December 16, 2016; Reno Gazette-Journal
When Burning Man became a 501(c)(3)3 in 2014 it became responsible for a certain level of transparency that the press, for some reason, has taken gleeful advantage of over the past few years. This is the second year we have seen a detailed press exposé of its budget with not much “there” there.
The Reno Gazette Journal reports that the organization spent $35.8 million against revenue of $36.9 million. More than two-thirds of its revenue came from ticket sales and it plans to use its surplus to invest in its future. Sounds pretty good to us in terms of being a well-managed organization. The conclusion drawn by the paper?
While the organization that touts its 10 principles—such as radical inclusion, radical self-expression and gifting—may be making more than ever, it also is spending more than ever. The organization’s total revenue climbed year-over-year by 14 percent while total spending increased by 19 percent, according to 2015 tax documents.
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But maybe the story is in the salary? It turns out that Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell is making only $246,000, having received a raise of 1 percent and Larry Harvey, the founder, made around $197,000 and apparently got no raise. Okay so that is not where the story is unless you see the story as finally dispelling the myth that you must pay a mission-flouting high price for super-competent business leadership.
We find out that $4 million went for contracts “including portable toilets,” presumably an allowable expense considering what might occur without them. So no scandal there but—really—does there have to be a suggestion of wrongdoing to make the financial facts interesting to the public?
So, unless you object to the provision of nonprofit status to a “party in the desert” that attracts a woeful number of high profile rich folk and claims to be a great venue for personal transformation (I’m out—thanks), as well as a bastion of capitalist values, maybe there just is no story in the Burning Man annual budget. Nevertheless, it is a great case study of what a certain kind of nonprofit budget might look like and that might, in and of itself be a good thing. A little more nonprofit numeracy amongst our public—and media—would be a very good thing. – Ruth McCambridge