Confused by a Surplus: Media Needs Education on Nonprofit Finances

Comic-Con

San Diego Comic Con / Kevin Dooley

July 20, 2016; San Diego Union-Tribune

“Comic-Con is Pretty Profitable, for a Nonprofit,” proclaims a San Diego Union-Tribune headline. The article shows some concern over the fact that the organization boasts a healthy operating surplus each year. With 130,000 visitors expected to attend from all over the world, the convention, which opened on Thursday, is estimated to pump $135 million into the local economy. Still, the paper appears to be on a mission to fault the nonprofit for its apparently well-managed enterprise model.

In the fiscal year ending August 31st, the organization itself had revenues of $17.3 million and only $13.9 million in expenses, for a surplus of $3.4 million. Apparently, the group makes a habit of such behavior, because it has $20 million in unrestricted cash in the bank.

But, wait! Isn’t this what we are supposed to do? That unrestricted cash can then become a cushion, working capital, and growth capital. That’s what nonprofits are supposed to do, right? Plow the money back into the organization’s work? The tone of the article suggests otherwise. Maybe they should take a look at Harvard or some nonprofit insurance companies, where there would be a lot more to work with.

Actually, for a 46-year-old pop culture phenomenon, the scale of these numbers seems pretty humble, as does the executive director’s salary at $132,000. In fact, in the entire article, we can find nothing of substance to fault the San Diego Comic-Con with except that they refused to share their audits with the paper despite being asked to do so. This does not mean there is nothing amiss, but we wish the paper had waited to settle that question before running this story under such a silly headline.—Ruth McCambridge