Editor’s Note: 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, Church & State is profiling important figures in the life of the organization throughout the year. In this issue, we’re focusing on Chelsea Collings, AU’s manager of development operations. Chelsea, who has worked at AU for more than 14 years, is an example of the kind of employee whose work is often behind the scenes but is essential to the operations of Americans United.
In this Q&A, Chelsea talks about her position and what drew her to the work of Americans United.
Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from? Where did you go to college, and what did you study?
Collings: I was born in Atlanta and raised in a small town in Massachusetts, where I was salutatorian of my regional public high school. I went to Swarthmore, a small Quaker liberal arts college outside Philadelphia, where I majored in sociology/anthropology and minored in art history and history. I also was lucky enough to study abroad by traveling the world and studying urban planning and ecology in New York City, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Shanghai and Bangalore. I also learned about religious traditions in my travels, while gaining new appreciation for the religious freedoms provided by our First Amendment.
Your job title is manager of development operations. What does that position entail?
Collings: I’ve been with AU for over 14 years now and it’s been amazing to see how both the organization and Development Department have grown and adapted over the years. Currently, my role involves anything having to do with donor relations and gift processing, as well as all things data.
What made you want to work for Americans United?
Collings: My mom was a fundraiser, so I grew up helping her stuff envelopes. While looking for fundraising jobs while graduating from college, I was drawn to Americans United in order to support its important work of being a “big tent” nonprofit working on behalf of those who practice a specific faith or none at all.
Americans United gets a lot of its support from small donors. People sometimes ask me how they can help AU when they’re not in the highest income brackets. Do you have some thoughts on this?
Collings: We love all our donors at all levels and enjoy bringing together folks from all backgrounds to increase our collective “people power.” I’m also personally a member of AU’s Madison Society, our recurring monthly donors, which is the perfect way to provide ongoing support throughout the year. We also love for folks to report violations in their areas at www.au.org/violation. Also visiting www.au.org/get-involved to see what advocacy actions you can take on my behalf, since I’m a D.C. resident (no taxation without representation!).
You’re famous for posting some of the hate mail and religious tracts that AU regularly receives on a wall outside your office. Staff members have gotten a laugh walking by. What made you want to start collecting this stuff?
Collings: For the record, I love collecting love mail too, but it doesn’t tend to be as visually interesting or bizarre! I also pass along donor-shared resources and feedback to relevant AU staffers. On the hate mail side, I like being reminded by our detractors about how important AU’s work is on behalf of all Americans. Some make for funny content on our social media channels, and it has been fun to keep my “virtual office door” going while working remotely.
You’ve worked with a lot of AU members over the years. What are some things you can say about them, generally?
Collings: They are dedicated and extremely loyal. I love seeing the same names in my inbox year after year.
Finally, on a more personal level, what do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
Collings: I’m an extreme concert-goer with eclectic music tastes, who loves to play cards and board games, and I enjoy watching true crime documentaries.