What Is Burning Man Doing As a Nonprofit? Latest Annual Report Now Available

Do you ever wonder just what exactly the Burning Man Project is up to or what we have accomplished since our transition to a nonprofit? We provide this information in a number of ways, but most significantly, each year we publish an annual report that is the most comprehensive overview of Burning Man Project’s progress, including our finances. This morning we’re happy to publish our 2015 Burning Man Project Annual Report.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll remember that 2014’s report marked the completion of the transition into the nonprofit Burning Man Project and the full integration of Black Rock City as our largest nonprofit program. 2015 had some equally exciting developments for Burning Man Project and the increasingly global Burning Man community, the details of which are highlighted in the Annual Report. We’ve also published our 2015 IRS Form 990.

2015 Annual Report

Our Annual Report is an in-depth look at what Burning Man is up to. It includes summaries of our nonprofit programs, including: Black Rock City, Arts & Civic Engagement, Education, and the Global Network. The report also includes sections about Gifting and Participation in celebration of all of the ways the community collaborates to make this unexpected, impractical, and persistently meaningful thing called Burning Man happen. Want to understand how our organization is impacting the world beyond Black Rock City? This is the place to find, and then share, that information.


Some of 2015’s highlights:

  • Black Rock City once again arose from the barren Black Rock Desert, drawing 70,000 participants from 30 countries.
  • Burners Without Borders celebrated its 10th Anniversary and became an official program of Burning Man Project, allowing us to more directly support initiatives around the globe that foster innovative approaches to disaster relief, grant giving, and grassroots initiatives.
  • Burning Man Arts awarded over $1 million in honoraria art grants in Black Rock City, and gifted approximately $1.2 million in support to more than 100 projects in the form of art support services like heavy equipment, event access, fiscal sponsorship, and engineering support.
  • The Global Network celebrated a milestone, growing to more than 250 Regional Contacts and 60 official events worldwide.
  • Education offerings expanded, with 350 participants gathering from across the globe for our Ninth Annual Global Leadership Conference in San Francisco, featuring a keynote address by seven-term U.S. Congressman (and avid Burner) Dennis Kucinich.

For all the details, read the Annual Report.

2015 Form 990

The 990 is our organization’s nonprofit IRS filing, but we also use it to provide the Burning Man community and public with key financial information. In a reflection of our commitment to fiscal transparency, this is the fourth year we have published our 990 on our website. Over this time period you can see the growth of revenue generated, donations received, grants provided, and program expenses.

In an effort to break down the staggeringly boring (sorry, IRS!) 65+ pages of tax documents, for the second year we’re publishing a dynamic visualization of how every dollar was spent by Burning Man Project for the year. We’re happy to once again help answer the question: Where Does the Money Go?

Where did the money go? Click to view!

What else is included in the 2015 Form 990 besides expenses? Some of the highlights include:

  • Donations to the Burning Man Project from the public continue to increase: from $1,093,008 in 2014 to $1,329,325 in 2015.
  • Grants provided by Burning Man Project to artists and community leaders increased by over 50%, jumping from $911,955 in 2014 to $1,419,865 in 2015.
  • Expanding our reach. We granted over $1.1 million domestically and $250,000 internationally.
  • Burning Man Arts now has an operating budget of almost $2.5 million, and Civic Engagement of over $750,000 — both are significant increases from 2014.

Want the rest of Burning Man by the numbers? You can view our 2015 IRS Form 990 here.

So What Does All This Mean?

In short, as an organization we’re investing in infrastructure for long-term planning and impact. The investments you see now in our 990 will turn into accomplishments we report about in future Annual Reports, and we look forward to sharing those successes with you.

These investments are the next steps to truly making meaningful impact in the world. Our activities are no longer confined to Black Rock City, nor are our principles. More and more, Black Rock City is becoming a training ground for skills and values that are desperately needed beyond the trash fence. Radical Inclusion is a potent antidote to fear and divisiveness. Taking action to improve the communities we live in is the heart of Civic Engagement, and building a better future for us all is an act of Communal Effort.

These are the principles at the foundation of the Burning Man community, and at the Burning Man organization, we are committed to sharing these principles to help leave the most positive trace wherever we go (see what we did there?).

Burning Man has become a massive cultural phenomenon, and to let the incredible potential of its ethos only benefit Black Rock City ticket holders would be a moral failure. To be true to our values, we can’t leave our principles behind us during Exodus.

Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the magic of Burning Man. We are working towards a more inclusive, creative, and better world, not just for Burners, but for everyone. This is what we are doing as a nonprofit. This is our work.

Thank you for making it possible.



For a list of additional general FAQs, see our previous 2014 Annual Report Announcement.

Q. How Much Money did Burning Man make in 2015?

A. In 2015, the Burning Man Project brought in $36,901,409 and spent $35,844,236. The difference between the two is $1,057,173, but because we are a 501(c)3, this money does not benefit private interests or individuals (including board members or founders). In a 501(c)3, any funds generated after operating expenses are retained by the organization and reinvested to support programming and/or added to its “operating reserve.” An operating reserve is a balance set aside to stabilize a nonprofit’s finances. Keep in mind, the Form 990 is essentially a snapshot of the organization’s finances on a specific day (in this case December 31, 2015).  As much of the organization’s revenue comes in during ticket sales in the spring,  we must manage our funds to make sure we can make payroll and cover basic operational costs during the rest of the year.

Q. What is Burning Man Project’s “operating reserve”?

A. Managing a healthy nonprofit organization includes having an ‘operating reserve’,  which is essentially a savings account. This is a safety-net that is set aside should any unexpected expenses or loss of income arise. This is a smart part of any financial planning for any organization, individual, or even family. As of December 31st, 2015, Burning Man Project’s operating reserve was $2,882,361.

This is made up of total cash ($7,054,089) minus our liabilities ($4,083,658) and restricted funds ($88,070) which equals $2,882,361. To put this in perspective, our reserve is less than 1 month of Burning Man Project’s average operating costs. In the future we plan to grow this operating reserve to be able to cover several months of operating expenses for the security of the event, organization, and community.

Q. Black Rock City brings in more money than it spends. Where does that money go?

A. In the 2015 Form 990, you’ll note that just about $25 million was spent on producing Black Rock City, and the event brought in about $10 million more than that. A portion of that $10 million is  also spent  in support of Black Rock City, but  on other program areas like Burning Man Arts or management and general expense departments like Communications and Legal. Funds remaining after covering the cost of producing Black Rock City stay in the community and are used to fund Burner projects and initiatives like  Art Grants, Burners Without Borders, the Global Network, Education and the annual Global Leadership Conference for Regional Contacts and community leaders. What do we not spend money on? Advertising and promotion (not a dime).

Q. What are the differences between Programming, Management and General, and Fundraising Expenses?

A. Nonprofit expenses fall into one of three categories: Program Services Expenses, Management & General, and Fundraising. “Program Services Expenses” is money being used directly in fulfilling our mission of fostering Burning Man culture. “Management and General” expenses are related to the overall function and management of the nonprofit organization. Included in this category are accounting, human resources, information technology, admin and legal services, as well as some of the bureaucratic necessities (taxes, licensing, etc.) of managing a nonprofit of our size. “Fundraising” expenses are any costs incurred while raising money for furthering our programming activities. This includes any salaries, events, or travel done for the purpose of soliciting donations.

Q. Why are there some differences between the numbers in the Form 990 and those in the Annual Report?

A. The differences in numbers are due in part to the fact that when the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) became an official part of Burning Man Project in July of 2014, the majority of its programming was undertaken by Burning Man Project, but BRAF still existed as a subsidiary organization with some administrative financial activity. This activity is reflected in our Annual Report’s audited financial statements (to give a more complete picture of finances) but are not included in the Form 990 because BRAF files their own 990 and that financial information is included there. Other slight differences are due to the fact that the IRS asks us to report certain numbers in a way that differs from “generally accepted accounting principles” or GAAP, which are used for our audited financial statements.

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Burning Man Project

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