Fundraising in the Pagan Community Part 1

227987_8496Many Pagan groups have a story, a myth. “Pagans are broke,” Pagans will tell me sagely. And…they are right and they are wrong. I’ve run Pagan events that make money. And, I’ve run Pagan events that didn’t break even.

I’ve posted about Pagans, money, and paying for community events before, but it’s a topic that begs further exploration. As an event planner, and as a traveling teacher, this is quite honestly a maddening process.

There’s various methods of fundraising involved in the Pagan community. Some are purely donation based, but many are capitalistic, ie, charging for a class or a festival. My experience of Pagan fundraising is that most groups have raised funds by charging for classes and events, or by selling items.

In many groups, the leaders cover the cost of supplies and venue rental out of their own pockets. I’ve heard a number of group leaders tell me, “If we charge for our events nobody will come, so we just donate the money out of pocket or the group will disappear.”

There are some not for profit groups that have done larger fundraising efforts over the years accepting donations and larger gifts for their efforts, and many groups (like Pagan musicians, the Wild Hunt blog, and myself) have done fundraisers through Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund their efforts. But most of the folks out there trying to raise money are probably doing it on a fairly small scale—but even that scale is sometimes more than they can raise money for.

For some groups, raising $200 to rent a venue is more than they can manage.

Fear of Charging
I find that when I travel and teach, so many group leaders don’t want to charge their attendees for the class. Some are afraid to even ask for a sliding scale donation (ie, “Sliding scale $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds.” What they tell me is,”People won’t pay,” and asking people to pay will mean that people won’t come.

In fact, several group leaders I’ve talked to preferred to just pay my travel/teaching fee out of pocket rather than charge for it so that they wouldn’t alienate their group.

I know that in my case, I worked (in several groups/cities) to build a culture of donations on a sliding scale. It took years, and, it doesn’t always work, but raising $300 at an event is better than raising $50, or $0. I don’t always break even on my events that I host in Chicago, but I almost always do.

However, I have noticed in the past years that far less people seem willing or able to donate for a class. I used to regularly see sliding scale weekend intensives ask for $75-$150 sliding scale, and offer some scholarships, and the classes would fill with 15, 20 people without a problem and have no problem paying for the teacher fees or the venue. Of late, I’ve seen far less people able or willing to make the time for a weekend class, and of those who attend, far less are willing to pay even at the middle of the scale. Many pay at the $5-$25 level, or need to attend on a complete scholarship.

I think that that is partially the recession, and also partially because people are busier, but I also wonder what else is a factor. Friends of mine with not for profit fundraising experience suggest that the current generations have the least interest in philanthropy.

What Encourages Donations?
I wonder what would help events to raise more money. Is it the language? I know when I suggest a range of fees on a sliding scale, I get more than when I just put out a donation jar. However, I know of some Pagan teachers who charge a flat fee in a more capitalist model (only those who can afford to attend get to attend) and their following will pay that fee.

It’s also worth exploring what types of events make more money, and also what other methods of fundraising can work to boost revenues, such as raffle/auction, readers donating their time, vendors, etc.

Though I admit, what I see over time is that the successful classes and events seem to be hosted by teachers with a big name. Also, the classes and books that sell well are typically focusing on intro and mid level topics, as well as what we’ll call “sexier” topics. Classes that promise phenomenal magical power sell better. The classes  that seem to make money aren’t the intensive, advanced, deep exploration classes…they are the ones that sound “cool” and like you’re going to learn magic spells to get what you want.

How Much do Events Cost?
Different events have different costs. It depends on where you’re running the event. Some Pagans are able to secure free venues. Others have to pay for the venue. Some Pagan presenters and authors charge more than others. And then there’s performers like musicians. Bringing a Pagan band into town, or a Pagan author, can be a very expensive prospect.

However, they can be a big draw.

There’s a big difference between doing a workshop out of your house and running a day-long festival. And there’s also what people value and are willing to pay for. I’ve noticed that many Pagans will pay for trinkets before they pay for a class. And many Pagans will come out for a Pagan band, for entertainment, who won’t come out for a community event or a ritual.

Honestly, every time I plan an event I’m nervous. I never know if it’s going to break even until the event is done and we count the donations. And I can’t continue under that process, I really can’t. It’s too stressful.

Add to that the complexities of running an event, and working with a lot of local presenters and performers who–by all rights–should be paid for their time. Except,running a small scale Pagan event with no headline (famous) presenter, and no headline musical act, doesn’t bring in a lot of money most of the time. Not unless there’s additional fundraising. Some of the challenges are:

  1. It’s hard to get people to actually come out to an event. People have busy lives and not everyone prioritizes Pagan events. Low attendance means less money. 50 people paying even just $5 means $250, and that almost covers my venue cost in Chicago for a day-long rental. But if only 30 show, I might not cover the costs.
  2. Getting people to actually donate. Some just don’t have the money–times are tough. Others don’t value spending money on a Pagan event. They’ll leave the event and go out for drinks, drop $20 on dinner, $5 on coffee, and not think twice. Ask them to drop $25 on a ritual and they think you are scamming them.

But Paying for Events is Bad!
I’m not out there to shake anyone down for money. I’m not promising salvation. I’d just love to get paid a reasonable full time wage to do the work that I love–organizing events, teaching workshops, writing blog posts like this and writing books.

However, in my experience, there are only a few Pagans out there who are making (any) income off of their Pagan work. They fit into 3 main categories that I’ve seen

  1. Leaders of a large institutions or owners of Pagan lands (and we have precious few of these)
  2. Authors and Teachers
  3. Vendors, store owners, and readers

Now…in any of these categories, you can have the ethical folks who are doing good work, and you can have the people who are just trying to make a buck.

People charging for services is not bad. People charging for events is not bad.

Embezzled money? Bad. Expensive sweat lodges that kill participants? Bad. Pagans are so gun shy about donating and it doesn’t serve us. However, there’s a reason–without controls and accountability, you have no idea where your money is going. And, with the epidemic of bad and unstable leaders out there, no wonder Pagans are gun-shy. Yet, unless we Pagans culturally drop our fear of donating to Pagan teachers and organizations doing good work, those organizations won’t survive, those teachers will give up.

I’m on the edge of that myself, as I’ve posted before. I’ve paid out of pocket to teach for years. We’re talking infrastructure problems here…and this is the reason we don’t have more leadership classes and advanced classes out there.

I suppose some organizations and teachers just need to hang in there and prove that they are one of the good guys…but goodness, is it a rocky road to get there.

Doesn’t Money Corrupt?
Again, money isn’t bad. We (humans) have a lot of cultural shame biases that get in the way. Money is a Pagan shame bias. Anyone who wants to make a living doing this kind of work must be “bad.” Money isn’t bad–money is energy. Money represents time and work. You can volunteer to help a group with your time and energy, or you can donate money. It’s the same thing, and Pagan groups need both.

But when someone is making a living doing work like this, there can be challenges holding a balance. I saw some of my own mentors having this challenge; they were forced to focus on what would pay the bills. They would often allow people to continue coming to events who were disruptive…but those folks were paying to attend, and they needed the money. In fact, that organization and retreat center no longer exists because it wasn’t financially sustainable. And it’s hard for any Pagan organization to reach financial sustainability.

I have focused mostly on the work that called to me–ie, teaching leadership and rituals, and leading rituals. I certainly could make a lot more money as a Pagan author and teacher if I catered to the Pagan-101-Teach-Me-Spellwork crowd. If I was willing to be a guru and subtly imply to people that they can become way powerful witches and spellworkers and get phenomenal cosmic power but only if they pay me a low-low fee….But that’s not who I am.

Money does always raise the huge question of authenticity. Yes, I need an event I’m running to make money or I can’t keep running them…but once I start compromising my authenticity to run events or teach classes just to make money, that’s where it starts to enter the gray area.

I’ve heard Pagans suggest that “true teachers” shouldn’t do it for the money. They should do it because they are called, they should do it whether or not they are getting paid. Well–I’m here as a teacher and leader who has done that. I taught because I was called. Where did it leave me? Financially destitute, to be honest. Yes, I made those choices, so I bear that responsibility. But to answer the question, would I do this work without pay?

Obviously yes, because I have. But the consequences to my life and health have been significant. I’ve found myself as a Pagan organizer and teacher at a crux, a crossroads. I have a choice to continue doing this work and finding a way to get paid for it, or to significantly downscale the work that I do for the Pagan community and focus on work that brings in more income.

Money and leadership and raising funds is a big topic! Part 2 will explore more of the issues of Pagans and Fundraising, and I’ll post that tomorrow.

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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7 thoughts on “Fundraising in the Pagan Community Part 1

  1. Back to the previous post here, Shauna (and I apologize for being one of the broke folk right now – you deserve financial support) – boundaries and accountability seem to be similar. We, in my Temple, ask for donations to cover our expenses and we get them, although little more. Because we are clear – “here’s what it costs to put on this event”. And we aren’t individual entrepreneurs but clergy people accountable to an organization whose membership criteria are clear and pretty obvious.

    The New Age, with “prosperity consciousness” and “The Secret” and all of that stuff, is a bunch of client cults centred on unaccountable and special snowflakes, stars and enlightened masters, spiritual entrepreneurs. It’s a bad model for us and the influence of that model, I suspect, is where this issue is partly coming from – spiritual services as another consumer option. So, “shall I buy that cool zircon-incrusted wand, or that piece of amber jewelry, or toss a few bucks in the pot to help out the ritual presenter?” because it’s not a spiritual community, but a marketplace.

    We charge for workshops, but not for spiritual services, and we are not expecting to do this full-time. (That’s a whole ‘nother topic for discussion – whether having professional clergy is a good idea or not).

  2. Its about priorities. I volunteer in prisons, and early on, (before they learned what I am willing to do) inmates would ask me to give them a book or tarot deck, because they couldn’t afford it. This from a guy wearing brand new $60 sneakers! People pay for what is important to them, and for most people, their spiritual growth is not important. We have been able to continue this work for 17 years, because the community is supportive of us, but I still live in abject poverty. I do work for a living, but when I have jobs, the ministry suffers. When the ministry becomes intensive, the job suffers. What I do in prisons take knowledge, intelligence, training, focus; all those things that people at “work” get paid for, and I would deserve to get paid for what I volunteer to do, but people don’t value it.

  3. This attitude really bugs me, because I do think it’s more about attitude than reality. Yes, many Pagans are strapped for cash, but I have also been strapped for cash and been able to afford to pay for an event. It’s called planning and saving. Now, someone is going to pop in and tell me they can’t save money because they’re that strapped for cash. That may be true in a few cases, but I believe in reality it’s much fewer than what people say. Why? Because I see a lot of Pagans willing to spend money on things that are honestly pretty trivial, but somehow “can’t afford it” when it comes to something that actually supports their community. How many people come to ConVocation dressed to the nines for the masquerade ball, for example, but unwilling to pay a $10 fee for a class or workshop? How many people at festivals somehow have the money to be drunk all weekend long? How many will drop some fairly large bucks on a bit of “cool” ritual wear or gear that’s more about appearance than function? Accountability is huge to me, and again I feel that the Pagan community at large is not mature enough to handle their money. They want to come to awesome events and classes, but they don’t want to pay a dime for it.

    I don’t like capitalism, so this isn’t a defense of capitalist values. But the reality is since we live in a capitalistic society, as you pointed out it WILL cost money to run classes, workshops and events whether people like it or not. It isn’t just unrealistic, but also insulting and devaluing to their efforts when large numbers of attendees want event organizers and teachers to just eat all the cost. But, no one should be left in the cold due to a genuine inability to pay, so what’s the solution?

    I was an event organizer for several years not for a Pagan event, but for an LGBTQ kink event and we had a similar problem. So, what we did is offer reduced rates if people were willing to volunteer. How much money they got off their cost depended on how much volunteer work they were willing to sign up for, with those willing to volunteer the most time being able to get into a 5 day event that included meals for almost nothing. Had it been a smaller event or maybe one without meals, it’s conceivable to me that a person could be offered completely free admission for volunteering their time. Volunteers got to tell us what slots worked for them and what their work ability was so no one would be forced to miss the classes they really wanted, or do something that was too challenging for them. To me, it’s not about money as long as ENOUGH people are willing to pay to get the event off the ground to begin with. If that doesn’t happen, the event won’t happen at all, but if it does then there should be some leeway for those who are really broke. But of course, because people are people, this system did not work very well, and again I think it’s due to attitude.

    While some volunteers were utterly heroic, perhaps even going above and beyond what was asked of them, others didn’t show up for their shifts – which was an issue because we had already given them the reduced admission. We tried various ways to counter this, but in the end if someone didn’t want to do the work they just didn’t. The only way we found that prevented this was if we asked for the full registration fee up front, with the ability to earn the money back at the end of each volunteer shift – but as you can probably guess that just resulted in a lot of people saying they couldn’t afford the registration fee up front. And despite our generous system, there were always people for whom it wasn’t enough, who felt no shame in asking for even more allowances to be made for them with seemingly no understanding that the event barely scraped by as it was.

    What do people value? That’s what I want to know. Because if Pagans hate a capitalistic system, the only way to make alternatives work is if they take the alternatives seriously, appreciate them and are willing to do what they need to do to uphold an alternative to money. If they aren’t, then many of the complaints of being broke just sound like so much bullshit to me. Just more bullshit to avoid personal responsibility. Hell, look at you – you’re broke, you barely scrape by, but look at all the work you’re doing for the Pagan community. Where’s a similar sense of dedication from people who would like to attend your workshops? If we hope to have access to increasingly good events, let alone eventually be a community where it’s possible for people to get by serving their community (not get rich off it, but make enough that they can really dedicate their lives to it), then we have to put away the stupid bullshit and either be willing to drop the same amount on a class as we would on a Harry Potter style witch hat, or be willing to contribute in some other non-monetary way.

  4. The basic problem with Pagan fund raising is the community is cannibalizing itself. Consider the combined wealth of all Pagans in a community to be a pool. Streams flow into it as individuals get paid. Stream flow out as they pay bills and buy things. Hopefully each individual has their streams balanced to the point where their incomming stream is enough to cover the outward flow.

    If people go to a festival they bring a finite amount of cash which is part of that pool. Whether this cash goes towards a t-shirt, the auction, the donation jar, it doesn’t matter. It’s just moving water around in the same pool. Then the money raised is used to cover something, be it land fees, a charity, whatever. This money flows out of the communal pool and does not come back. It was not “raised”, it was drained.

    Again consider the Pagan wealth pool. It’s only a wet spot on the pavement next to the ocean that is the non-Pagan wealth pool. The obvious path here is to stop begging from each other and start finding ways to bring in cash from outside. You want to have a witch auction? Do it where rich non-Pagans like to spend money.

    You want to be even more fair about it? How about getting cash from people who are actively against Paganism? Here’s one way: Dress people up in military uniforms and witch hats. Have them dance around a fire while an annoucer says “The US army allows Pagans and witches to practice their rituals on our military bases. These “witches” say they are expressing their religious freedom. But is witchcraft really something the United States Army needs? What do you think? Dial 1-900-WITCH-OK or 1-900-WITCH-NO to cast your vote. $3 per call, please only vote once.” and run it on televangelist tv. ka-CHING!!

  5. Trickster, above, hit on something I think is really important – broadening our pool of accessible cash and resources.

    First, I’m not interested in the ‘circulation of the saints’. The Pagan religious movement has to grow, and it is growing, and bringing new people with new income and other resources into the communities , particularly through formal and fiscally accountable organizations, rather than principally focussing on serving the needs of the established dysfunctional scene, increases our pool of money and talent.

  6. Pingback: Fundraising, Finance and Fair Exchange | The Poet Priestess

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