Tax Breaks and Tools: Empowering our Community with Fiscal Sponsorship

You may have heard about the $1.2 million in honoraria grants, $1.5 million in services to playa projects, $500,000 in Global Art grants, and $10,000 in BWB grants that Burning Man gives, but there is another program that this year alone has the potential to direct another $480,000 to playa-bound art. It’s Burning Man’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which allows Burning Man to utilize its 501(c)3 status to direct funds to even more art and civic engagement projects than ever before.

At its core, fiscal sponsorship is a technical tool for a 501(c)3 organization to extend its tax-exemption to outside projects or groups that further its mission. The projects’ donors are able to donate to the project via Burning Man, thus supporting a project they care about and receiving a tax deduction they would not ordinarily be eligible for if the project did not have a fiscal sponsor.

There are different models of fiscal sponsorship, and each one has its own benefits and drawbacks. For Burning Man we found that the most beneficial model for our sponsored projects and the organization was Model C: Pre-approved Grant. With this model, Burning Man is able to recognize a project or group as furthering the Burning Man mission and offer them a grant. The caveat is, this is a grant that they seek the funding for themselves.

What does this mean in practice at Burning Man? The origins of this program lie in the Black Rock Arts Foundation. Burning Man awards honoraria grants to art pieces to help them get to playa. As part of Burning Man’s grant-giving philosophy, these grants never completely fund the project. Artists submit a budget with their grant proposals, and Burning Man will give a portion of that budget. This is a place where the principles of Radical Self-reliance and Gifting come together. Burning Man gives funds and services to help a project get to playa, but the team has to be self-reliant in some ways and fill the budget gap.

Throwing Participation into the mix, three years ago BRAF decided that if it were to offer these honoraria recipients the opportunity to raise funds via Model C fiscal sponsorship, that would enable the community to participate in these projects in a different way and allow some donors to get a tax break at the same time. That year, honoraria projects independently raised more than $150,000 through BRAF’s fiscal sponsorship program.

When BRAF became a part of Burning Man Project, we decided to continue the program and see if we could expand it to help even more projects. Over the past two years, the Program Services team within Burning Man has been building a fiscal sponsorship program that is self-sustaining and could help projects not only get to playa, but further the mission of Burning Man all over the world. That meant Burning Man had to look into opening eligibility to civic projects, off-playa art projects, BWB projects, and fledgling nonprofit organizations. We are proud to say that this year all of these are now eligible for fiscal sponsorship through Burning Man.

We are also proud that so far this year Burning Man is sponsoring 14 projects going to playa with a combined fundraising goal of over $480,000. These are: The Temple, HYBYCOZO Heart of Gold, Shrumen Lumen, OCTAVIUS, Roshanai, Automata Equis, Medusa Madness, Burntanical Gardens, Grove, Trasparenza, Seeing Humanity For What It Really Is, Oid, Electric Renaissance, and Renaixement.

So if you are looking for a new way to support the art and civic projects you love, check out the full list of Burning Man’s sponsored projects.

Interested in learning more about fiscal sponsorship? The National Network of Fiscal Sponsors is a great place to start.

If you have questions about or are interested in applying for fiscal sponsorship with Burning Man, email our team at fiscalsponsorship@burningman.org.


Top image: HYBYCOZO Heart of Gold by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu

About the author: Josh Lease

Josh is a member of the nonprofit programming team at Burning Man, and is responsible for developing collaborations, managing activity reporting, and building out grant processes. With a Masters degree in International Policy and a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Language, Josh previously held positions with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program, Tostan, and the World Affairs Council. Josh's first year on playa was 2013 when he was lured by the idea of skydiving over Black Rock City. Josh joined the Burning Man HQ staff in 2014.