In 2011, a website called We Are Atheism was founded to “promote education, activism, and philanthropy about atheists and for atheists.” The co-founders, Amanda Brown and her husband Adam Brown, also began a project for non-religious people modeled after the “It Gets Better” campaign. (I even made a video for them.)
Then, at the end of 2012, Sandy Hook happened.
In response, We Are Atheism immediately began raising money to help families affected by the shootings (and the Newtown community at large). They called the program “Atheists Giving Aid.” Due to the overwhelming response, the Browns began fundraising after every major tragedy in the months to follow, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the Oklahoma tornado, and the West (Texas) fertilizer plant explosion.
In November of 2013 — nearly a year after Sandy Hook — I received an email from an anonymous source who went by the pseudonym “Mark Felt” (a name familiar to anyone who knows about Watergate). The email was actually sent to a long list of atheist bloggers, organization leaders, and several other people, and the gist of it was that there were a lot of problems with what We Are Atheism (WAA) was doing.
One of the concerns was that the money didn’t go where the Browns said it had gone… a pretty serious allegation. As it turned out, I had looked into this matter myself months earlier. I checked with the organizations WAA said they had given money to and confirmed that, yes, the money had indeed been received in the amounts stated. Nothing to worry about.
At that point, since my mini-investigation checked out, I dismissed Felt’s other concerns.
I’ll admit, though, that I’ve been hesitant to mention the group on this site since then. At the very least, I wanted to see more transparency from them. It shouldn’t be my responsibility to verify their donations went to the right places, after all.
More recently, We Are Atheism began promoting a project called the “Good 1% Club,” in which they’re asking atheists to pledge 1% of their total income to the organization (kind of like a smaller tithe). For some people, that could mean a lot of money.
I wasn’t ready to participate because of my concerns… but I thought I should at least take a deeper look into the organization before saying no.
I wasn’t alone. Todd Stiefel, the philanthropist who has made sizable donations to a number of atheist groups, was doing the same thing.
Over the past few weeks, using Mark Felt’s email as a foundation, and with additional research provided by Stiefel, myself, and others I’ve spoken to, we’ve looked into We Are Atheism’s finances and public statements in order to answer a handful of important questions, including:
- Has We Are Atheism always been an official non-profit group?
- Did the donations go where donors thought they would go?
- Does We Are Atheism’s website list accurate information about the various fundraising campaigns?
It appears the answer to all those questions is “No.”
I now believe there’s serious mismanagement within the organization that should concern anyone who’s ever given money (or is considering giving money) to them.
I don’t believe in posting something like this without giving the other side a chance to respond. So I informed the Browns of all the major concerns I list below. Their responses are included, with the knowledge that I would be quoting them in this piece.