An overview of the structure, operations, and goals of the Spiritual Naturalist Society for Staff
FOR INTERNAL STAFF DISTRIBUTION ONLY
INTRODUCTION (OUR MISSION)
The purpose of this document is to familiarize new staff members with the overall internal form and function of the SNS as an organization. It is assumed the reader is already familiar with Spiritual Naturalism, and the organization externally. New staff should read through all major pages of the SNS website (spiritualnaturalistsociety.org); particularly the pages in the drop-down menu under “About Us” and the “Resources” section. They should also be familiar with the structure and content of the Member Area.
We will begin by looking at the mission of the Society:
The mission of the Spiritual Naturalist Society is to spread awareness of Spiritual Naturalism as a philosophy, encourage the further development of Spiritual Naturalist thought and practice, and educate others on the traditional wisdom and contemplative practices that inspire Spiritual Naturalism. In addition, the Society exists to help bring Spiritual Naturalists together for mutual learning, growth, encouragement, and fellowship.
The structure of the SNS, its functions, and its plans are all designed with the above mission in mind. Let’s break this mission statement down :
- Spread awareness of Spiritual Naturalist (SN) philosophy in the world
- Encourage further development of SN thought and practice
- Provide education on the traditions that inspire SN.
- Help bring together SN’s for growth and learning from one another
- Help bring together SN’s for mutual encouragement and fellowship
So, broken down, we see there are five distinct areas for which our Society exists. Some refer to how the Society acts as a body in the larger society, and others refer to how the Society acts internally, for the benefit of members, and so on. Let’s look at each one in detail:
(1) Spreading awareness of SN philosophy in society
Spiritual Naturalism is currently a little-known term and, more importantly, a little-known concept. To most people, “spirituality” must refer to the supernatural, the faith-based, and so on. “Naturalism” is also not a well understood term, as many people may confuse it solely with ‘nature lovers’ like campers and hikers, or some may even think it refers to nudism (naturism)!
While one of our challenges is making these terms and semantics more clear, another is more fundamental – and that is making the concepts behind the term more clear. Most people are unaware that an atheist or naturalist can be spiritual or have a spiritual practice – or what a spirituality without supernaturalism looks like (including many naturalists). Part of the reason we want more people to know this is to cultivate greater understanding and tolerance. Another reason is to make this option known to the many people who may be looking for this without even realizing it. In the process of publicizing SN thought, we also make ourselves as a community known, so this part of our mission has the secondary effect of outreach and growth for the Society.
(2) Encourage further development of SN thought and practice
Spiritual Naturalism is a large umbrella term that covers many different new ideas and older traditions. This is because there are many different styles and manners in which a naturalistic spiritual practice can be conceived. We do not wish to discourage this diversity, as each of these different paths has something valuable and unique to offer. Further, diversity can only be healthy for a SN community because it ensures that many people from different backgrounds, cultures, and with different personalities and interests can find a path that suits them best. So, conformity is definitely not an aim of the Society.
At the same time, if we are to truly learn from one another, this can be helped by providing a space for this kind of discourse and research to take place. SN as a whole is still somewhat disorganized and haphazard. While uniformity is not a goal, it should be the case that, over time, the common aspects and underlying philosophical streams can become better understood. This will make SN more approachable to newcomers and give some kind of context in which they can explore its many aspects.
To meet this part of our mission, the Society aims to function as a think tank. This may involve a community of people exchanging thoughts on SN, which are collected and eventually the Society can publish these in some form, so as to have a formative and influential effect on the philosophy over time, driven by a broad community consensus.
(3) Provide education on the traditions that inspire SN
While #1 of our mission is to spread awareness of SN in the world, #3 refers to more than awareness, and toward a smaller dedicated group of fellow learners than the world at large. This part of our mission calls us to provide in-depth education on SN history, philosophy, and practices. This education can include academic study, but should also include hands-on guidance in practice.
As to who is to be educated, this will naturally include those who desire to undertake these services. As the Society has a membership structure, it makes sense that members – who have shown greater enthusiasm and commitment by becoming members – will be the group to which such education will be made most available. This can be a benefit of membership in the Society. We would not want to limit education only to members, so it can also be provided to non-members, although practicalities may dictate additional expenses be paid by non-members to help fund these activities.
The format of educational service can vary, and may start out very simply and become more elaborate as the Society grows in what it is able to provide. At the most basic level, articles are a part of our educational mission. Video and audio of dialogues, presentations, and so on also count toward education. Eventually, online lectures or even whole courses can be designed. Locally, where we have local chapters, these groups can be educational due to the topics of their discussions, and may even hold in-person practice sessions (such as meditations) to provide hands-on guidance in practice. This is, in fact, already happening in some places. The Society also plans to publish books, multimedia, and perhaps one day a print magazine, which will all have educational functions as well.
(4) Help bring together SN’s for growth and learning from one another
This part of our mission blends nicely from #3. Part of education includes providing the environments and tools for fellow Spiritual Naturalists to learn from one another and grow in their understanding and practice. This will happen through conversations and discourses the Society provides in online tools, such as its social network and comments fields. It can happen through direct member messages and forum posts to one another. It can happen in the local chapters with face-to-face conversation and sharing, and so on. The Society should always be looking for better ways to help members exchange ideas with one another.
(5) Help bring together SN’s for mutual encouragement and fellowship
This part of our mission may overlap functionally with #4, but has a different focus. It is not only our aim that our members be able to exchange ideas and guidance on practice – but it is also part of our mission to help them cultivate positive relationships with one another. By encouraging their interaction, we help members encourage one another in practice, and to find new like-minded friends. Nothing else the Society does will be possible without a healthy foundation of a community behind it. This means some Society programs and events may have purely social purposes (both online and local in-person). The more we help to foster good relationships between members, the more solid a foundation we will have.
What is all of this, all about? Our ultimate aim with all of these parts of our mission is to help promote and spread ideas and ways of living that are positive and healthy – and lead to greater happiness, peace, responsibility, and compassion in the world. Further, to help spread a way of doing this that is fully compatible with a rational, scientifically compatible, and modern understanding of the world. This is the prescription for human prosperity, and our mission is central to furthering it.
The next thing to cover is the structure of the SNS and how it works to carry out its mission. As the Society grows our structure will, no doubt, need to evolve and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. All structural components of the Society should always take into account the mission, and work toward best accomplishing some part of that mission. Let’s begin by noting all of the relevant entities…
Board of Directors
Members of the Board are registered as such as a requirement of the IRS. There are currently 4 members of the Board: Daniel Strain, Julie Strain, Nathan Abrashoff, and Thomas Schenk. The Board meets only when it deems necessary or required. The Board, through majority vote, has ultimate voting power and authority in the organization and any part of its mission, purposes, structure, operations, existence, or any other matters. The Board decides, by majority vote who its members are.
The SNS Council
The SNS Council provides ongoing leadership for of the organization, meeting on a monthly basis. Through majority vote, the Council has the power to determine projects, priorities, plans, and overall strategy for fulfilling the mission of the Society. They are bound by the general purposes and mission set out by the foundational documents and the Board of Directors, but are otherwise considered the functional authority. The Board of Directors may choose to intervene or override the Council, or determine Council membership, but will do so only if it believes it necessary to keep the organization from serious deviation from its proper mission or purposes. The Council normally determines its own members by majority vote.
The Executive Director
The Executive Director manages and represents the SNS Staff, and reports to the SNS Council. While the SNS Council issues general direction, strategy, and major projects; the Executive Director is responsible for running the day-to-day management of the organization to those ends. The Council, by majority vote, may choose to override or intervene the decisions of the Executive Director, but will choose to do so only when it determines the Executive Director is diverging from its general directives or intentions. The Council appoints or dismisses the Executive Director. The Executive Director normally has authority to select and bring volunteers onto the staff, and appoint them to positions on the staff as needed. As manager of the staff, the Executive Director can determine tasks and assignments and monitors them for efficacy in their purposes. The Executive Director also typically serves as the primary “face” of the organization, delivering communications to the public on behalf of the Society, and updating the members on the activities of the organization.
The Executive Director may choose to appoint any number of people as Department Directors or other staff positions, who serve under the Executive Director. These staff positions may vary according to need. A Director may be given a permanent assignment over a particular area (for example, “Director of Outreach”), or a Director may assigned as a “Director at large”, handling general areas as needed. Directors represent the most dedicated of staff and should be highly capable of working for the benefit of the Society and it’s mission. They (as well as the Executive Director) are expected to be in attendance at Staff Meetings, whereas these are optional for all others. Directors serve for as long as the Executive Director decides and they agree.
The Advisory Board is designed to consist of high-profile individuals who lend their public name and support to the organization, as well as provide advice at their discretion. Advisors have no authority within the organization, although their expertise is welcome. Members of the Advisory Board are appointed by the SNS Council, or by the Executive Director with the Council’s approval.
Many other volunteers may contribute to the Society in various ways. These include, but are not limited to: writing for public articles, writing materials for the member archives, artworks or poetry, helping with member events and activities, local chapter organizing, and more. Volunteers are approved by the Executive Director, but may be recruited and managed by either the Executive Director or Staff Directors.
Holding Multiple Positions
Especially as the size of the group participating in the Society demands, it is reasonable and acceptable for a person to hold multiple simultaneous positions in the areas described above. For example, a person could be on the Board of Directors, the SNS Council, and the Staff. When filling these multiple roles, it may become necessary for all parties to understand and make clear when a person is acting in one capacity or another (i.e. “which hat they have on”). For example, an Executive Director might direct a staff member to carry out a task. Suppose that staff member disagrees with the task being a good idea, and they also happen to be a member of the Council. This alone doesn’t give them the power to override, because it is the Council as a body that has that power (not each individual). So, they could bring the matter up for vote at a Council meeting and, if the majority of the Council agreed it was significant enough to override the Executive Director, the Council could then do so. But if the vote failed, then the Council/Staff member would be required, as a Staff member, to carry out the task.
These are individuals who have chosen to make regular monthly donations to the Society of an amount currently determined to grant Supporting Membership. The main purpose and motivation for being a Supporting Member of the Society is because of a genuine, heartfelt wish to be a part of its mission and help support the Society financially, for its own ends. As a side effect, it is also understood that there may be times when that financial support makes it possible to offer Supporting Members discounts on materials or programs that have costs, or other benefits which may vary. The Council may choose to give the Supporting Membership a vote on major issues, at its discretion.
Regular membership in the Society is free and open to anyone who applies through a form on the Society’s website. Membership grants the benefit of receiving the monthly newsletter of the Society. The Executive Director, Council, or Board of Directors may also grant membership to any individual as deemed appropriate. However, care should be taken that any individual not be sent communications without it being welcome.
Subscribers are those who have chosen to sign up to receive automatic email updates whenever the Society publishes new articles. They do this by submitting their email address in at the main website.
Social Media Followers
These are people on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media who either ‘like’ or ‘follow’ or otherwise connect themselves with a communication stream from the Society.
This is anyone who has made a donation to the Society. Supporting members are all donors, but other donors may include non-members or Regular Members who have chosen to make one or more single stand-alone donations.
MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF THE SOCIETY
This is our publication of: (a) regular public articles online, (b) materials in the member-only educational archives, (c) occasional other books and works in both online and print form. These have the primary function of helping to spread SN philosophy and practices in the public, and providing more in-depth education for members – both of these central to our mission. Secondarily, they provide a means of exposure for the organization.
This includes any communications that go out to the public. On a regular basis this includes: (a) social media alerts of new publications, (b) other social media posts. On a less regular basis it also includes: (c) advertisements, (d) press releases. Most of these efforts are online due to costs, but they can and might include print mailings, public events, and more as resources allow.
As people become members and Supporting Members of the organization, it is crucial to our mission that we serve that growing community well. We do this through some basic member benefits such as the newsletter, social network access, discounts or free services, educational archive access, courses, etc. But more importantly, we try to facilitate and encourage the growth of relationships among and between the members. We do this through hosting shared events such as online socials, through initiating and facilitating forum discussions, projects such as book clubs, and so on. In all of these things, we want to provide the most value to membership as possible, while at the same time always noting to members that the primary purpose of their membership dues from their perspective should be to help contribute to the important mission of the Society and to Spiritual Naturalism. Another part of community development is being receptive to, and seeking out, those among the membership who may be willing to be involved in further ways, such as becoming a volunteer or content contributor.
Research & Development
Another important role of the Society is in further developing Spiritual Naturalist thought and practice, given the very new, varied, and budding area that is religious and spiritual naturalism. In this R&D, our goal is not homogenization or dogmatizaion. Rather, it is to help grow a flourishing and rich body of work that can offer the most opportunity for individual Spiritual Naturalists to grow in their practice. These efforts can be conducted by Staff, writers, and contributors of the Society, but we should also encourage members to become active contributors to that developing body of work. The primary grass-roots vehicle of this ‘think tank’ can be the forums in our Social Network. Our of those conversations can come a more formalized development of materials. These can eventually result in official papers published by our think tank, and these papers can be placed into the educational archives, as well as published in the public.
These are the major, ongoing and regular, kinds of operations of which the Society consists. In addition to these functions, we should always be on the lookout for other opportunities to serve our mission to expand awareness of Spiritual Naturalism and/or serve Spiritual Naturalists.
A Spiritual Community
A final part of this outline should point out that, when we speak of forming a community, we are not speaking of merely a community of intellectuals who like to discuss and write about study topics on human spirituality. Rather, we are talking about a ‘spiritual home’ for naturalists much more akin to a religious community. To that end, our ‘way of acting’ in the Society should focus on building relationships (beyond merely the collegial variety) and in supporting one another in personal life challenges and our individual personal practices. In this sense, the online spaces in which we interact with fellow members around the world should be thought of much like a virtual temple. This is, to a large extent, a matter of style or demeanor, but an important one. The world already has plenty of academic organizations dedicated to writing scientific papers examining human spirituality and other traits from a third-person anthropological perspective. It already has groups for intellectual debates on religion. It already has plenty of organizations claiming that naturalists can have spirituality. Our effort, however, is primarily focused on making it so. We therefore should be more concerned with showing by example what a fully-naturalistic spiritual community, which actually conducts ritual and appreciates the sacred, is like.