November Town Hall Notes (11/12/17)

Humanist Hub Town Hall 11/12/17

Greg Epstein, board member Jennifer Ibrahim, and Hub Ambassador Veronica Lane answered questions from attendees.

Meeting notes taken by Elka Kuhlman and Andrea Kimbriel.

Update on fundraising efforts from Greg:

– The Humanist Hub has changed in last 2 years or so – now has stronger sense of community participation
– Easy to raise large grants from major donors when working on a small project donors identify with, but as the Hub transitions to more of a community organization, those donors may want to “pass the baton” to members of the community. That’s a challenge for the organization.
– Most of Greg’s larger fundraising efforts have been tied to his book, which was published 8 years ago. Time constraints have thus far prevented the publication of a second book that might be used for this style of fundraising.
– He has chosen not to take a salary for a year to make sure we made it through the 5-year lease financially intact. He plans to write himself a check for 30% of yearly salary and not take the rest of his salary.
– This discussion is how we can be a more financially sustainable community. Liberal churches worldwide are struggling more than evangelical churches. Greg thinks a reason is liberal churches provide a nice community for good people but aren’t growing, while evangelical churches are motivated to spread their mission.
– The campaign that initially raised money for the current space was mission-driven, and we need more of that sort of vision. Large grants are potentially still available for mission-driven goals that advance the humanist mission.

– Veronica shared about our first phone-a-thon attempt at fundraising occurred on Saturday. The group came up with scripts for voice mail and chatting, did some phone calls, and got an idea of how to train people.


Question: What missions are grant-worthy?

Greg and others:

– Examples of this type of mission include advancing idea of Humanists as equal participants in society, advocating on economic issues or climate change, conducting a secular equivalent of Pre-Cana (marriage prep) for the community, the Values in Action committee that is being revived in January. [These are examples of this type of mission, not necessarily things the Hub will do.]

– Grants are easier to access for a concrete program. The trick is what exactly the funds would support. For example, a grant might be received to fund a particular employee’s salary. That could ease the financial burden until an organization was able to fully fund the salary.

Question: Some financial information was shared with members who were not staff – can you speak to privacy concerns and what steps be taken in future?


– Although we have put a lot of time and thought into the best way to share data to allow us to take initial steps to fundraise, we need to adopt a protocol that clearly states how we will and won’t share data.  We are looking to community members with expertise in this area for guidance.
– Have not shared with any outside organizations.
– We are looking for help from the community to create legal documentation and nondisclosure agreements for future information sharing.

Question: Can you provide an update on the current fundraising?

– At the beginning of this fundraising effort in September, the Hub had a goal of $10,000 per month of regular giving from sustaining members giving $40, growth members giving $100, or those giving some other amount on a regular basis.
– In September, the monthly income was about $2,000; it is now about $3,500 to $4,000.
– The $10,000 goal was selected because it is roughly the amount of the rent and liability insurance for the current space. It would mean the community could sustain this or a similar lease without worrying about less predictable larger donations.
– It’s not clear whether staying in this location is the best choice even if that goal is reached, as the lease would be for a 5-year term.
– Greg also believes that if we reach that goal in a reasonable amount of time, i.e., in this academic year, it will be a major achievement that may inspire larger donors to contribute.
– There is currently a donor willing to match 30 monthly donations of $20 per month.
– Many nonprofits make half their yearly income between November and the end of the year, so this goal may still be possible for us.
– The plan is to seek donations from regular or semi-regular attendees who haven’t yet committed to regular giving; local people who attend infrequently but see the Hub as a symbol of their values; Harvard alumni who appreciate the Hub’s service to the Harvard community over a number of years; those around the country/world who want to support humanism.
– Greg has been in touch with potential large donors.
– Also has case statements, a social media campaign plan, etc., but staff time is maxed out and members are needed to volunteer for these efforts.

– Statements from members from the Hub were shared with possible large donors. Those profiles did help raise several thousand dollars and may raise more. Also, there’s potential for others to share their profiles in this way. Additional ideas are welcome.

Question: A lot of us feel like this is an extremely important space to us. Is there more that could be done to use it? For example, could empty offices be rented during the day, etc.?


– Hub has made a number of efforts to find tenants. Only a few have been successful. In some cases, aspects of the space have been too limiting for potential tenants.
– Dr. Erik Gregory is a tenant, and that has been very successful. There has been discussion of having other therapists or other nonprofit or for-profit tenants and that may occur in the future, but man potential tenants want to know if the Hub will be in the same space for the next few years.  

Question: The language of “sponsorship” for sustaining membership may come across as patronizing. We should be careful how we approach this in the future.  

– Greg would appreciate detailed feedback to help think more deeply about both our intention and language.

– She has heard similar concerns, and they do have some ideas about how to change the language.

Question: What plans exist to expand this type of community elsewhere in the country? If we take the responsibility to do that, it will strengthen the community and give it a sense of purpose.

-The idea that this community could be a model was a huge and decisive factor in raising money for this space. However, it is more challenging than expected to try to create a national model. We keep learning and growing around this goal. Doing a national campaign would be difficult at this time but the hope is to revisit it sometime in the future.

Question: As Greg is the Harvard chaplain, there are restrictions on advertising and proselytizing, and our bylaws are those of the Harvard chaplaincy and don’t mention the Hub. Is the Hub a separate and distinct entity and how does that affect Greg’s role in the Hub?

– There is one legal organization, the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard Inc., incorporated in the 1990s, and it derives its tax exempt status as a chapter of the American Humanist Association.
– Due to the relationship with Harvard, the community is not allowed to try to persuade those with a different religious affiliation to change to the Hub’s, but that does not preclude the community from doing things like the nationwide “Good without God” campaign held several years ago.

Question: What is our historical narrative? That may be something that’s missing from the conversation.

-A great comment. The Hub didn’t have succinct mission statement when he joined. He wrote one in his early years as Harvard humanist chaplain. When the Hub moved into this space, a new one was created “Connect, Act, Evolve,” and even more recently this one has been created, but there is more work to be done.
– “Our mission is to be an inclusive community of atheists, agnostics and allies creating a new model for how humanists celebrate life, promote reason and compassion, and better the world for all.”

Question: Is there a financial plan based on the $10,000 goal, and is there a fallback plan if that goal is not met.

– Plans are not yet concrete.
– We have not yet programed the spring semester, in part to allow time in December and January to discuss what the Hub will and won’t be able to do. Also, perhaps more member-led talks will be held early in the year.
– Worst case scenario, we’re here through the end of August, so we want to use the space creatively and effectively through then, but what does that look like? We should continue the things we do best – Sunday programs and other key programs during the week – in one way or the other.
– The majority of regulars seem to be giving meaningful financial gifts, and that has increased in the past few weeks, but that means that “the rest of the way home” is going to have to come from those who are not currently regulars here.

– If we can’t reach this goal, we’re talking about significant restructuring – maintaining staff, but perhaps moving to a shared space. There are a lot of contingencies.

– We will be following up more effectively in the future with those who say they want to donate and/or become a member.

Question: Why don’t we have a fundraising committee of members, especially since staff is pushed to its limits and board only meets quarterly?

– In the past it has been difficult to form committees because the organization is small. The board is small and divvying up work has been an issue, but there are two new active members and the board is actively discussing this.
– No one on the board has the attitude that members should be excluded from this sort of committee, and the board would love to hear proposals.

– The time now seems to be ripe for “lay leadership.” She just formed a successful leadership committee, which helps coach and supervise her internship. She’s also working with members on a project to celebrate holidays in a humanist way.

– Can’t speak for the board (he’s a nonvoting member), but perhaps the board would be interested in taking on the responsibility of approving new member-led committees such as this that could help administrate the work of the Hub.
– There’s a distinction between community-driven programs (which the Hub Ambassadors currently approve) and administrative committees.  

Question: What’s the criteria for board member selection?

– There’s an approximately 2-page description of expectations for board members, and those are being increasingly applied and observed.
– This is a strategic board; there is also a separate advisory board.
– Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization; therefore the organization has to be very careful about who is on the board. Additionally, the board members are Greg’s bosses, so he wants to be sure they are consistent and reliable.
– The board of directors elects its members.

Question: When will the next update on fundraising be offered?

– He expects there to be a serious discussion of fundraising efforts before the end of the year, and also at the beginning of the new year, when big decisions will probably be made.

Question: How can we get more in-house control of the website?

Veronica and others:
– The website has been managed in-house in the past, but challenges include inconsistencies when several people are responsible for updating it and the need for a reliable person who has quick response time.
– We can add content but can’t quickly change the theme. It might be possible to select a few people who could be in charge of those sorts of updates.

Question: The Hub Ambassadors submitted a list of questions about the fundraising efforts in preparation for this town hall. Could we get answers to those questions posted?

– Yes, he or a board member have drafted answers to those questions and will finalize and post them.


Meeting notes will be posted on Facebook, the Humanist Hub website, and included in the weekly newsletter.

To learn more about helping with fundraising efforts, volunteering, or with additional questions, email