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Ask Mandisa 46 – Contingencies in Running Events


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/12/22

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Board for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, the 2016 Reason Rally Coalition, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.

In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s Person of the Year 2018.

As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.

“The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”

Here, we talk about contingencies in running events.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: One thing that can arise in running an event or helping others do so is having contingencies. What should be kept in mind?

Mandisa Thomas: With almost 10 years experience as an event services manager, I can speak to this sufficiently.  For every event, there will be people who sign up or express interest. However, as time and the planning process goes, you will have some that will either not follow up, and even not show up. They will also sign up and drop out. This occurs with attendees and speakers, which can be very frustrating and daunting. Then you have to stay in touch with vendors and other organizers. It’s a constant stream of communication, which at times, feels so one-sided. This is something that should be kept in mind for all events. Prepare for things to not go according to plan. It sounds a bit pessimistic, but it is a good rule of thumb for organizers. Always keep in mind that while a large number of people may show interest, only a certain percentage will attend. Mind the initial numbers if you can help it. Otherwise, you may be responsible for charges, especially if you’re hosting at a venue that requires advance payment. Also, It is important to keep in mind to effectively promote the events. Whether it is through free social media platforms, paid advertising etc, let people know what is going on, but try to avoid sounding like a “bot”, for lack of a better term. Avoid sounding like you’re ONLY reaching out to sell your event.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Thomas: Always anticipate working as if you’re the only one doing the job while also working with a team. Usually, everyone involved will lend a great hand. But at the same time, I can’t help but think, “Hey, there are things that could go wrong”. It is always good to expect the best, but prepare for the wors. It is also good to have checklist for yourself. If organizing isn’t an area of expertise (or even if it is) it is always good to have that, and to establish timeline; to follow-up with folks and to stay on schedule. Ultimately, It is about making sure things don’t go all the way left at the last minute, and ensuring success.

Jacobsen: What were some things that went wrong? You wish you had a contingency, but didn’t.

Thomas: I can’t say anything that was so extreme that it wasn’t fixable [Laughing], or that things fell completely apart. I do recall for BN’s 5th anniversary celebration in 2016, that there were a few speakers who couldn’t attend at the last minute. Luckily, the hotel where we hosted the event was very flexible, and I didn’t have to pay any cancellation fees. But at that time, our materials were already printed, so when they couldn’t, it was like, “Yikes!”

[Laughing] You kinda wish that you knew people couldn’t attend in advance. Because it can become costly.  But there are times when certain circumstances become difficult to gauge, so anticipation is necessary.

That’s one of the worst things. And it is always disappointing when some details fall through. But again, it’s never been anything that we couldn’t handle, and our events always turn out well.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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