done, nails done, go grocery shopping, go hang out with my mom, etc, etc. People are busy, but it’s also that some people are committed and willing to make the time and effort to come out to an event.

Why it matters is this. I can’t run an event without organizers. But…I also can’t run an event without attendees. Every time I run an event, I panic that there won’t be enough people show up to make the event worth hosting, both energetically and financially. I used to do more rituals in Chicago but I cut back when only 30 or so folks would show up for a ritual.

Some of you who facilitate rituals where you typically get 45-15 attendees might think, I’d love to get 30 people! In Chicago, however, there should be, statistically, thousands of Pagans. When I promote an event, I have to be reaching at least 1,000 Chicagoland people directly. The kinds of rituals that I do work best with 50 or more people. I won’t go into the facilitation dynamics right now, but for ecstatic rituals done in a public setting, 50 people just makes it a lot easier to facilitate.

With my current venue costs for an evening ritual, I would need 50 people to each pay in $3 just for the venue. Pop in a few other expenses, like paying for Meetup.com, ritual supplies like candles, other things, and we could put that to perhaps $4 each. Typically, my events have just broken even for the past years, paying for the venue and a little bit towards meetup and supply costs. I probably pay into this as well, particularly if you count all the ritual decorations which I’ve paid for out of pocket.

If I want to hire a presenter or host a concert, that could add anywhere from an additional $100 (maybe they are doing it for just gas money) to $2,000 or more. Organizing a conference, even if I get most of my presenters on a volunteer basis or for gas money, racks up the cost as well. It’s something I love doing, and hope to do more of if I can make it more financially viable.

Helping Organizers

Occasionally, I get pretty excited because I meet a Pagan who is interested in organizing events in their local area. If you’re interested in organizing events and want a little help learning how, or learning some of the things that I do to organize and promote events, I’m happy to help. More often, I talk to people who do some local organizing, who would like to see more going on, but who aren’t really willing to do the work of organizing and making things happen. Sometimes folks are just too busy, or sometimes they just don’t have what I call Event-planner-itis. But, until someone steps in to organize something, nothing’s going to happen.

In fact, I think that defines the whole cycle of Pagan community; when there’s a motivated organizer, things happen in an area. And then that person burns out, and then nothing happens for a while. I hope that that trend begins to even out. In fact, I’ve been incredibly inspired by folks in Central Illinois who are banding together to organize and co-organize, working to support each other’s events as opposed to competing with each other. There’s some amazing potential there.

So if I can help, let me know. Or even if I can just help you network in your area, let me know.

Let’s all work together to make our community more sustainable. It’s worth it, if we want healthy communities.

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4 thoughts on “Planning Pagan Events

  1. Pingback: Ritual: Physical Accessibility, Transgender Inclusion, and more | Pagan Activist

  2. I just read this link from your Pagan Activist site and I’d like to offer a perspective on a couple of the things you list above, because they’re coming off a little dissonant with what you say about inclusivity.

    “I can’t come to your event, I’d have to take a bus and a train.”
    You can’t see where this would be difficult for some people? Lots of people with disabilities don’t have the spoons for that one. Walk to bus stop. Stand and wait for bus. Ride bus. Walk from bus drop-off to train platform. Stand and wait for train. Ride train. Walk from train to event. Arrive at event so tired and in so much pain that you get nothing out of it but “ow”. Then, do the exact same thing on the way back. Arrive home so tired and in so much pain that going to work the next day is agony. Or, you’ve asked or paid someone to watch the kids while you go to the event. Add in time to take bus and train back and forth– how much time have you now asked/paid someone to watch your kids?

    “I can’t afford to attend (an event that is clearly listed as sliding scale)”
    Can you read this as “I can’t afford to pay more than a dollar for this, but I’d be mortified to lay my dollar in the pot when everyone else is giving fifty. I feel like everyone will be looking at me for the rest of the ritual and trying to figure out if they think I’m really that poor.” Also, even if the event is sliding scale, transportation isn’t. There’s more involved in going to a thing than just what happens at/with the thing itself.

    “I live near (a part of the city on a train line that can easily get to the venue), I’ll come to something when it’s closer to me.”
    What’s involved with the train where you are? One place I used to live, taking the train meant paying to park at the train, walking to the train, and then walking up and down broken escalators for as many times as you had to transfer to get to where you were going. If it involved the train, it plain wasn’t happening for me because it hurt too much.

    “I can’t afford to come to your event (person later that week posts about buying new expensive items on their FB)”
    This sounds like people who say “how can you be on welfare, you’ve got a smart phone! you must be freeloading”. Maybe the reason they can’t come to your event is because they’ve committed their savings to the expensive item they bought, and they feel like they need the other thing more? Maybe they just bought that expensive thing because it’s replacing something that broke and they have no choice? A lot of people would put “thing I use every day” over “one time experience” and not everyone can do both– events are the first thing to go in a lot of people’s budgets right now.

    Just like there are challenges for you that your participants don’t see, there are challenges for your participants that you don’t see. I’ve had many, many events I wish I could have gone to but I couldn’t make the logistics work. It’s not the organizer’s fault, but the logistics still don’t work; it’s not personal.

  3. Hiya Polarity, thanks for the feedback. 🙂

    I did just respond to a post on the Inclusivity blog post on Pagan Activist referencing this article and how it’s a balancing act as an organizer. I won’t rehash all of what I said there, but I talked a bit about the spectrum between, people articulating physical or financial or other needs that I might be able to accommodate, and, people who are consistent whiners and there’s no pleasing them.

    It’s hard as an event planner to tell the difference sometimes, at least, until we’ve worked long-term with a regular community and get to know people. There are some people that, having interacted with them in the community for years, I know that nothing I do will please them, and there’s no point in trying. And my post here was more focused on more of those those challenges, as an event planner; fielding the emails and comments from the people who, consistently, will just whine about things.

    For me, that’s really different from folks who say, “Hey, I have XYZ specific physical need, is there a way we can work with that.”

    For “I can’t come to your event, I’d have to take a bus and a train,” or “I live near (a part of the city on a train line that can easily get to the venue), I’ll come to something when it’s closer to me.”
    I’m absolutely not talking about folks with physical challenges here; I’m talking about the many, many folks I know in the Chicago community who just won’t come to an event if there’s any barrier. There’s also a Chicago cultural thing (and I hear it’s in other cities too) where if it’s not on their train line–if it’s not off the red line, they won’t attend. If it’s on the south side, they won’t attend. If it’s in the city, they won’t attend. It’s not a physical ability thing, or even about affording the train, it’s a convenience thing. And then they complain bitterly that I don’t plan events *right* in their neighborhood.

    I’m aware of folks who have mobility issues in my community and some of them have difficulty with the bus or the train. Or even, folks who don’t live on a train line and are in the suburbs. As people have started to get to know each other I’ve helped to foster carpooling, but that’s been slow going; people are unwilling to drive out of their way to pick someone up that they don’t know, and I can’t blame them for that, but I’ve started having initial success with that. It’s difficult for public rituals; it’s easier for me to get someone a ride home than a ride to the event.

    Chicago’s a big city. If I do an event in Rogers Park, none of the west side folks can get there, and the south side folks complain that it’s too far north, and the people with cars can’t come because there’s no parking. What I’m talking about in my post is the people that whine and whine about it–and then on the occasions when I have offered events in their neighborhood, they didn’t attend anyways. Or folks who, when I’ve bent time and space to get them a ride, then said, “Oh, I can’t make it.”

    I think part of what I’m getting at is, there aren’t enough Pagans in any one neighborhood for each neighborhood to have its own events schedule. But, Pagans in any given neighborhood will complain if they perceive that it’s too far. It often makes me wonder why I bother planning anything, because there’s no “right” choice for location. And–as I posted in the blog, I have put in hundreds of hours, dozens of my own bus and train trips in order to find workable, inexpensive venues close enough to transportation and parking. It’s hard to do all that work and then have people who complained, not even show up.

    Sliding Scale:
    I definitely understand this one. I’m broke, I can’t afford much of anything if there’s a fee to attend, and I know very well the burning shame of going to an event and not being able to drop anything in the til, or going out to eat with friends and not being able to order dinner.

    I’ve worked to do education in Chicago, and elsewhere, for about the past decade about what sliding scale means, and that if people want to volunteer instead of donating in they can. In my blog post here, I think what I was referencing was people who told me, “Oh, well, I couldn’t afford it,” and when I pointed out that the event is sliding scale, and I explain what it means, they argue with me (like, really angry arguing) that they won’t come unless they can pay the full amount.

    And there’s not a lot I can do with that; I offer sliding scale because I believe in it, and I believe in pay it forward. I’ve had a lot of people attend ritual facilitation classes who couldn’t have afforded to pay but they are doing great work and supporting community by taking ritual roles. If someone has major issues for whatever reason and absolutely won’t attend unless they can pay, and aren’t willing to hear me say that $5 is ok, and $0 is ok, I can’t help them.

    On rare occasions, I do have someone who admits that they can’t afford the bus fare to get to the event. In those circumstances, if I know them, I’ll work to get them a ride if I can. In some circumstances, I didn’t feel comfortable doing so because the person gave me enough of a strange vibe that I wasn’t going to ask someone to put a stranger in their car.

    “I can’t afford to come to your event (person later that week posts about buying new expensive items on their FB)”
    This is another one where context is important. I’ve been on foodstamps, and had a smartphone, and it’s the only way I had any access to getting any paid work at all. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about people who bitterly complain about the lack of events in the community, or who complain that I’m not offering things, or complain about a host of other things. Literally, I’ve seen people who complained and complained, and when I hosted an event they had been asking for, they paid the lowest amount on the sliding scale for a weekend class, and then turned around, that same day, and bought jewelry at the bookstore where the event was hosted. Or dropped more on lunch than on the event. And then went on to complain that there wasn’t enough events being hosted.

    I hope you can see where I was leaning with this article; I’m talking about the folks who consistently complain, but who don’t take any active role in helping, or even in attending when I’ve worked to accommodate some of their needs.

    It’s not personal. I know that. But yeah…I often wonder why I bother planning events when I’m always petrified the event won’t break even, and when I know that there will be people complaining no matter what I do.

    I never mind feedback on things where I have a chance of helping. Someone I know doesn’t have bus fare or the bus is too physically hard for them–cool, I can probably get them a ride. Someone has a food allergy. Cool, we can label that. Someone’s nervous about sliding scale and wants to offer work exchange. Cool, we can do that. Someone has kids and wants to attend and is willing to share child-care time with another few parents. Cool, I’m totally happy to help connect those folks. Someone can’t do XYZ thing in the ritual. Cool, let’s talk about some other ways they could engage.

    Folks who just consistently complain–that’s the source of my frustration in this article. I hope I better articulated the difference. 🙂

  4. Shauna you bother planning events because that is what you are called to do, I wish you had a great support group of people to help you or work with you toe to toe that is what it sounds like you really need. This means you need to either “train people to do what you do” or “find people that have the passion you do and do it with them” BUT no matter what you obviously care, and that is something refreshing to read and see. Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks…

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