To be fair, the charitable causes that were suggested were all themselves fine organizations, and a single Pagan email list should never be considered representative of the entire Pagan community. At least, that's what I thought until I found another online resource called Pagans Donate.
Pagans Donate (http://www.pagansdonate.com) is a wonderful site operated by Lorna Tedder out of (where else?) "Niceville" Florida. To promote the idea of charitable giving by Pagans, Lorna asked her site visitors to tell her what and to whom they donate. Of the 152 organizations she lists as the recipients of Pagan donations, only one could be rightly called Pagan (The Military Pagan Network). The remaining 151 are all ecumenical, secular, and (interestingly enough) Christian.
While the kinds of charities that appear on Lorna's list may surprise some, I'm actually pleased to see so much diversity in Pagan philanthropy. Pagan giving (regardless of ideology) is a profound way to demonstrate a broad and unselfish commitment to the world in which we live. I also feel good work should be honored no matter what religious symbol happens to hang over the door.
What I think much more odd about Lorna's site and the emails filling my inbox are not the charities listed, but those that seem to be missing. Fairly well-known organizations like The International Pagan Pride Project (IPPP), PagaNet News (PNN), The Council of Magickal Arts (CMA), The Pagan Educational Network (PEN), Witches Against Religious Discrimination (WARD), and The Witches' Voice (TWV) are all conspicuously absent.
As someone who regularly volunteers for a Pagan charity, I find this somewhat disconcerting. I would never advocate the support of one kind of charity over another, but I would have thought that Pagan charities would receive at least as much mention as their non-Pagan counterparts among Pagan donors. The fact that they do not gives me pause. There is a lot of work yet to do in own community and our charities are some of the most effective tools we have for getting that work done. If we can't (or won't) find a way to support the charities tending our own gardens, than I shall begin to fear for the rosebushes.
Sadly, one of our community flowers may already be gone. The Green Egg, a publication of The Church of All Worlds, is a magazine that has served our community off and on since 1968. Despite a long and rich history, including the first publication of the "Rede of the Wiccae" in 1975, The Green Egg finally ceased operations last year in part (to quote its editors) "We have not been able as yet to muster the support necessary to publish the next issue."
And The Green Egg is not the only Pagan charity with funding challenges. While some may think any organization engaged in fundraising must (of course) have lots of funds, this isn't necessarily so. In the GuideStar.com directory of nonprofit organizations, most Pagan charities required to report such things list earnings of less than $25,000. In other words, if these organizations were a family of six instead of a charity trying to serve hundreds, they would easily fall below the national poverty line.
And yet, the tasks and missions our charities have set for themselves continue to be identified as important. This past August in Virginia Beach, Virginia, group leaders from across the Mid-Atlantic came together in an attempt to identify the critical needs currently facing our community. An entire laundry-list of needs were named at this gathering (now called the Mid-Atlantic Pagan Leadership Conference) including community centers, libraries, prison ministries, advocacy groups, networking resources, and educational tools. What also became apparent was that many of these needs were already in the process of being addressed, in whole or in part, by existing Pagan charities. Indeed, another need identified at the conference was the desire to find ways to support those organizations already in the trenches and working to meet these community challenges.
If the work done by our Pagan charities are important, than why would Pagan charities ever fall off the radar screen? If the needs they are addressing are relevant, then shouldn't they be the first charities supported by Pagans? Obviously this is not universally so, and I think the fault, to paraphrase the Bard, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves and our charities. We need to do a better job supporting our charities; and our charities need to do a better job building relationships with their donors.
For those of us who work with Pagan charities, there are some great philanthropy standards promulgated by The Council of Better Business Bureau's Philanthropic Advisory Service (PAS) and the National Charities Information Bureau (NCIB). While these standards are voluntary, they do outline many of the core traits of reputable and trustworthy charities, or (to say it another way) charities with whom we might feel comfortable "trusting our worth." These standards can be retrieved from the Web for free at: http://www.ncib.org/standards/ncibstds.asp.
For those of us who don't work with a charity, there are some hard questions we need to ask ourselves as well. Have we identified a charitable cause important to us and the Pagan community? Have we identified a charity serving that cause? Have we made a donation this year? Has our family? Has our group? If the answer to any these is no, then the next question should also be "Why not?" Pagan charities are some of the best engines we have for driving new Pagan community services and resources. As we motor through the country(dweller)side, would it kill us to pitch in a little gas money?
And before the ever-present cry of Pagan poverty echoes through the trees, please know that most charity sponsorships are really quite reasonable. You can become a supporting member of The Open Hearth Foundation for $30. You can become a "Silver" member of WARD (the most expensive they offer) for only $60. Their cheapest is a mere $10. I've seen Pagans spend more at a single restaurant sitting than it would cost to sponsor The Witches' Voice for two whole years. If the cause is important to you, you should also be able to find a way to support it.
One of the things I've always found exciting about being a Pagan at the start of this new millennium is that so much of our future is already visible. You see it in our courtrooms. You see it in our laws. You see it in our cultural perceptions. There are still bumps along the way, of course, but I would much rather be a Pagan in 2002 than 1702 if you catch my drift. Things are much better than they were, and starting to move along much more quickly.
Even more exciting, our future is already evident in our people. It's contained in all the great ideas we are just now starting to make real. Capital-intensive resources such as community centers, libraries, and land retreats (things unimaginable a few decades ago) are either here or already on the way. But, like most everything else worthwhile or worth having, these resources still require time. They still require energy. And they still require that icky green stuff we call money.
These are the harsh realities of charity work. Believe me, if I could conjure a Pagan community center with feits instead of fundraisers I would have chosen that path years ago. Instead, I spend my time engaged in a completely different kind of group ritual and spellwork: "asking people to donate."
For those of us who support Pagan charities, I do have some good news. What we give is coming back. Like the threefold law, donations to organizations serving our community return to us as members of that community. The services and resources these charities create are yours. They are your community centers, your online resources, your legal defense funds, your libraries, your charities.
With this in mind, I would encourage all of us to identify a favorite Pagan charity (which one is entirely up to you) and to try and keep that charity in mind the next time a call is put out for community service. It's pretty good magick theory. It's excellent community activism. And that tax-deductible receipt ain't too shabby either.
About the Author
Shea Thomas is the Chair of the Board of Governors for The Open Hearth Foundation, Inc. - a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Pagan charity working to create a Pagan community center in the Washington, DC region. This article first appeared in PagaNet News, Volume 9, Issue 3, Beltane 2002 and is posted here with the permission of the author.
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