October 06, 2013

Center for Inquiry still got financial issues? Or Lindsay looking at monetization?

Per discussion below, survey says "Yes" on the first question, either about CFI itself or at least about its affiliate, Council for Secular Humanism. The lack of a straight answer otherwise falls under the old maxim: "Silence gives assent."

CFI, regarded by many as the leading outpost of secular humanism in the US, has had financial concerns for several years, ever since Ron Lindsay, hired by CFI founder Paul Kurtz to be his right-hand man and seeming eventual successor, quarreled with Kurtz over the changes in direction Lindsay was already starting to make, and what he seemed to want to do in the future.

The upshot was that Lindsay (with the seeming support of the majority of CFI's board) took over in what could be called some sort of palace coup. However, one major, anonymous donor, who reportedly had contributed so heavily as to make up one-quarter of CFI's revenue stream, stopped the checks. I've blogged a bit more about the issues here, without saying that Kurtz was 100 percent right on overall management of CFI, or on depending that much on one donor. Wikipedia has a bit more about the 2010 showdown on Kurtz's bio page.

CFI slashed staff (along with support for ventures and such) left and right after that. However, the doldrums apparently still continue. (And, this was reportedly only a one-year cut, and any other loss in revenues since then was not due to this donor. See more below.)

Per an emergency alert email sent to Secular Organizations for Sobriety's email support group, and also on its website:
For over 23 years, the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) has financially supported Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Now, due to their own loss in funding, CSH will severely cut their financial support for SOS. This is set to occur at the end of March 2014; however, CSH has recently agreed to continue their current level of financial support for SOS if SOS can raise $75,000 prior to March 31, 2014. We urge you to send your tax deductible donation today to:

 

Save SOS


4773 Hollywood Blvd.


Los Angeles, CA 90027


(Credit card donors call 323-666-4295 24 hours)


Secular Organizations for Sobriety has helped countless thousands of addicted persons reclaim their lives for over 28 years. We need your help now in order to effectively continue the implementation of the world’s oldest and largest alternative to 12-Step religious support groups.


Thank you so very much!

Jim Christopher


SOS Founder
SOS is officially headquartered at CFI West's office in L.A., and the Council for Secular Humanism is a CFI affiliate, to spell out the connection. Sidebar to the end-of-email claim. The "largest" is highly doubtful. SOS's list of meetings is largely populated with inactive ones or "pre-meetings." Below the listings for each state is this message:
There is someone living in this zip code who has started an SOS Meeting or is interested in meeting with others.
"Interested in meeting with others" is not a meeting, and which is which aren't always clearly distinguished. (That said, the listing of "orphans seeking meetings" is not necessarily bad.)
 
Also, its online presence in general is quasi-amateurish, despite the buckets of money it gets. You want proof? Here you go: the SOS homepage. (It actually looks less crappy by far than it did 2-3 years ago, when it really looked sad.)

Also sad is that, even with CSH/CFI money, SOS, unlike SMART or Lifering Secular Recovery, has no online meeting room. (There's "control" issues inside SOS behind this, not money, but that's another story entirely.) 
First, Tom Flynn, a Gnu Atheist type who has said that atheists should not celebrate Christmas, even as a secular holiday, and who has also said that he would, if he could, officially rename the days of the week so as to remove the names of pagan gods, is the current executive director of CSH.
Second, CFI's rapid expansion of physical satellite locations from 2006 on probably hasn't helped the financial bottom line. 

Third, allegedly, CFI in general isn't really hurting.

If that's the case, this may be Lindsay pushing for a monetization value of CFI affiliates. Given some previous comments of his about monetary values, donors, and related things, which I blogged about here, it would be no surprise if this is the start of some new, larger, neoliberal-to-libertarian trend in how Ron is viewing CFI affiliates. (This link has a lot more about the Lindsay-vs-Kurtz showdown, via linked in-depth interviews of both of them.)

Fourth, if this is a "monetization" issue, that's sadder yet. 

That said, I know none of this for sure. Therefore, having had contact with him via Massimo Pigliucci's blog, I've contacted Michael De Dora via Facebook. I am truly curious about this.

And, Michael says he doesn't know. I can't find a direct email address so far for Tom Flynn, so my Facebook query will go in his "other messages" folder. I've emailed the "info" addys at both CFI and CSH, while not using the term "monetization," but asking if this is designed to make SOS more "self-sufficient," and if this is just SOS, or other affiliate-type organizations, too. Stay tuned. 

Update: Without providing details, but stipulating that I personally know SOS webmaster and unofficial No. 2 in the SOS hierarchy Duaine Metevia, it is as I originally suspected, before I suspected CSH/CFI. SOS isn't getting enough in independent donations relative to how much money CFI/CSH funnels.

Mr. Metevia once threatened to have me arrested should I ever show up again at the Dallas SOS meeting; given that this was a multi-party email, and an unwarranted threat, I don't consider it privileged information.

Knowing some of the details of why another group, Lifering Secular Recovery, split off from SOS, none of this surprises me. And, while SOSers who worship Jim Christopher, including Mr. Metevia, may get them to meet that fundraising drive, the organization, and secular alternatives to the 12-step world, would be better off, in all likelihood, if the matching drive failed, and failed enough to require SOS to do a bit of searching.

On the other hand, said email didn't directly address what's at the top of the alert, that CSH has lost funding. I believe CFI is a major source of CSH's funding, so, again, somebody please answer that question?

And, so far, said answers have not come to me. 

Therefore, even if there's some hyperbole, or even a bit of unsubstantiated claims, coming from Jim Christopher, I'm going to assume CSH is having some difficulty, and if so, that that in turn may stem from CFI.

===

Per the end-of-Kurtz/post-Kurtz financial matters?

Here's what CFI said at the time. It followed with a timeline (PDF) relative to its attempts to work with this donor. And, with apologies to Paul Kurtz's defenders, I agree with Orac (a link to whom I can't find, but I summarized it in another post), and that is that you don't put one-quarter of your fisc in one basket, and I'm not alone in that, either. At a minimum, save and invest part of the annual contribution. Better yet, do like SOS is being told to do now, and make part of that money contingent on matching pledges from John and Jane Does. (That said, the failure to do that is not necessarily Kurtz's direct failure, but he was captain of the management ship.)

There's interesting comment on this James Randi Educational Foundation thread, both pro- and anti-Kurtz, both on financial and other management issues.

My larger summary is that this was a Gnu Atheist palace coup — but that some welcome changes could, and should, have been made, perhaps by another less-Gnuish CEO not named Ron Lindsay. That observation may not be totally satisfactory to either Kurtz's closest defenders or those of the current CFI.

To be honest, I'd like to hear from someone who left CFI before Lindsay was hired. I've already heard from people about Kurtz vis-a-vis Al Seckel, which is another reason that, although I don't like the current look at CFI, I don't give Kurtz a hall pass, either.

That, in turn, makes me thankful that I'm not, nor was I before, closely involved with CFI, or with "movement" atheism or secular humanism.

Speaking of that, since I indirectly referenced them above, here's the excellent separate interviews of Kurtz and Lindsay by Eric Veith. There's surely elements of truth in the words of both men.

Also, per some of the comment in the Randi thread, this isn't something peculiar to CFI. Transitions away from the founders of small-to-medium nonprofits are never easy.

At some point in the future, I may look at all of this more. But not now. Knowing a fair deal about SOS led me to this post; I have no desire to wade deeper in CFI history waters at this time.

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