The ‘We Are Atheism’ Situation Gets Even Worse

In the wake of serious allegations of (at best) total incompetence in the running of the group We Are Atheism (at worst, serious corruption), several former board members of the organization are speaking out about why they resigned in the first place. It makes a bad situation considerably worse, much of it revolving around the fact that Amanda Brown doesn’t seem to accept board oversight very well and thinks she should be able to do anything she wants.

In June 2014, Brian Fields, EllenBeth Wachs, Shayrah Moran and Bridgett Crutchfield were asked to serve as board members for We Are Atheism. In that time, we worked very hard to help prepare the organization for the expected upcoming 501(c)(3) approval.

As part of this preparation, all four board members worked with the rest of the board in various capacities to provide their expertise to the organization. During that time concerning behaviors were observed.

  1. The bank account for the soon-­to-­be nonprofit was held in one person’s name: Amanda Brown. Brian was asked around September to serve as treasurer (by legal vote of the board of directors). In an attempt to get a handle on the expenses, he asked for copies of the books for the organization. The only thing he received were passwords to a web login for Amanda’s personal accounts as well as an account for We Are Atheism, and to a PayPal account. No other books or list of financial categorizations was available. It was pointed out to Amanda that this was not going to work for a non-­profit, and that we needed to set up a separate, corporate account and start using proper books to track our financials.
  2. Several decisions were made solely by Amanda Brown, and attempts at questioning those decision were met by resistance from Amanda. We were told that We Are Atheism was her organization, and that “these are the rules.” Amongst those rules was a requirement that we use Adam Brown for all of our website and design work (attempts to open this up for bid were met with derision and anger on Amanda’s part). We questioned expending money to travel to certain conferences, when we weren’t receiving donations or exposure to match the investment. We were expected (without question) to approve these expenses for her and Adam Brown who was not even a board member. In fact, the plans were made and presented to the board before we had voted on them.

This was following several meetings where outbursts from Amanda were common when questioned on previous actions or to review corporate records. The final straw was a board meeting around October 2nd [2014] when she yelled at the entire board for “not helping her,” claiming that she was “the only one working” and stormed out of the meeting. This tantrum occurred after being questioned about the financial report that was totally void of detail and the expenses for that upcoming conference, and other, already related, concerns.

The board decided to ask her to resign. Her response was to essentially disband the board and tell them she can do whatever the hell she wants:

Dear Acting WAA Board of Directors,

First I want to personally apologize for what happened at the last board meeting. My outburst was unprofessional and should’ve been handled differently. I was justified in my frustration with the current pace of the board but not in how I handled my reaction. But we can’t change what happened all we can do is move forward. I have listened to the concerns regarding my leadership of We Are Atheism and have come to the conclusion that the current board cannot exist as it stands. When someone thinks the founder of an organization should be removed for reasonable issues it should be brought before all parties concerned. I understand why this hasn’t happened yet but due to what has happened I contacted not only the lawyer who helped draft our 501c3 status but also has been kept on retainer for instances like what has happened.

After speaking with the lawyer this is the proper procedure for what needs to happen next to ensure the board functions properly from here on out.

1. The current board of 8 does not have any legal standing to make any decisions regarding the advancement of We Are Atheism. Sorry, but unfortunately because the bylaws were never agreed upon as well as the original 5 never went through the proper procedure for resignation/removal of the board members along with the original 5 never signing the bylaws all legal matters revert to the original incorporation which is in my name. In order for us to remain compliant with our 501c3 status the original 5 must approve the bylaws, sign them and have it recorded in the meeting minutes that the action occurred.

2. The bylaws have been re­written to make the board consist of only 5 members. So not all 8 of us will be returning to continue the advancement of the organization

3. All Board members AFTER the original 5 approve the bylaws will not be allowed to serve on any other board for any other atheist organization. Your sole focus should be the advancement of the mission of We Are Atheism. This will fall under the conflict of interest document that has been revised and will be signed by the original 5.

4. All Board members MUST commit 5-­7 hours each week to the advancement of WAA through their specific duties as well as post on social media when applicable

5. I cannot be removed from the board of directors at any time, for any reason, only my resignation may be approved by a super majority of the board.

6. All Board meetings will be video taped or audio recorded and saved for documentation and reference

I think that is all the changes that are being made. I appreciate all of the help each one of you has given for the past few months. If you would like to remain on the board or be considered for the 3 open positions please message me personally via facebook, email, or text. It must be in written form. This is not because any of you have done anything wrong or ill advised. I know this is the proper way to proceed to ensure the success of the organization. If you have any questions or issues please comment below or respond via reply all to the email.

Again, Thank you so much for all you have done to get WAA where we are now. You will not be forgotten and have been appreciated for what you have done. But moving forward, only those who are solely dedicated to the mission and advancement of WAA need to be involved.

Thanks, Amanda Brown

The four members of the board now speaking out immediately resigned. I think it’s abundantly clear at this point that We Are Atheism needs to be shut down and no one should support it. This is exactly what we do not need in this community, incompetence (at best), corruption (at worst), autocratic reaction to entirely reasonable criticism and a resulting inability to trust anything that goes on in this organization.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Heath

    I set-up a non-profit and have run one for ten years now. It is in no way difficult to set-up, establish accounts and set-up financial record-keeping and report. It does require some general business competency, integrity, software applications (e.g., bookkeeping), and out-sourced services – such as a lawyer and a CPA. I see no evidence of any of these factors being practiced.

    My advice has already been taken by the four members, i.e., flee.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    When the “outbursts”, “yelling”, and “tantrums” are too much for even EllenBeth Wachs, they are too much.

  • eric

    think it’s abundantly clear at this point that We Are Atheism needs to be shut down and no one should support it.

    Well at least the latter. If she wants to run some sort of charity in which she basically has controlling interest, IANAL but that’s probably something that can be legally done (though maybe not as a 501(c)(3)). We she get many donors if she does that? That’s the big question.

  • bencaires10

    I have created a animated documentary short film called Religion vs Atheism, which explores some of the ideas you guys talk about. Check it out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxOrlOgRgqQ

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    Fortunately atheist organizations have lately turned me off of atheist organizations, soooooooooo… Meh.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    Skeptics and atheists are no more immune from affinity scams than any other group. We always want to believe that the people who claim to be like us are good people. We’re good people ourselves, right?

  • ZugTheMegasaurus

    I get the impression that Amanda Brown has serious misunderstandings about the huge differences between a private club and a nonprofit organization. Lots of people do, but the problem arises when one of them decides to start a nonprofit. I’ve dealt with people like this before, and it’s pretty much always the same setup: the group starts out small and informal with the intention of becoming something legitimate, but when they start feeling the weight of all the rules and procedures, they get resentful and see the required oversight as unfair and insulting. Now that I think about it, every successful organization I’ve dealt with (I sometimes do pro bono work for community arts/theater groups) has a founder that stepped back once the thing was up and running.

  • royandale

    Looks like somebody’s trying hard to make this movement skip becoming a business and degenerate straight into a racket, as Eric Hoffer noted.

  • Al Dente

    Tabby Lavalamp @5

    Fortunately atheist organizations have lately turned me off of atheist organizations, soooooooooo… Meh.

    My thoughts as well.

  • Synfandel

    “WAA” sounds like the perfect acronym for this organization.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellenbeth ellenbethwachs

    I’m so sorry Pierce Butler but have we met or worked together? Your name is unfamiliar to me. I do apologize if we have and I have simply forgotten

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    @ZugTheMegasaurus

    There’s even a name for that, Founder’s Syndrome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fieldsb brianfields

    The most disturbing part for me is an interchange on Hemant’s first reporting of this situation, where Amanda said:

    I work on probabilities. The likelihood that I would want to stick around and work with people that want me gone is slim to none. If they wanted me gone I’d go. Like I said above, we put it in place because of what people were saying at the time the incident occurred. I happily let Lee take over We Are Atheism. I’m happily handing over Treasurer duties. Why is it hard to believe I wouldn’t leave when the board asked me to?

    I had been questioning her, alluding to the bylaw I knew existed which she was using to claim she could not be removed. This had happened in the past, and she did exactly the opposite of what she claimed she would do.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    ellenbethwachs @ # 11: … have we met or worked together?

    Nope, but as an active Florida humanist I’ve watched your organization-blasting trajectory from afar with shock and awe.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Sounds like someone is actually less professional at running a non-profit scam than Hovind or Ham.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    I’ve set up corporations (one venture-funded, one not) and a non-profit. It’s not rocket science: you ask a CPA. Then, when the CPA shows clear understanding of how to do it, you ask if the CPA is willing to do the bookkeeping, taxes, and audit the rest of the operation. And, of course, they’ll say “yes” as long as they’re getting paid time and materials. And then the CPA provides nice quarterly reports the the board/audit committee and you’re up and running.

    Using personal accounts is unbelievably stupid since it makes your personal finances discoverable in a lawsuit against the organization if such a thing occurs. Not that there’s probably enough money involved in this fucktastrophe for anyone to sue anyone over, it’s just “Hovind stupid.”

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R2XG9CnOj8 Olav

    It appears that something is being done about the situation:

    http://www.weareatheism.com/letter-from-the-president-3232015/

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellenbeth ellenbethwachs

    “Nope, but as an active Florida humanist I’ve watched your organization-blasting trajectory from afar with shock and awe.”

    Hmm, that is bizarre. As far as I am aware, there are no organizations in Florida that have been “blasted” and if I had the power to do so, you should be in awe.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Those curious about EBW’s organizational history may want to follow the links in the 3rd paragraph (not counting the bullet list) here.

    Ftr: it appears to me she has acted with integrity and complete reasonableness in the WAA situation.