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Organizational Mayhem


Ten years ago, I served as treasurer for a local non-profit Pagan group. The board was largely empty and I wanted to help out. I took the treasurer position because it was a job I figured no one else would want (is that a fantastic reason or what?) Many – although not all - of the Pagans I know are creative types that would rather chew their own arm off than tackle bookkeeping.  I had recently tackled my then fiance’s bookkeeping for his business, which consisted of a pile of receipts in a large box, and I guess I was feeling cocky. So despite not knowing anything about bookkeeping besides basic math, I dove into the pool like a crazed otter.


Well, I may not have known much about bookkeeping, but any damn fool knows that losing receipts and not writing down check entries is a bad practice. Duh. It had apparently been some time since there had been anyone to perform that particular function, and the president was too busy creating and putting on rituals to do the mundane stuff.  

So what skills does it take to put together a viable organization? The first is the ability to question whether doing so is a good idea at all. We can add leadership skills (although we never seems to talk about what that means), fundraising, record keeping, publicity, and accounting skills. Then, whatever specialized skills are needed for that particular organization. And then, time. All of these actions take time. If, like me, the person doing the job is unskilled, then it takes two or three times as long to do the job. And never mind the extra mental energy needed to tackle a job that is alien to our brain patterns.

So starting and running a Pagan organization is more than being able to put together a ritual. These days I put my volunteer urges into working for Cherry Hill Seminary. The seminary is a distance learning school that offers a myriad of skills to those who work in Pagan leadership positions. We have a wide array of teachers, with impressive academic credentials, and the classes offered are guided by practitioners that are experienced in their fields. But without a solid core of staff we could not function at all, and as staff, we all are constantly trying to expand our skills in our given area. We even try to learn a bit about each other’s work so that if someone gets sick, there is someone else who can at least cover the basics. It is not glamorous work and it is often not creative. In choosing whom to hire, we want a good fit, not a warm body. 

The organization I worked for ten years ago is now a barely heard-from entity that has returned to the mind of the woman who started it with passion and love. She wanted nothing more than to serve her community as a spiritual leader, and spend her life in communion with the gods. Unfortunately for her, her major skill was in driving people away or throwing them out. She stood up as a representative of the Pagan community, and while the press loved her antics, many stood on the sidelines and cringed, not wanting to stand up and say “This is not who we are!”

So if an organization is struggling, we are well served to look beyond the obvious reasons. Money is certainly a big issue in our community, but it is not the only one. If people are not paid to do work, then they will do it gladly if they feel they are benefiting others and their efforts are appreciated. If a non-profit organization cannot hold itself together, the reason may indeed be money, or it may be a lack of people skills. And if the skills do not exist among the people leading the organization, then perhaps the organization shouldn’t either.



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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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