One of the best pieces of financial advice in business is to "go where the money is." Unfortunately, the money is not in the secular movement. Unless you are Richard Dawkins or perhaps Sam Harris, the odds are that any money you have made from your work as a secular activist isn't enough to make you wealthy. In fact, you probably aren't even making enough to quit your "day job" and focus on your secular work full time. And every time you hear about another millionaire Christian pastor and his private jet challenges, it’s like rubbing salt in an open wound. We’re clearly not in this for the money, but without the money, we can’t fully be in this. The good news is you can make a darn good living being a secular activist. You will, however, need to expand your opportunities and perhaps adjust your attitude toward money.
It’s no secret that people in the secular movement tend to be very liberal, and liberals tend to value wealth less than our conservative counterparts. In more extreme cases, liberal attitudes can lead to the demonization of money or at least a negative association with money. However, we must not let the media, or a vocal few, define what it means to be wealthy—that cold, careless, even sociopathic persona of the rich person who puts money above all else. We cannot forget people like Bill and Melinda Gates who have given away over $28 billion through their charitable foundation, or closer to home, secular activists like Todd Stiefel who has given away over $4 million to secular causes. Money is necessary to have if we are going to make an impact in the market of ideas. As a general rule of thumb, the more money you have, the more you will be able to do for the secular movement.
The secular demographic is quite different from other markets, so many of the marketing strategies and sales techniques used successfully in other markets fail miserably when marketing to the secular crowd. For example, secular folk tend to see right through sales pitches that are void of reason, full of emotional appeal, and sprinkled with logical fallacies. Also, we are dealing with people who tend to be more motivated by social issues such as justice than personal issues such as the accumulation of wealth. To make money in the secular movement, we need to keep these differences salient.
Now that we have covered some of the basics let’s get to the practical “how to” of making money in the secular movement. The following is meant to be a list of method summaries rather than detailed strategies.
Become an Employee of a Secular Organization. There are several secular organizations that offer part- and full-time positions. While these are rare and generally don’t pay very much, they can be your ticket to full-time activism.
Become a Contractor For a Secular Organization. If you offer services or products, consider making secular organizations aware of them. Be sure to identify yourself as an activist in the secular movement.
Market Your Business Specifically to the Secular Community. You might have some luck with this if your product or service can be spun to the secular community (e.g., “Try Heathen’s Ice Cream: When you know you’re not going to be sent to Hell for enjoying it!”).
Do Some Virtual Panhandling. One of the most common ways to make money if you are a blogger, podcaster, or otherwise provide free content to the secular community is to ask (or beg) for it. We do this through PayPal donations, Patreon campaigns, or simple fundraisers. People in this community are used to giving, and they do have money to spare since they don’t give it to their local churches.
Use Kickstarter or Similar Service. Unlike donating, contributing to Kickstarter campaigns usually earn the contributor something in exchange for their money beyond what people who don’t contribute get. Kickstarter campaigns are also for specific campaigns such as making a movie, rather than ongoing contributions to a person for his or her ongoing efforts.
Display Ads. Bombarding readers with ads is both commonplace and seems to be a necessary evil these days. While I won’t mention any specific religiously-based blogging platform, one of them opens up side ads, automatically plays videos, pops up content, and breaks up the article every few sentences with deceptive ads that mask as part of the article. Reading an article on this platform is like running the gauntlet. Worst of all, many of these ads are the really cheesy ones such as “Try this one neat trick to losing weight…” On the plus side, so many people click on these ads (albeit, mostly accidentally) that it does make money for the blogger.
Find Sponsor(s). If you have a podcast, you can make some money by finding a sponsor that wants to market to your audience. Depending on the popularity of your podcast, you might have many suitors, and can be very selective at which products you choose to endorse. Just realize that every plug for a product or service you make tends to take away from the overall value of your show. Listeners are generally accepting of sponsors because they realize they are getting something of value for free, but if you hit them too hard with sponsor ads, they may no longer find listening to your podcast worth it.
Use Affiliate Marketing. This can overlap with the last two ideas. The reason you hear so many people talking about Audible or the Great Courses, is because anyone could pitch their products in exchange for a performance-based commission. For example, with Audible, the person talking about their service might get $10 each time someone signs up for a membership using a special URL given. The key to successful affiliate marketing is to market a product very specific to your audience, and a product that has not already been marketed to death by your competitors (ehem, Audible).
Run a Membership Website. If you have unique content or a very loyal following, you might be able to get away with having your content behind a “pay wall.” This basically means that people pay monthly or yearly to access your content. This has become increasingly less popular as competition for eyeballs has become more fierce. One person that I know of who is successfully pulling this off is Professor Bart Ehrman with his Christianity in Antiquity blog.
Write a Book. A book is like a gift that keeps on giving. Once it is written and published (self-publishing will do just fine), you sit back and collect the revenues month after month, and year after year. Offer the book in audio, paperback, and ebook format, and you can really have a nice little cash cow.
Create an Online Course. What do you have to teach? Creating a course is a lot less work than writing a book, but can be just as financially rewarding if done correctly. There are many online course platforms from which to choose, some are free and take a cut, and some you have to pay for monthly.
Charge for Talks. The more well-known you become, the more you can charge for speaking or presenting at conferences. You can even set up your own events rather than wait to be invited to one.
Create an App. There are many developers that can help you create an app for mobile devices. Is there an app that you can create within your area of expertise, that people would want to buy?
Auction Your Time! Thanks to a new service called Secular Backstage, you can auction your time to the highest bidder(s). This is ideal for those who speak at events or otherwise travel frequently. A few years ago, a couple bid $100k to spend a day with football player Tim Tebow. You might not be able to get that much offering a lunch to an admirer of your work, but you might be surprised how much people will pay. (Full disclosure, Secular Backstage is one of my websites.)
Some of the best ways to make money are the ways that few people know about. Be creative and don’t be afraid to put a commercial spin on your secular activism. Unless you are independently wealthy, you need money to survive, and you deserve enough of it to enjoy life along the way. Take advantage of as many of these ideas as you can, and you might soon find that you will be able to do this gig full-time, and the secular movement will be better off for it.