Todd Stiefel’s Impact on the Atheist Movement Goes Beyond Just the Money

CNN’s Dan Merica has written a long article on Todd Stiefel, the atheist movement’s “money man,” as he calls him:

For Stiefel, a slim, scruffy ex-Catholic, his public persona is his wallet and activism. Through the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the 38-year-old has made an indelible impact on the nation’s fastest-growing “religious” group: the nonbelievers. Most of the highest-profile [atheist] campaigns –- flashy billboards in high-traffic areas, news-making efforts to get atheists to come out of the closet, and boisterous rallies – are funded by his fortune.

Stiefel isn’t shy about his far-reaching goals.

“What I am trying to accomplish is multifold, he told CNN. “I consider myself working on the next civil equality movement, just like women’s rights, LGBT rights and African-American Civil Rights. We are still in the early stages of eliminating discrimination against atheists and humanists. That is something I really want to accomplish.”

I’m glad the article mentions Todd’s biggest contributions to date — It’s because of him the Reason Rally happened and Foundation Beyond Belief raised over $400,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society — but I think it does a disservice to only focus on the amounts of money given and the high-profile events it has led to. There are other places where Todd has given money and I would argue those have had a much more direct impact on the lives and perceptions of atheists, something that didn’t really get discussed in the piece.

Tod’s donations have led to:

  • An opportunity for former clergy members to get the job skills they need to transition out of the pulpit.
  • The Religion News Service hiring a reporter dedicated to writing about the atheist movement.
  • The Secular Student Alliance funding an organizer who could focus on high school atheist groups (the number of which has now gone from under a dozen to more than 60 in just a couple of years).

In addition to all that, Todd has used his business skills to help groups in our movement craft a better vision, mission, and focus. It’s less about the groups doing what Todd wants them to do and all about making sure they’re clear on their own work so that donors can understand what they’re trying to accomplish and give, too.

I know Todd. I consider him a friend. But his influence on our movement goes far beyond just throwing money around. He donates it wisely, with an eye toward what will really make a difference to atheists and the world at large. I hope this piece doesn’t take away from that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Alex McDowell

    See? Live and learn. I’ve been an atheist for over 40 years, and never heard of him. Thanks.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    A great guy!
    I tip my hat to Todd Steifel.

  • Jim Christensen

    This is fascinating info. I was always told by local atheists that these organizations were supported by simple grass roots contributions. When I suggested otherwise, I was smeared in the usual fashion.
    Now it turns out it is being admitted openly. And ex pharma money at that.

  • A Portlander

    Mr. Stiefel isn’t waging a one-wallet-campaign. Many of his contributions are made as fund-matching pledges to organizations with broad, active memberships, so he has more of a multiplier effect on a day-to-day basis. He’s also mentioned frequently in the atheist blogosphere–if we’re “admitting” anything, we started doing so a long time ago.

  • Donnie

    I guess you have no understanding between “grassroots” and “national” support? He is not supporting local atheist organizations. He may match efforts of local atheist groups such as Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. However, let’s not get facts in the way of your previledge, religoious rants, m’kay…

  • A Portlander

    I’m a little concerned about the way the article is trying to paint Todd as some sort of atheist Koch brother, especially with quotes like “He has the ear of many atheist leaders, meaning he can dictate the movement’s focus”. Is that the journalist or the editor, do you think?

  • Kelly

    I think what Todd is doing is fabulous! Not only does he contribute financially to the cause of “reason”, but he is active in the movement. There’s a lot to be said about his character – I’m rather proud to have an individual such as Todd supporting the movement!

  • Jonathan Figdor

    Todd has never tried to influence me or any of the organizations I’ve worked with. Instead, Todd has played the role of an “angel investor,” helping jump-start initiatives such as the Atheist involvement in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or inspire new funding for organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, essentially launching their high-school outreach.