Allegation 1: It’s my understanding that the AAI received $60,000+ in grant to promote itself through google ads. This money was used by a board member to direct people to his own writing, not the AAI and he justified this by saying it was beneficial to the AAI because he was “educating people about atheism”.
The Facts: AAI started a Google ads campaign in January 2018. The account was managed by a board member who was tasked by the board to drive traffic to the new AAI website that went live a month earlier. Google gives non-profits $10,000 worth of free Google Ads advertising each month. Over the 14 months when Google Ads was available to AAI, every Ad was used to send traffic to the AAI website and nowhere else. It is true that most of this advertising was used to send traffic to one AAI writer’s blogs and web pages (On the AAI website)–the board member managing Google Ads. This was for two good reasons:
1.That board member was highly productive. He wrote 70% of all posts–six and a half times more posts than the next most productive blogger.
2. That board member’s posts were much more popular that other blogger’s posts. If we take the top 12 blog posts on the AAI website, that board member’s post achieved 226,285 viewings and the next most popular blogger achieved 8,818 views. The choice of posts to promote was made exclusively to maximize the benefit AAI received from its Google grant. In fact, the grant money resulted in 70,115 visitors to AAI’s website over the 14 month period. This way of using the Google grant was never justified on the ground of “educating people about atheism” (although it would have had some such effect), it was entirely justified on the grounds of maximizing website traffic. The choice was simple – direct the Google ad credits in the most logical way, to the most heavily trafficked avenues on the AAI website or squander it by directing toward less-trafficked avenues on the website.
Before taking up the role as the Executive Director of AAI, I was made aware of this Google Ads controversy by Mr Oz Atheist’s source, who, in a private message, led me to believe that there may be serious merit to the allegation that this board member had essentially embezzled $60K USD. Naturally, before agreeing to take up the position I insisted on the proviso that only upon proof of no wrong-doing would I take up this post and join AAI. I conducted my own careful investigation and I was provided all of the necessary information, data and reasoning to conclude without a doubt that no wrong-doing had been done, and that the board member in question had actually acted in the best interest of AAI by utilizing the ad credits in the manner he employed them. Since the 1st of April I have had daily contact with this board member and have become very familiar with the type of person that he is. This board member conducts both himself and the affairs of AAI with the utmost integrity, and his genuine concern for atheists at risk and his passionate desire to promote secularism in some of the harshest theocracies in the world make me proud and honoured to work along side such an amazing human being.
Allegation 2: He was asked by the president to resign and he refused.
The Facts: He was not asked to resign by the President, he was asked to resign by the co-Executive Directors. He refused to resign because there was no substance to the allegations and he was able to bring hard evidence (emails, documents, Google Ads data) to refute all of them.
Allegation 3: The board supported the executive directors individually but then refused to insist he resign when a meeting was held.
The Facts: Initially, individual board members were supportive of the co-executive Directors but this is because the board members were misled into believing that $60,000 in cash had been misappropriated. Fortunately, the board was diligent and ethical and insisted on due process and disclosure of all the facts before making a decision. Board members changed their minds once they understood no money was involved and the board member under investigation gained no financial benefit whatsoever from the Google Ads grant. The board unanimously rejected the allegations once all the facts were known. Indeed, the facts showed unequivocally that the Google Ads grant had been used to AAI’s great benefit.
Allegation 4: Two executive directors, the president and about a dozen volunteers resigned over it, citing a difference on the question of ethics.
The Facts: It is true that the co-Executive Directors and the president and some volunteers resigned. The Co-EDs brought the volunteers with them when they joined AAI. The volunteers were not privy to the board’s deliberations or to the evidence, so to argue they resigned on a point of ethics is moot. To say the co-EDs resigned on a point of ethics is at least disingenuous. The AAI board followed due process, gave the accused board member time to collect exculpatory evidence, studied it carefully and asked probing questions at a hearing convened for that purpose. That behavior would properly be described as ethical. On the other hand, the co-EDs demanded the board member’s resignation before seeing the evidence, misled the board about the nature of Google Ads and wrote several statements that were subsequently proven untrue. Before the co-EDs resigned they withdrew most of their allegations as evidence emerged that demonstrated they could not be substantiated. Possibly their most egregious behavior was to continue repeating the discredited allegations after they had resigned and they knew the allegations were baseless.
Allegation 5: Also, there’s an incident of a guy who donated to the AAI so a teacher in Nigeria(?) could buy some shoes. He tried to contact AAI dozens of times and got no response. Eventually, he heard back but to this day the teacher is still shoeless.
The Facts: In this case, a donation was made to AAI directly and the donor set up a fundraiser on his Facebook page to which a further five people donated. It is true there was some confusion over these donations, however all the money raised has been paid. Furthermore, there was a great deal of email correspondence with the original donor and it is not true that he wrote dozens of times without response. For completeness, the problems experienced with this case are unusual. The first problem was that the AAI President resigned and she was also acting as Treasurer. The second problem was the new Treasurer was not aware that Facebook takes 4 – 5 weeks to pay donations so a lot of time was spent trying to trace the Facebook donations before they had actually been received. Once the donations appeared in the AAI bank account, they were paid to the teacher in Nigeria.
Mr Oz Atheist said that he had received these allegations from a source that he trusts, so I would like that source to either produce evidence to rebut the defense made here, for which documentation can be provided upon request, or else do the ethical thing and issue a public apology for quietly going around via private messages and spreading misinformation about AAI.
Finally, when this source became aware that I was going to be appointed the new Executive Director of AAI, she reached out to me with the same misinformation and made me swear to not tell anyone. These were her exact words:
Sent March 16, 2020 via Facebook Messanger:
Hi Michael, I guess my concern is that everyone at AAI will end up hearing what I say and then I’ll have them on my back again. I’m not really interested in that as I have my own org to run now. However, (name) has assured me that you are trustworthy – so it has to stay between us. I’ll give you the gist from my perspective.
If anyone at AAI has harassed this source in any way, I want to know about it. So, I would like this source to show me examples of where AAI members were “on [her] back”, as this implies a degree of harassment that I will not tolerate as ED of AAI. If, however, she cannot produce such evidence, then it fits with a potential motive to move quietly and subversively around anonymously to undermine AAI for no genuine reason, and mutual friends in the atheist community have reached out to me telling me that this source has used the same tactic with them, and I can assure you that since my tenure as Executive Director no one at AAI has “been on her back”. The hard-working members and staff at AAI are diligently focused on their work helping atheists and see this as a wasteful distraction.
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