Let’s Look at the Numbers: A Glimpse into Our 2020 Financial Multiverse

Since April 10 when we announced that we will not be building Black Rock City in 2020, we’ve received many questions about Burning Man Project’s financial situation, how we’re going to weather this storm, and how you can help. In the spirit of transparency and, quite frankly, vulnerability, we’ve put together a summary of the financial challenges we’re facing due to ticket revenue loss, and how it will affect our ability to operate.

The High-Level Summary

We’re in a challenging situation. Burning Man Project is a nonprofit (here’s our IRS Form-990). The revenue we generate from ticket sales funds our year-round event production cycle, which as you can imagine, requires considerable human power. We’d already started gearing up for this year’s event, and spending DGS and FOMO ticket revenue accordingly. Now we’re in the process of implementing salary cuts, making layoffs, and slashing expenses. But cuts alone will not alleviate the deficit.

This is why we’re fundraising. We’re rolling out a multifaceted fundraising effort that will give opportunities to Burners from all walks of life to express their support for the future of Black Rock City and Burning Man culture. In the coming months we’ll be seeking donations, reaching out to prospective supporters, launching campaigns, and holding fundraising events.

We’re also asking 2020 DGS and FOMO ticket holders to donate all or part of their purchase amount instead of receiving a full refund. For those who don’t feel able to give financially, you do have the option of requesting a full refund. The ticket refund tool went live today and will be accessible via your Burner Profile for the next two weeks — until May 14, 2020.

Despite the financial risk this poses to the organization, we feel strongly that it’s important to support our community in this way. 2020 is a difficult year for everyone — particularly for many of you who are directly affected by the pandemic. We know some of you need that money back.

Since the future of Black Rock City depends on generous and immediate action, we want everyone to know the details of the situation. Below, we’ve included financial projections and clear explanations of the challenges we face as an organization and as a culture to keep Black Rock City and Burning Man Project alive through the craziness that is 2020, and well into the future.

You have our gratitude for making time to understand our current situation.

Note: The figures presented in this article are unaudited financial information as of March 31, 2020. The following projections for cash balances and budgeted expenses represent our best estimates. Audited financial information from 2020 will be available in 2021.

It All Started With a Reserve

Thanks to carefully setting aside incremental savings over the course of eight years, by the end of February, 2020 Burning Man Project had approximately $10 million in our operating reserve, kept aside to manage contingencies like this one. When it became clear that we would need to cancel the 2020 event, and made the decision to offer ticket refunds, we had to use this reserve to pay rent, salaries, and other January to April operating expenses.

Here is a breakdown of our annual expenses, every year since we became a nonprofit. (Our 2019 Annual Report will be released in May, and our 2019 Form-990 will be published later this year. In the meantime, you can check out the 2018 Form-990 and Annual Report.) You’ll notice that payroll remains our biggest annual expense. Burning Man Project relies on a team of specialized public servants to the culture (both year-round and seasonal staff) to produce the event, run our nonprofit programs, carry out essential administration, and support the global civic activation happening as a result of the event.

Where We Are Today: Projecting Possible Scenarios

The numbers with and without Black Rock City production costs

Before the pandemic ground the event production to a halt, we had projected to spend approximately $53.3 million in 2020; this included costs related to producing Black Rock City (by far our largest expense). When it became clear Black Rock City wasn’t going to be possible in 2020, we immediately suspended an estimated $21 million of seasonal activities directly associated with BRC including, unfortunately, not hiring around 1,100 short-term staff.

Once we remove some event-specific costs, but include overhead and Black Rock City staff who are employed year-round, we’re projected to spend a little less than half of our original budget — approximately $22 million between April and December.

You’ll notice the first three months of 2020 are virtually the same in the gray and green graphs — this is what we’ve already spent on staff and operational expenses in the first quarter. Now that we’re not producing Black Rock City, these expenses drop for the rest of the year.

Scenario One: Full ticket refunds without expense cuts = the scary $16 million deficit

If everyone who bought a DGS or FOMO ticket asks for a full refund, we would be refunding approximately $22 million in ticket revenue. In parallel with this, if we did not reduce expenses and lay off staff, we estimate that Burning Man Project would end 2020 with a $16 million deficit.

Scenario Two: Full ticket refunds with expense cuts = a $10 million deficit

In this scenario, we issue full ticket refunds and reduce approximately $6 million in labor and operating expenses. Of course, we’re already tightening our belts however we can. In addition to canceling vendor contracts and cutting expenses associated with producing the 2020 event, we have already cut $6 million from our operating expenses by:

  • reducing staff salaries
  • laying off year-round and seasonal staff
  • cancelling many seasonal and temporary contracts
  • deferring 1,100 seasonal staff hires until we’re able to produce BRC
  • implementing cuts to operating expenses.

Despite these changes, we will still arrive at a $10 million deficit in December 2020. This is the situation the organization faces today.

How We Plan to Survive Without 2020 Ticket Revenue

Contributions From Would-be Ticket Buyers

Were you hoping to buy a ticket in the Main Sale? Maybe you went last year but were planning to take 2020 off? Contributing to Burning Man Project now will help us bring back Black Rock City better than ever in 2021. If Burning Man culture has inspired creativity and change in your life, we’re asking for contributions of $475 — the equivalent of one main sale ticket. (But, of course, any amount and every bit will help!)

Refunds & Loans From the Federal Government

We’re not just looking to the community for support. We’re also talking to the government. We’re asking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to refund approximately $1.9 million in payments we’ve already made for the 2020 event. It will require a long process, but we expect to be refunded most of it. And, we have applied for up to $2.4 million in Small Business Association loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Fundraising From Direct Donors

As a nonprofit, Burning Man Project has a history of fundraising. We hold events such as the Artumnal Gathering; have executed successful capital campaigns; and we receive contributions of all sizes via our Donate form from generous individuals just like you. Our Philanthropic Engagement team is also reaching out to donors who have the capacity to support Burning Man Project with larger financial contributions.

Various Crowdfunding and Fundraising Campaigns

As artists and makers with a long history of making crazy big things happen with limited resources, our community is well-versed in creative fundraising. Watch this space (and all the spaces) to learn about upcoming entertaining and participatory fundraising adventures.

What About Virtual Black Rock City?

We have an imaginative team of creators, technologists, and cultural provocateurs laying the groundwork for our collective virtual encounters in The Multiverse. While yes, it will require Burning Man Project resources to lay the foundation, it will also require all of you to bring Virtual Black Rock City to life (sound familiar?).

What You Can Do To Help

We know not everyone is in a place where they can make a financial contribution, but we’re counting on the power of our inventive, resilient community to get the word out. Please talk to your community and share this story on social media. Encourage your campmates to respond to the email they will receive this week about their refund options and how they can donate. Gather your crew, camp or project to raise funds for Burning Man Project. You will earn our eternal love and gratitude. (Who are we kidding? You already have that!) If we all cast a wide enough net, we will accomplish remarkable things.

Let’s Imagine That We Do This

We, Burning Man Project, are not the same as Burning Man, but our destinies are inexorably linked. We are the hub that instigates, produces and supports the global culture that you, our community, creates. And, we produce the largest expression of Burning Man culture, Black Rock City. Let’s imagine six months into the future — that we have looked after each other, cultivated community, celebrated, and yes, probably grieved. We have come together as a culture to save Burning Man. And we are ready to start imagining, planning and building Black Rock City 2021. Do you feel it? That’s community, and it’s magic. We can do this.

A playa sunrise welcomes The Phoenix and the Butterfly by Swig Miller while Dave Keane’s The Folly rises behind. (Photo by EspressoBuzz, 2019)

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

138 Comments on “Let’s Look at the Numbers: A Glimpse into Our 2020 Financial Multiverse

  • Bill Barton says:

    To what extent does implementing cuts to operating expenses include things like the philosophical center(fly ranch), BWB, and other “Burning Man In The World” type things?” The breakdown of these things aren’t clearly listed on the expenses as it says they are listed across multiple categories. I think people would feel much more comfortable donating if they were assured the money was just going towards the continuation of the event and not some of the extra things.

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    • eponymous coward says:

      Frankly I’m more comfortable with BWB than with providing a dusty Instagram influencer backdrop and some networking opportunities with Elon and Diplo.

      This has been bigger than just having a hippy dirt rave for a very long time. I’d like the default world to be more like the Burn, than have some hermetically sealed commodification-free week, then back to the usual shithow the other 51 weeks.

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      • Think 2010. We didn’t have all this extra shit. We didn’t even sell out. We did alright. Times were good. Cut the plug and play and eliminate deliveries to the playa.

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      • Beautiful response! Not sure if this is the best place to float a radical recommendation, but I too want a creative ecotopian future 24,7,365. Hence, let’s imagine that the nonprofit, owns 51% of a private for-profit “C” corp. or “B” corp. funding cow, and Burners & strategic allies own 49%, then it can do any kind of fund raising, including the initial stock offering. Naturally, it could also do many other kinds of true Green ventures that provide goods & services to anybody, anywhere, for modest profits. If that was the strategy, the Burner B Corp. could now have $$ via the SBA & CARES Act program & no job loss.

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    • Michael Sparkle says:

      We’ve always talked about the Burning Man Participants as family. To me I am honored to be part of that family. And I will give what I can afford. I know I am fortunate to still have a job because I have been classified as an essential worker (a nurse).

      Do I Feel that Burning Man organization may have been frivolous with their finances in the past, perhaps. What does that really matter for where they are currently RIGHT NOW? I see it as a separate conversation.

      To me, It boils down to whether or not you want to put your money where your mouth is or not. It is a personal choice with no judgment. Give what you can afford to but this bickering and finger pointing do NOTHING in crisis management trying to stop the bleeding out (of cash.)

      In the end we are all in this together. Love, Risks and Hugs. -Sparkle

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      • Lau says:

        Hi Michael, so sweeet. Yes in the end we are indeed ALL in this together. I agree with both. Seeing a bit more details cant hurt. And it also cant hurt to give a bit of trust in times like this. After all isn’t trust one of the foundational pillars this was built on? Peace & Love.

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  • can my dgs ticket be rolled over

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    • Level, Placement Manager says:

      Placement’s plan is for theme camps and villages to receive the same DGS ticket allocation you did in 2020 for the next year your group returns to Black Rock City. You’ll have to consult with your camp/village lead about your individual ticket. If you are a mutant vehicle or art support camp, please consult with the DMV or Art Department if you have questions concerning your DGS allocations.

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    • Wayne Bornio says:

      I bought 2 tickets and a vehicle pass for Burning Man 2020. If you change the last ONE DIGIT of 2020 to 2021, I am happy, and you can keep my money. The “invalidate all tickets” and “redistribute DGS tickets for 2021 – to the same camps, in the same quantity” seems silly (and costly) to me. I tremendously appreciate the opportunity to recieve a refund. I would prefer that the BM orginization would keep my money and provide me with access to the next burn.

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      • Anthony Thomas says:

        If they kept everyone’s money and gave everyone a ticket to 2021 who still has one, they’re still missing out on a year’s worth of ticket revenue.

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  • Splat says:

    If things lighten up, can/would the org consider selling camping spots (timeshares?) at Fly Ranch? With social distancing, of course. Keeps people close to home in a way that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

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    • Wovoka says:

      Hey, that’s a good idea. I’d been imagineering a way I could … just … drive onto the Playa somewhere, and squat for a while, recalling the great times I had last year, without incurring the wrath of BLM or whomever. Should this be a possibility, maybe B.M. Project could exact a fee for the privilege?

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      • Scooter says:

        Not sure if this is tongue in cheek, so sorry if I misinterpreted. You can camp on the federal land around and on the Playa anytime you like for free. There are some restrictions (no fires on the Playa), which you can find on the BLM site for Black Rock Desert. Our federal lands are awesome! Go enjoy them!

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  • Cranston Snord says:

    Wait. According to these numbers you are going to spend $2 million per month even without putting on the event? What exactly are you accomplishing with this money? Total playa art grants are less than one month of your overhead? That’s insane. And you expect people to fund that sort of budgeting? Maybe you should try a kickstarter? Geesh

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    • Samb says:

      They have to print 3 million booklets with the 10 principles printed on them and take them to Africa for the people who have not heard the Word yet. You know, changing the world and shit. It’s fucking expensive so don’t ask for a refund or that will be the last DGS ticket you ever get.

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    • Make burn same for all, cut pay 'n play says:

      Have you looked at salaries reported in the 990? So many people make around 200K salaries.

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      • Truthsayer says:

        Buy hey, they’re “specialized public servants”!! LOL

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      • David says:

        I agree, salaries are out of control. they also got very large raises last year, like Marian now makes 260,000.00 per year. She does a lot and should make good money but this is ridiculous! They are burners and this is non profit (or it’s suppose to be)

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      • Cameron says:

        Hmm I was wondering where the 2 million a month is going. I’m confused. How
        Many specialized servants, what’s their job, why is so much money being spent monthly with or without the event happening. Any links to the salary breakdowns

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      • Shep says:

        While DPW members make nothing and have an insanely high suicide rate.

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  • Joel Maurer says:

    I expect the board members to set an example and cut their salaries. I don’t think it’s appropriate to extract your full salary and then ask for donations. I do love you all, just sayin’.

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    • Rouleur says:

      “ Now we’re in the process of implementing salary cuts, making layoffs, and slashing expenses. But cuts alone will not alleviate the deficit.”

      Please read the article in greater detail.

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  • Nico says:

    Leadership in crisis starts at the top.

    Can you share what kind of pay cuts the senior leadership team ($2.9m+ in total compensation in 2018 according to 990 form) will be taking this year?

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  • Larry Harvey says:

    “And, we have applied for up to $2.4 million in Small Business Association loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.”
    There are builders, makers and artists who are the true creators of burning man that are sole proprietors, gig workers and independent contractors hoping to receive $10,000 in ppp just to survive and not be thrown out on the streets. You’re asking for 15 million in ticket donations and have the fucking nerve to apply for $2.4 million in small business ppp loans which will not go to the artists who are Burning Man. How about this….. liquidate your san fransisco lifestyle and move it all to Reno. Since 99% of your revenue which is the event and fly ranch is in Nevada anyway, cut your overhead by 65%. Think about the people who are burning man. I see amazing artists in tears as they are loosing everything, you all wouldn’t know, because you only know the dozen or so the org puts on a pedestal. How about going after big imagination, Mayan warrior, white ocean, Henry ching and the rest of the plug and plays, leave the ppp to real small businesses that need it. Oh and what happens if you only receive 50% of the ticket revenue back? Do you really believe there will be a BM 2021?

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    • eponymous coward says:

      Yeah, that’s basically what they’re saying if you read between the lines. There’s a significant risk of the Org not being able to do the event ever again and liquidating/going out of business, like many other businesses will as a result of this pandemic.

      It sounds like you’re mad at how the Org does business in the first place, so you should consider this a positive boon if they get wiped out. I’m sure y’all can get a bunch of friends and rent a barn in Reno and put on a Burn better than they can, and cheaper too!

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      • Michael says:

        Thanks. I missed the part about the SBA. Didn’t know if a nonprofit could access PPP $ etc. It makes sense. Still, rather than worry about no more BM@BRC, etc., etc., I suggest envisioneering a pragmatic new legal-financial org ecotecture. For example, the nonprofit is the hub of a network of for-profit B corps. & seasonal, project specific LLCs — 51% owned by it. Burners & employees & strategic allies can own up to 49% of the cash cows’ private stock.
        Also, don’t know what the BM.org crew salaries are, but to run a highly complex organization full time, successfully and satisfy IRS regs, requires lots of good hard work & focus, daily.
        Then there’s The Fed system’s intrinsic inflation (currency devaluation). For instance, in 1968, I was making $5/hour, fuel was $0.179/gal., rent was $70/mo., bread was about $0.25/loaf, eggs were about $0.25/doz., beer was about $0.25/qt., 1st class stamps were $0.04, a nice new car was $2500 – $3000, and a new 3-BR home was about $25,000 – $35,000 + 4% interest.
        In other words, 5 1968 bucks were like about 85 of The Fed’s 2020 bucks. So, at age 20, I enjoyed buying power = $3400 weekly x 50 = $170,000/year of The Fed’s neoMonopoly play money.
        So, when I see teachers, great professors, postal workers, aircraft techs & other highly skilled workers (et al) being laid off because their $55k to $85k annual salaries are too expensive for the 1%ers, I’m effin disgusted.

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      • Various says:

        The Org’s salaries are on full display in their Form 990.

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      • Pepper says:

        I have never experienced anything like Burningman. I am so grateful for the ten principles, for the authentic relating, and for the sandbox in which to play with ideas like the ten principles, nudity without nakedness, consent, and authenticity without fear and guardedness. I can’t attend, but I’ve already paid for my two tickets and a parking pass. And I’m still working and don’t need that money. So I am grateful to have the opportunity to gift it back to the organization that has changed my life and triggered a cascade of personal growth. And in the spirit of all what Burningman means to me, I’ve allocated an equal amount for immediate emergency funds for students I have who are down to their last dollars. At Burningman I learned how to give and also how to receive without discomfort. In these times, I’m super grateful to have that skill and share the culture that sustains in my virtual classes. Many people are doing fine. And some are down to $40 or $50. One told me, “I can eat for 2 weeks on that $40. After that, I don’t know. Hopefully unemployment will come through by then.” I read a dozen or so replies here before replying myself. I was baffled by the hostility in those replies. I did hear dissatisfaction with the plug and play culture we’ve been fighting. And other calls to return to what was. And yet others calling for a new vision for the future. I will contemplate their thoughts in the context of the 10 Principles and see what comes up for me. While I’m doing that, know that my gift is given without expectation of payback or personal gain. With it comes gratitude that I am better equipped to serve the world during this pandemic because of Burningman. Love and dusty hugs to all. Welcome home, wherever that is for you right now.

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      • Shwazam says:

        I agree with Pepper’s thoughts and want to add…

        I am and shall always be thankful and appreciative of the amazing experiences and life lessons & personal growth from Burning Man.

        For me, at my first burn in 2007… when the man detonated, it was a flowering within my heart and sense of profound beauty in the community all around me.

        For me, it was both a confirmation and a challenge to live to the best of my ability without fear of scarcity or expectation of return, knowing I will rarely be lacking what is needed to survive with happiness and peace.

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    • PaycheckPrayerProgram says:

      I’m waiting for a PPP loan for our small business too, and taking 2 months of payroll off the table might save our company. It’s been such a nightmare of a program, but I don’t think the org applying is inappropriate (it’s not comparable to Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris, etc). The treasury/SBA has made it difficult for contractors to access PPP funds but that’s not the Org’s fault, and that 2.4M can help offset people who need to take a refund for their DGS ticket.

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  • Popeye says:

    I have donated through camp and will again through ticketing refunds. You should too.
    Think about how much TTID has changed and improved your life.

    This year donations to a nonprofit are an above-the-line tax deduction, you don’t have to itemize to take it.

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  • R S says:

    We were told that as of last week, pay cuts of up to 20% were made. There were also supposed to be lay-offs in addition to not hiring the temporary workers. The numbers still don’t add up though. Marion was asked about cutting the funding for extraneous charitable projects and she said it wasn’t that much. I’m sure the diagrams above intentionally do not really give any indications as to how the money is being spent. Also they do not reflect any donations, additional income streams or refunds of BLM deposits, etc. It makes for a very fuzzy picture. The entire budget for San Francisco/Reno rent, utilities, etc. is 2 million per year. A 25,000 sq ft office for 128 people is $100,000 per month. That is insanely extravagant.

    Here is the big numbers question though, why are ticket holders being charged an additional 2.7% for the full amount of the refundable total even if they do not have the full amount refunded? For every order of two tickets and a vehicle pass $44.47 in handling fees and 2.7% for credit card processing is not refundable leaving a balance of $1190.50 as the refundable balance. But in order to request a refund of any of that amount, an additional $32.14 (2.7% credit card fee) is being deducted even if you only want a small portion refunded. Certainly no credit card company can legally charge the 2.7% for amounts that are being kept by the vendor. This is wrong. It means that $76.61 is being taken away for each of those orders on top of any donations being authorized. I hope this was just bad programming because it does not add up. It also stinks that there is no option to give a flat amount donation through the ticket refund/donation tool. It only allows for 0%, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% donations. Many of my DGS ticket holders wanted to donate a specific amount like $100 but the least you can donate is 10% or $115.84. A donation (or gift) should be what the giver wants to give. Just sayin.

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    • eponymou coward says:

      Ask for the full refund, and when you get it, go donate the specific dollar figure you had in mind?

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    • EponymousCoward says:

      My credit card processor used to charge 2.6% on sales, and an additional 2.6% on refunds. They got rid of the charge on refunds several years ago, but they still don’t refund their own fees on the original charge.

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    • Dear Burners, all of these problems, hardships, limitations & constraints could rapidly evaporate if the community co-sponsored a nonprofit Burner-owned bank + an Ecotopian Community Credit Union + a nontoxic (debt-free) complimentary currency/credit exchange system; with stable-coin & nonmonetary cultural credits.
      That’s the way we can initiate & sustain a nonprofit (tax-free) ecotopian Gifting culture 24,7,365.
      It will also insulate us against the crashes, panics, recessions & depresssions intrinsic to The Fed’s neoMonopoly world game (& its plutonomy play money).

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    • Kaboode says:

      2.7% is actually lower than a be paid as a merchant in the past for refunds. This isn’t something they can eliminate.

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  • Jake says:

    In other words: No Refunds.

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    • Rouleur says:

      No it’s doesn’t at all?

      Not sure how you got to that conclusion.

      Report comment

      • Jake says:

        Read between the lines. Taking a refund means you don’t support the plight of the Organization, which is suffering so bad that they can barely afford to keep the lights on. “We’re on the verge of bankruptcy!” is the message. Taking a refund would be like slapping the Man’s face, especially in these uncertain times. If you can dig deep to support the Mission then don’t expect a DGS ticket next year. Perhaps the whole camp doesn’t get tickets next year, or placement. You don’t want to be the one who ruins Burning Man for you whole camp, do you? Plus, it’s a good cause and it’s tax deductible and it makes you extra special cool so tell your friends!

        Yeah, so no refunds.

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      • Sparkle donkey says:

        This was kind of implied by tons of language around the refund being an estimated amount and it being in the future. It’s quite clear they need some time to see how many people ask for refunds to see how much they can’t pay out. The reality is they’ve spent a bunch of the money they received from DGS tickets and aren’t going to be able to pay out more than they’ve received. People counting on this estimated refund are waiting around to be disappointed. If you need the money a charge back should be filed while you still can.

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    • YeahRight says:

      Yep that’s exactly what I got too….. “Refund will happen mid-June” + “we’re not going to make it though May” = “dispute initiated with MasterCard”

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  • waterfall says:

    The budget needs to have even greater transparency and accountability. I am almost certain that there is so much more that can be cut. Costs seem to have spiraled out of control in the last several years. The financial numbers shown are so general that they could encompass just about anything.

    We need real specifics before we provide a handout. To be a going organization of this size, we need accountability.

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    • Grass Skirt Vegas says:

      “Radical Transparency” is NOT one of the ten principles. It is a famous principle, but it comes from a hedge fund billionaire (Ray Dalio), not from any of our folks.

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    • Nacho says:

      Agreed. I’m not on the “oh no, BM is doomed we all must donate selflessly” train, nor the opposite extreme of “the org is corrupted and evil” train either.

      What’s explained in this post is EXTREMELY vague. At the risk of sounding angry, just produce a god damned balance sheet – is that so hard? Money comes in from certain sources, it goes out to certain sources. Is there a good reason they can’t share that?

      I’m not asking because I don’t believe it’s possible for 2m per month to be a reasonable business expense – maybe it is. But maybe it isn’t – we can’t tell, since we don’t know WHAT these costs are. It seems like a very reasonable task: just describe what the costs are, not with whimsical language but with basic accounting, and we’ll be able to see if donating v. asking for refunds is justified. But from what they’ve published we know jack shit, and the uninformed can’t make informed decisions.

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  • fanman says:

    As one idea, why not do 2021 ticket sales this year, or tie it to a donation, every donation of x$ gets a ticket to 2021…

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  • Mog says:

    One question. This post says “The revenue we generate from ticket sales funds our year-round event production cycle”

    Previous post April 10 says “With your support, we will continue investing in key programs like Burners Without Borders, Fly Ranch, the Regional Network, and our Philosophical Center. We will continue with projects already in motion, including grants to artists, BWB micro grants, and deploying educational leadership content. We also have exciting new projects on the horizon, including publishing a book and launching a cultural magazine.”

    Previous post March 30 said “the Burning Man Project nonprofit organization was established to make Burning Man experiences and values accessible to more people, in more places, more of the time. We are bringing the inspiration, creativity, inclusion, and yes, some of the funds, from Black Rock City out into the world.”

    Are you cutting the other programs or failing to mention them?

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  • What does the rent on the ORG HQ come to ? The electric bill ? Three Hugh stories in The City could be swapped for a warehouse in Oakland.

    We are all aware that hard times have fallen on the Event. Patrician office space is inappropriate on plebeian cash flow. Rent or jobs ?

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  • farty mc playaface says:

    The BM org tries to raise 20M+ in financing, with a document like this as their all-in-one business plan and investor’s presentation. Every startup asking for 100k with such documents would be shown the door.

    I think in order to raise this kind of money:
    – the breakdown of financials needs to be way more specific
    – transparency needs to be an overall KPI for all future business of running the org
    – all cost must be re-evaluated

    Overall to me it seems the org just had plenty money so they spent it – nothing wrong with that. This is the first time they actually have to work efficiently and they are totally incapable of doing so.

    Current reactions are:
    – no transparency at all (other than a few slides in the zoom call and the picture up there)
    – no early staff cuts, cost cuts, salary cuts, it seems they are waiting it out
    – no crisis management that is adequate for the amount of money we are talking about

    I really hope that some rich plug and play campers had their burn fucked enough to just drop shitloads of money. That way at least apparent incompetency in transparency can continue post-corona.

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    • Marian says:

      We have laid off 44 people temporary seasonal and full time. We are reducing salaries at 20%, 15% and 10% starting with the top. It is impossible to bring BRC back in 2021 or whenever we can without keeping some framework of the Project alive. There is enough work to keep most of us very very busy on a fallow year to then pivot into BRC 2021. It’s only 7 months until December when we start up again. We have been working on BRC for 5 months. The money has been spent to produce and event now cancelled. We appreciate those who see the opportunity to help. Thank you. This is about people. That’s the whole goal. Taking care of the community is part of what we do. Connecting people to one another and resources is what we do. Getting ready to welcome people into Black Rock City or supporting community requests from other events is part of what we do.

      We are public servants for Burning Man. We are people working to make change in the world.

      We will be having a fundraiser next. We felt this was the priority first. Make the donation and refund options of current ticket holders happen first. The fundraising will openly commence in the next 2 weeks.

      I was raised Catholic. I was taught that no matter what I had in my pocket a little bit went into the basket as it was passed around on Sunday. My father watched to make sure each of the 4 daughters put something in. We received an allowance for doing chores around the house. So as soon as you were old enough for chores and allowance you learned about supporting the community. 10cents was considered something. We gave what we could because it was the right thing to do.

      Thank you for the love. We are sorry we don’t have all the answers. We are all doing our best in this time of stress. I am grateful for Burning Man. It has given me the tools to survive in a time of uncertainty.

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      • Mark says:

        Thank you for that comment
        You’re in a tough position, along with a lot of other people

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      • religiousquestions says:

        I’m not sure I get this anecdote.

        Are you saying donating ticket refund money to Burning Man Project is to putting money in a passed basket in the Catholic Church?

        Or are you saying, a salary cut for BMP leadership is tithing similar to money in the basket?

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      • Truthsayer says:

        When are you going to realize your words ring flat unless backed up by provable facts? You need to cut a LOT more fat. Year round employee fat. Why are you paying someone who works 20 hours a week a salary of more than $145,000? An employee working 17.5 hours get paid over $90,000! (Neither of these employees lives in the bay area – they live in Gerlach.) How in the world is that ok.? You are CONSISTENTLY paying people in the 75-90 percentile FOR THE BAY AREA and asking the community to bail you out? Nonsense, Marian.

        Saying Burning Man Project employees who throw a big party in the desert are “People working to make a change in the world” is a real slap in the face to people who spend their days helping people who cannot feed their children, people without access to clean water and sanitation, people imprisoned for their beliefs.

        As someone who was raised Catholic, I find your blind loyalty to the annual event troublesome, selfish and nearsighted. The annual event needs to come to an end. Period. The world will survive without dirt raves.

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      • Veritas says:


        Any chance y’all would sell 2021 tickets now? I’m lucky not to have been affected by the pandemic. I’d be willing to buy 2 tickets and a vehicle pass now for 2021. Thanks you for all your work.

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      • Nigel says:

        Marian, thanks for the comment, but please put yourself in our shoes: If someone was asking you for millions of dollars in donations, don’t you think you’d want to see the books first? Yes, we want to see many more details about the budget cuts. We’d like to know what all the top salaries are now, including yours. We want to know whether or not you’re still paying $100K/month for the SF office. We want to know WHAT you’re planning on spending $2m/month on for the rest of the year when you’re not putting on the event. THEN we can consider donating to your company. (Please, it’s NOT a community. You own it. We pay for it.)

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      • Luther says:

        Sticking on the Catholic theme, CEO Marian, it’s like if the Pope and the high ranks of the Church beg for money while keeping all their expensive assets and their golden garnments on.
        A community doesn’t need the Vatican for praying.
        A community doesn’t need a Pope or archbishops to make a change in the world.
        A community is built by principles, not by organizations.

        The Man burns, but the principles stay. Looking forward to welcome you to Burning Man 2021 or whatever the Community will create.

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      • Jef says:

        Why I will request my full refund and donate that money to people that need it most.

        There is absolutely no certainty Burning Man will happen in 2021 or ever again for that matter, (I call it Burning Man and not Black Rock City because labeling it that way is misleading). If I believe there will be no Burning Man then why would I subsidize the Org when my money could go to people in immediate need to get food or healthcare etc. the world is filled with people in need more than the Org staff.

        Let the Org try to save the day and make the necessary sacrifices that will make us Burner want to help them instead of guilting us into donating, here are my propositions:

        – Exit the SF offices and work from home until the storm is over then move to a much cheaper location
        – Have Management give up 90% of their salary and let them take paying gigs in the default economy (they may make more money), if no one there wants to hire them then maybe they weren’t as mission critical as you think they were, you have 100000 burners that would quit their jobs to work for the ORG…
        – Furlough the entire workforce that is not working towards getting money back from vendors or processing refunds
        – Re-hire them as unpaid volunteers to work on the other non financially viable initiatives
        – Maintain everyone’s health insurance plan until they have found another position

        Our family is the Burner family, the best way to see Burning Man happen is not keep 60 full staff in SF doing god knows what in the multiverse, what is best is save money until you know there can be a Burning Man in 2021, and we won’t know that before flu season next year!
        And no one care if we have a less well planned Burning Man, with less vendors, less bike, less grants, less ice, less coffee, less gate people, less paid staff … They were able to organize much better with far less in the 2000s Everybody agrees to it. Then you can always double the OSS fees, charge the vendors that rent big stretch tent to Plug and play camps to name just them! There are always way to make money.

        But donating your 2020 ticket and not make structural changes in the Org is a moral hazard

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    • Rite on! Sad, yet true. The BM.org needs a superior biz plan for a next-gen org leading the Way to a next-gen civilization, ecotopia.
      Our choice: ether ecotopia starting Now, or doomed dystopia by 2040 if not sooner.
      I’m tracking the real data daily. The change is getting way worse way faster than most ‘experts’ & media wonks BS announcements.

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  • Vic Stevens says:

    In my opinion, the Burning Man organization does a good job organizing and managing the event in the desert. They have a staff of highly experienced, highly skilled professionals, and it would be very difficult to impossible to maintain our event without them. Having said that, they could do a better job communicating with those of us who make it happen – theme camps, artists, service camps, and other volunteers. I am impressed that all staff members are taking a pay cut, but I would like to see greater acknowledgement of the essential, bedrock contributions of the BRC camps and less attention to “spreading the word”. With the survival of Burning Man in question, I would like to see support for BRC as the first priority. I am not saying that the management does not care about the BRC camps, but I don’t want them to lose track of the reality that we are the creative and financial engine that powers Burning Man.

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  • G-Bear says:

    Many great comments, some even very helpful to the management team. Running a non-profit is tough enough even in the best of times and when the SHTF, it can quickly become next to impossible and all too often results in the organization having to ‘metamorphosis’ into a different structure better able to withstand the vagaries of life like pandemics. While I love the BRC ‘grand event’ emphasis, maybe it’s time to consider restructuring to better-supporting regionals…spreading the word even more. As for selling tickets today for 2021, very good thought but that assumes we won’t be in the same position next year…at least at this point, it looks like we’re in for at least a few years of dealing with COVID-19. Meanwhile, all of us should thoroughly read the 2018 Form-990 and Annual Report.

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    • Thanks G-Bear – I concur, yet suggest making it easier, sooner & more all-inclusive.
      The magic & community are definitely at or very near critical-mass for initiating a new, all-inclusive, expansive Gifting+Sharing culture, i.e., fair trade, fair exchanges, no profit, no debt, no interest, no taxes, no parasitic politics.
      In other words, we establish a bioethical, AI-enhanced, steady-state ecotopian economy with a stable-coin + nonprofit credit system.
      The BM.org is clearly capable of starting a digital BRC Bank & co-sponsoring an Ecotopian Community Credit Union + global credit exchange.
      I’ll be glad to help, pro bono.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Thank you for the transparency. The Burning Man community, worldwide, needs trust to bounce back even more incredible post-pandemic.

    Suggest projecting your charts through March 2021. A December 2020 FOMO and February-March DGS includes cash flow that would have to be dedicated to the 2021 event beyond staff.

    Having been through for-profit layoffs, I understand the impact on staff culture. BMORG has a large network to help those staff on their journey to new employment.

    BWB, Fly Ranch, and the Regionals are essential and cost little. Burning Man is much more than an August campout in Gerlach.

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  • ACfromSAC says:

    This (COVID-19) is obviously a VERY unforeseen circumstance. I’m sure we’ve all seen plenty on social media recently about supporting your favorite local eatery while things are shut down. That type of thing will be roaring BIG time once the economy opens back up, and it’s totally valid. I’ve been ordering take out from local restaurants I love because I want them to survive & stay in business. The same notion applies to Burning Man. I’m not asking restaurants to crack open the books so I can evaluate their spending habits & whether I approve of salaries or rent. I love their food, I want them to stick around, so I’m doing what I can because I’m down for the cause. I trust that they’re responsible enough to make the tough decisions required to stay in business.

    I make the medium bucks & don’t have thousands to donate, but I will donate what I can to the org when fundraising kicks off because I love Burning Man. I love my one week per year neighbors, I love packing for the burn, I love planning for the burn, I love driving to and from the burn, I love making the turn off of the paved road onto the playa, I love the music, the laser and the FIRE! Feel the same way? Donate. Donate whatever you can because you want TTITD to stick around for the long haul.

    Also: Donate so the org doesn’t have to rely too heavily on BRC’s wealthy tourists who fly in for the weekend. I hate the airport & I hate plug n’ plays. Don’t let the fundraising opportunity give more influence to the rich weekend spectators. Make Burning Man hard again.

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  • corbin says:

    Where does this ~$1.5 – $2.0 million of monthly expenses go?

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    • Maple says:

      It goes to their wild pursuit to change the world based on their ideology(ies), ie the Bigger Picture that includes everything that is not specifically about throwing the party in the desert. A lot of cronyism. A lot of cronyism. A lot of cronyism that results in mismanaged deals and contracts and kickbacks, and other extravagances.

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  • Peace says:

    Keep up the good fight. Tell those silicon valley guys, with the pay and play camps, we will suspend bitching about them for one year if they rummage through their couches and come up with enough money to get through this year. They’ll never get a better offer.

    I can’t give much but I will give and I encourage others, for whom BRC is the only home we feel comfortable in, to do the same. Keep on trucking…

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  • Rautamies says:

    I will definitely donate – I just wish there was a breakdown how the monthly expenses are $2.5 million / month AFTER cutting expenses. If it seemed justified, I’d give more. I’ll still donate regardless. Just debating how much – after all I’ve spent around $6,000 on BM tickets in the past already.

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  • Perturbed & Dazed says:

    Here’s one perfect illustration of why the majority of comments here call for a directional change in Borg’s finances:

    Borg invited us all to pay upwards of $3850 to attend their visioning retreat in Big Sur at Esalen, the gold standard for washed-up overpriced has-been elitist bunk. A dear friend, who breaks his ass and spent his 401k funding art cars and theme camps, almost signed up. Thank god I talked some sense into him.

    Any organization that seriously thinks it’s in any way appropriate to host “visioning” retreats outside the financial reach of 90% of their “community”, is seriously out of touch. Nuff said? Maybe not.

    Have y’all ever seen artists crawling out of Artery at the end of a Burn? The world’s most exhausted, over-worked, half broken beautiful souls you can imagine. I’ve been among those artists paying for installations out of my own pocket so Borg can sell tickets that pay for their bloated top-tier salaries (and posh retreats).

    It’s a shame how little of that $47 million goes to fund art. Seriously. Shame on you.

    Shame on you for hosting retreats at Esalen, a grotesquely over-priced wanna-be badge of authenticity. The folks who created that place’s reputation would be disgusted with what it’s become today. That Borg can’t see this, doesn’t understand it, screams volumes.

    I want real accountability in how the organizational funds are spent. Sorry, your pie chart is a joke and insult to the worker bees on whose backs your party runs. Form 990 gives little true insight or detail. We’ve all filled out tax forms, we know how it goes.

    It’s unconscionable the squalor in which DPW and other post-event workers live in Gerlach after the event. Provide decent housing and sanitation for your workers!

    You want contributions. So let’s have some real transparency. And let’s talk about the class system within Burning Man, push all the 10-principles mumbo jumbo aside. I’ve given of myself freely in potlatch communities and collectives all over the world. Borg didn’t invent those wheels. Prove you’re not hijacking those ideas as ideological bait to justify abusing folks down at the bottom of your dusty pyramid.

    Why so much antipathy in this comment thread? The Esalen retreat spells it out clearly.

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  • pearlsnaps says:

    We will be donating!

    See you in 2021!

    Black Rock City is the crucible of the culture!
    So very happy to read this message of continuity! Gratitude for the transparency and there is much work to be done!

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  • Concerned Citizen says:

    I too am curious about the breakdown of the approximately $2.5 million in monthly operating costs.

    Looking at the 2018 expenses, if you add up 100% of payroll, occupancy, grants, payroll taxes, materials & office supplies, and contractors, you end up with about $29.23 million, for a grand total of $2.44 million per month.

    I assume that many of those costs will be reduced during a non-event year, due to reductions in seasonal staff, office materials, contractor payments, and the salary cuts discussed in the post. So I think it is reasonable for many of us to wonder why the bill for May – December is still so large. Any enlightenment would be much appreciated!

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    • Kilroy says:

      That kind of overhead is fine if the company wasn’t asking for charitable donations. This company is not a charity. Any charity with an overhead over 10% is borderline mismanaged. The entire Black Rock Arts Foundation is less than one month’s overhead.

      To say $10 million is not enough for the company to keep its lights on one year while NOT producing the event shows laughable mismanagement. But to ask for charity beyond that, to compete for a chunk of the extra money people have to donate to charities, is disgusting.

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  • Jason says:

    So many armchair quarterbacks in this thread.

    People who think that the hundred+ person organizations can just pick up and move to cheaper rent at the drop of a hat, as if leases were unenforceable and staff are expendable.

    People who complain about 30+ year C suite veterans of one of the most influential events in the world making $200k a year in a city where 23-year-olds with computer science degrees start at that salary and rents for a 1-bedroom apartment are $3k+ a month.

    People who look back at the 2010 org and say “we could do it then with that income, do it now,” as if the overhead, infrastructure, insurance, and staff costs, not to mention inflation, haven’t grown exponentially over the last decade.

    People who haven’t contributed a dime to the nonprofit beyond their past ticket sales demanding a detailed accounting of the org’s finances.

    Get a grip, people. $2M a month for 128 full time staff, health insurance, payroll taxes, benefits, plus the costs of electricity, internet, office space, etc., for an organization that by necessity needs to maintain operations in SF, Reno, and Gerlach is dirt cheap. The org’s staff and leadership are all – every one of them – underpaid in relation to their worth in the private sector. If they were paid what they are worth tickets would be 50% more.

    As for real estate, the org is not and never has been in a position to leave their home in SF. Burning Man is a creation of and reflection of San Francisco, and the people who work there choose to live in San Francisco. You can’t just up and move 100+ people to some other locale to save money. People will bail, and their expertise is not a commodity. And remember, these people are working at a discount because they love the event, so even if they are in a position to be replaced, their replacement would likely cost more, not less.

    I know people don’t want to believe it, but running a 70,000 person event in extreme conditions is exceedingly difficult, And difficult challenges are expensive to solve. So if you want to keep going to your desert rave in the future, accept that the org has certain budgetary challenges and find a way to support them.

    If you are OK with them closing down forever, then by all means keep nitpicking about their office rents and second guessing their salaries instead of offering your emotional and financial support. It is the surest way to kill the event.

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    • Mark says:

      Great Comment!
      Plenty of people have had to take an involuntary pay cut, but I haven’t heard of anyone giving themselves a voluntary pay cut. That speaks a lot. Particularly since with their experience most of the BM staff could be making real dough if they wanted to.
      At some point you have to give people the benefit of the doubt, else you never get anywhere.

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    • Sparkle donkey says:

      If the people that are holding the bag here weren’t the people that also make the event happen with no compensation at all, you might even have a valid point.

      BMP has never been cost constrained and it shows. Continual guilt trips about your belt tightening measures to a community of which 20% of all people are already not working is tone deaf in a way only BMP could be.

      None of this still justifies delaying refunds and kicking extra money to processors so they can get their money first and then using dark patterns and defaulting to donate the entire ticket price to trick people into donating more than they intended to.

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    • Nigel says:

      Marc, I agree that $2M/month for 128 employees is reasonable. The point is this: If the event is not happening, WHY in god’s name do there need to be 128 employees? I’m friends with many of them, but in all honesty they won’t have much to do this year. Give them unpaid sabaticals, get out of the $1.2M/year office lease and go lean for the rest of the year. (And in 2021 consider moving the office to a less-exorbitant city.) THEN folks will be willing to donate.

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      • Peace says:

        You would have a point if the event were going to be canceled forever or even a few years. Right now the plan is to hold the event in 2021. If they were to let everyone go who doesn’t have enough work to do right now, the cost of recruiting for those positions, retraining people, the loss of institutional memory would be more than you would save by keeping people on the payroll.

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    • Tad says:

      org is not and never has been in a position to leave their home in SF. Burning Man is a creation of and reflection of San Francisco, and the people who work there choose to live in San Francisco. You can’t just up and move 100+ people to some other locale to save money. HORSESHIT.With teleworking and remote virtual meetings and internet it could be located anywhere. The staff doesn’t want to move or commute. So force them to or hire new staff.

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    • Andrew Calo says:

      “So if you want to keep going to your desert rave in the future”


      “Don’t ask questions. You’re getting a commodity dirt cheap.”


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    • Mark says:

      I think the obvious thing here is that people are just taken aback at the bloat of the administration. It looks like about a $2.2 million per MONTH burn rate. With 118 employees … that’s an annual cost of $224,000 per person. And some of these people are part time.

      There is staggering inefficiency in this organization. I’m thinking that most of the people on the payroll are probably a large friend group and the kids of this friend group.

      Some of the salaries seem verrrry generous for the work described. And yeah I know how these things work, I have an MBA (one that was really competitive and hard to get in to, not a diploma mill) and run a small business.

      Most of the hardcore burner community are not super well off. You’re asking them to basically pay the salaries of people that are sometimes making 3 times what they are for —checks notes— working 20 hours a week for $90k. Also, a lot of the budget categories are CLEARLY slush.

      BM offers a very small, token amount of low income tickets. Since starting to sell out they’ve been less than shy about charging top dollar for tickets and for “vehicle passes” which is just a way to pad revenues without increasing the actual face value of main sale tickets beyond price/demand inelasticity. Notice no one gets all “money ain’t no thing, mayyyn!” When they’re asking for your money—in good times or now. Only when you ask things in return.

      So yeah if someone who makes $36k a year and spends $650 just on a ticket is asked to donate their ticket cost and they respond with, wait, let’s see some more data, you’re really going to say “no, f you?” Sooo out of touch.

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      • Seemore says:

        It’s a form of embezzling, but instead of one person stealing the money, it’s over 100 people. And the company gets to keep its nonprofit status and the illusion that they’re reinvesting.

        60% of the ticket sales goes to fund The Mission and not the actual event. The Mission is to spread the culture. What exactly is the culture that needs to be spread to the tune of about $30 million a year? Following the 10 Principles? Clean up after yourself and give out gifts… doesn’t seem like the basis for an entire culture. Whatever they’re doing in spreading the culture (however vague) is rooted in collective ideology. What ideology? If I donate to the furthering of this ideology does that mean I share the same ideology? How can I share in that when I don’t even know what it is? It just wants money, and a lot of it.

        There’s a lot of diversity of thought and beliefs among Burners. The only thing that is generally agreed upon is the 10 Principles. Fine, $30 million a year to teach cleaning up and gifting and radical this and that. Hmm… How about just throwing the damn party? Ditch the nonprofit Mission and stop trying to change the world. Give the $30 million to charity or reduce the price of tickets.

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  • JustSayen says:

    You’re still doing it wrong.

    Let me start by saying I commend the progress BMP has made in acknowledging that not everyone has disposable income to be spent on tickets and some of us “need that money”.

    I do wish the org would be less dramatic and more transparent with your community – you know, the one that makes all the HQ jobs possible – regarding your expenses and blithely say you’re laying people off when in fact, there have been no layoffs, at least not of any of the (well-paid) full-time HQ staff. Why do you keep mentioning it? It’s a really shitty thing to say as a threat when so many of us HAVE been laid off.

    It’s also downright silly to refer to everyone as “specialized public servants”. They aren’t. They are employees. Some with excellent credentials, some not so much. All may be valuable but please don’t act like EVERYONE who works at Burning Man is a specialist. Such dramatic, self-aggrandizing statements make you look bad. Please stop. It’s not a good look on you. And the worldwide Burning Man community knows better. You need to stop defending your BLOATED nonprofit salaries.

    All of this is to say that after years of donating to the org, I will not be donating money directly to Burning Man now or in the foreseeable future. I will instead use my money to support some of the now-unemployed 1100 paid event staff, the people who really need our support right now. #dpw

    Now is a time to reconsider how we live, how we share (and don’t share) and how we operate, individually and collectively. Hopefully, the paradigms of inequality and capitalism will be reconsidered and things will shift toward equality and compassion.

    I sincerely wish the Burning Man Project would take this time – time usually spent creating the annual event – to rethink the way you’re organized and create a more sustainable organization, one that has a plan for how to spread the Burning Man principles/ethos without hosting a wasteful white people party where millions of disposable dollars are spent by the org and Burners for a single week in the desert. (Oh, but the memories, oh! But the change it creates back in the default world! Bullshit. Elitism at its ugliest.)

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  • MatterOfFact says:

    I am kinda shocked at how many people (burners, nonetheless) apparently fall back into deeply ingrained capitalist reflexes when faced with the numbers that anything as big as BM is brings with it. Seriously, you want the Org to be leaner than a tech startup? You want to be part of a better future, yet bring the worst part of the bad present as an argument? You see that people have fallen on hard times, so you demand BM lay off more people so they have hard times too?
    If you seriously want a more equal, less commodified, less monetized BRC in the future (as I deeply do), now’s your time to get involved. Take action, talk to people, get in touch with a regional burn – make a donation if you can, but also try to understand what goes into building BRC, and if you think you can do a better job, do it. I hope you do, because I want a BRC to return to in 2021, and I want this crisis to be the shock that makes society wake up to the fact that the human interaction is the most important value there can ever be.

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  • Westopher says:

    Well, if there’s not enough money to put on BRC 2021, at least we’ll have the Fly Ranch!!!

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  • Doug says:

    I find the lack of transparency appalling. It reminds me of those corporations where the CEOs drive the company into the ground, just to keep up their inflated salaries for as long as possible and keep their golden parachutes funded. They also use vague financial figures to hide all the rot. Then when they collapse, everyone is befuddled by how this could have happened. I don’t know if that is the situation here, but the obvious obscuring of the financial picture, as has been done, does not promote a feeling of trustworthiness.

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  • Factoid says:

    I understand, in one of the early years on the playa, that the org was worried about money. They offered, for a premium price, ‘golden tickets’ that got you admittance to the event, in perpetuity, without having to pay again. I met a couple on the playa one year who actually had done this. What if the org were willing to sell, in perpetuity, automatic admittance into the event for an appropriate price but the recipients would have to still purchase a ticket each year they wanted to attend. The org would essentially be selling a guaranteed opportunity to purchase a ticket any year in the future. This way they would make extra money now and still not be out any money because of it in the future.

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  • Ryan says:

    Why don’t you sell Fly Ranch? Didn’t that cost like $12 mill? And you can’t even use it for burner type events, because of the hot springs…

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    • Peace says:

      I would suspect, since the money came from donors, they don’t actually have the option to sell Fly ranch. There would be a donor agreement preventing that. It could also be seen as fraud.

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  • Slinger Brown says:

    Party is over People. We were on the gravy train, in general, for almost 20yrs. Mother Nature decided we needed to learn our lesson the HARD WAY.

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  • Rocky says:

    More transparency will inevitably cause more discussions and many unfair comments. However it would prevent conspiracy theories and some negative opinions about things like 990 form from people that never bothered to search for it and look at it. Put the numbers up and show exactly how YOU are contributing. Then ask people do the same. Give clear ways to contribute. Make it easy an definitely not just “don’t ask for refund” or “Donate Here” payment link. Try getting smaller contributions from more people rather than fewer large ones in return for some perks for Plug & Play camps. Perks for large donors may not be visible to an average burner like myself but it will be felt and will change the burn for the worse over time. I wish ORG the best getting this right.

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  • Perturbed and Dazed says:

    I read the 990 form and agree with people who are requesting greatly transparency. Case in point. How much money did the organization spend for the 2019 retreat for managerial staff at Esalen? I was told the organization paid for more than 80 people to attend that retreat. Esalen’s prices are extremely high and certainly out of reach for the vast majority of people who build Black Rock City with no monetary compensation. Which line item in form 990 shows the expenditure? Better yet, please tell us how how much that event cost the organization. That level of transparency would go a long way towards addressing concerns being voiced in this page’s comments.

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  • SinglePly says:

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the most optimistic estimates I have seen show that a vaccine for the coronavirus will not be available for distribution until the last half of 2021. And then the vaccine would need to be administered to 7.8 billion people worldwide and that would take several months to complete.

    I think that Burring Man will not take place in 2021 and you will not earn new ticket revenues until the fall of 2021 or spring of 2022, or after you are sure you can produce the next event. In the mean time I hope you can raise enough money in donations to get through until 2022. If not, then my two cents of advice is you need to shut-down, go dormant, and then find the people and money to reinvent Burning Man after we are inoculated from the virus.

    There was an informative article about potential vaccine development timelines in the New York Times this week:

    How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?
    By Stuart A. Thompson
    New York Times – APRIL 30, 2020

    You can click on my name to link to the article.

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  • eagle says:

    Refund the money or rollover the tickets until next year. That’s just common sense. Stop begging.

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  • David says:

    Change is afoot. Having personally been through the process of involuntary major change more than once, I offer my 2 cents. Oddly enough, those persons deeply entrenched in the upper echelons of running the org are least able to see what is needed here, through no fault of their own. You are used to moving mountains to keep the event going, and are battle hardened. While this focused passion is hugely valuable, normally, this mindset can’t help but have a narrowing effect on perspective and judgement. When money is plentiful, projects are started, funded and staffed. When a major funding shock such as now happens, it is nearly impossible to navigate without stepping way, way back. Our community is strong, large, and well connected. If operations went to zero, or very close to it, until the event were able to happen again, it would survive. Not that the interim would not be painful, it will be. Some staff will be permanently lost. However, new people with new energy will step forward when the time comes. The projects, overhead and costs are not affordable in the current circumstances. Having a pause, with a virtual stop of expenditures would be a first stage. After several months of that, you will be surprised to see that people’s definitions of “essential” expenses to the future of BM will start to shift, and for the better. The diversity of projects are all well and good while funding exists for all of them, but this process of winter and seeming death, the shedding of old tired branches and the drawing inward of energies, will be followed by a spring, where new, pared down growth shoots, fresh with new life can emerge. The key focus should be on the long term survival and flourishing of the organization. Once everyone in charge can completely let go of their commitment to the status quo and their budgets, after everyone has given up on it having to be their way, a much smaller, more focused and much more powerful organization can emerge. This process is a part of life. We need to trust that pruning, even cataclysmic systemic failure is a part of the life cycle, and is necessary for a healthy ecosystem, society or organization. Our commitment to, and love for this project is so much larger. Let’s end all of the overhead, except for what is necessary to process refunds and maintain communications networks, and the most critical of basic systems at the ready for the next event. While going through such a process can feel terrible, and in the moment, seems like clearly the wrong thing, after time passes, in retrospect, it is always for the better.

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    • ptptptptpt says:

      thank you for your comment!

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    • Nigel says:

      Very well said! My only disagreement is that I do not think it “odd” that people in the trenches are the least able to have a good perspective. It is almost always that way in any organization. Burning Man must prune down now for that burst of spring growth. (Like not spending $2M/month while putting on no event.)

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    • SinglePly says:

      Thank you for your comment, “Let’s end all of the overhead, except for what is necessary to process refunds and maintain communications networks, and the most critical of basic systems at the ready for the next event.”

      The Burning Man Project is planning on spending more than $2,000,000 per month into the foreseeable future while not producing Burning Man! That means to me that the only way the Project can bring in that kind of donation cash is to finally, totally, and completely sellout to oligarch billionaires. The oligarchs have been gunning to trash Burning Man for years because that’s what they do to everything they perceive as valuable to their perverted egos.


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  • grossepieuvre says:

    20%, 15% and 10% salary cut is not enough

    why not cut 50% at least?

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  • Nigel says:

    I just went to the form to ask for a ticket refund. In order to get it, one has to agree to a long set of legal terms, including:
    “You represent and warrant that you are authorized to submit this request and that you have not initiated and will not initiate any chargeback proceeding related to your order through your bank or credit card issuer.
    This webpage is provided on an “as-is” and “AS-AVAILABLE” basis. Burning Man Project disclaims all warranties, express or implied, including any implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Burning Man Project is not liable for any damages of any kind arising from the use of this webpage or the processing of your request, including without limitation, direct, indirect, incidental, or punitive and consequential damages.”

    So… BMORG says “trust us! trust us!” but asks us to sign a legal document that completely gives away any and all rights. Sounds like BMORG does not trust burners to not sue…

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  • Fluffy says:

    I like the Catholic Church analogy. It’s a lot like that except Jesus died for our sins, and by giving money to the Church we’re saying, ‘Thank you!’ to God, and that we’re really really sorry about the whole apple thing and give us eternal life.

    So in giving a few C-notes to the BMP we need something similar to that. We need the story about The Suffering, beyond “We had to layoff a bunch of our friends making sweet 6 figures with big job titles and few responsibilities.” (They’ll still be able to afford their $5 lattes every morning). Think, Passion of the Christ style ouchy…

    Then we need our sins, a modern day ‘sorry about the apples’ story that ties-in with The Suffering. How are these two stories connected? We need to know how it’s our fault, how BMP fixed it (very painfully), and then we’ll feel good about putting cash on the plate. And since you can’t promise Heaven we’ll need something else in return for the cash – some kind of financial interest, like shares that can be resold.

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    • Fluffy says:

      …Or voting rights, some kind of veto power over the kind of shenanigans that were allowed to fester to the point of blowing almost $3 million a month out of your assholes. Our Lord can’t spend money like a drug lord, anymore.

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  • ToldYaSo says:

    People purchased tickets to attend the physical event. Now BMP is telling folks they need that money to do other stuff (BWB, etc), not related to the event. That is fraud. You cancel the event, you refund the money. The apparent inability of the BMP to properly manage it’s ample funds is not anyone else’s problem. That it took this long for a substantial number of burners to begin to approach a wake up call about this financial dubiousness is amazing. (I stopped attending for this reason, but still know people who subject themselves to this financial joke.)

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    • Ringo says:

      Being a nonprofit, BMP needs a public mission to qualify for that status. Being a nonprofit basically just provides tax breaks and other perks, but they have to stick to the mission. Throwing a big party in the desert (by itself) doesn’t qualify, hence the whole ‘we’e changing the world’ mission.

      I don’t have the exact numbers, but throwing the actual event costs about $15+ million. The company’s revenue is more than twice that. There’s no rule that says a nonprofit can’t make and save profits. So rather than having simply saved just $5 million a year for a healthy rainy day fund, they spent almost all of their additional revenue each year on the ‘mission to change the world’, with relatively little savings to get them over the seasonal hump between ticket sales.

      So rather than admitting they were fiscally irresponsible, which at least would be a start at displaying some humility, they go into full begging mode, salt-of-the-earth we’re all in this together in these uncertain times we love you all so much don’t ask for a refund please, or else this is all your fault

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      • Perturbed and Dazed says:

        The money was spent much more recklessly than on saving the world. Last year, Borg spent undisclosed buckets of money on a “visioning” retreat at Esalen for 80 (yes, that’s right) managerial workers. Esalen. Do you have any idea how much that place charges to host functions? It’s the gold standard for gold standard for washed-up overpriced has-been elitist bunk; the people who created Esalen’s culture and reputation would turn over in their graves to see what it’s become. I have no doubt some of the people angry on this page, like me, have busted their humps building BRC for zero compensation, and are rightfully outraged at how the ticket proceeds they made possible have been squandered.

        Marian Goodell: I’d really like an answer. How much $$$ did Borg spend on the 2019 visioning retreat(s) held at Esalen. Second time asking.

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    • ToldYaSo says:

      I said “problem”, but I meant fault. Its not anyone else’s fault. So don’t give them money. It’s their mess, let them lie in it.

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  • david wiles says:

    It really seems like quite a few 00000 and more money than I would or could imagine it would take to run something that is not going to happen. I am sure the government will have every last nickel of this deal and not have to do anything to earn it. You might consider looking at the contract more carefully in the future to make sure you don’t have to pay them to not do the event.

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  • Kennita W atson says:

    Why does Burning Man not have event cancellation insurance?

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  • EW Andrews says:

    It looks like you need $10 million of the $22 million the organization has already collected. That seems doable, but this article doesn’t suggest any such scenario. Instead, the article is asking for any and all to contribute by painting the various disaster scenarios.

    Also, I think, after seeing salaries on the 990, you could dig a little deeper.

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    • ToldYaSo says:

      They don’t want to dig deeper. And they won’t have to, as long as people are willing to fund their lifestyle (I mean “donate”). This whole situation is pretty obvious. How long are people willing to feed this hungry beast that is BMP?

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  • Mr. Nobody says:

    The majority of community seems to be speaking for more transparency before they’ll donate money. – clearly the BM.ORG is making a tone deaf ask of the community – while hiding their managerial & financial indiscretions under a fig leaf. I tend to agree with most of the critics. The sale of the for-profit Burning Man Org by it’s stake holders for an undisclosed amount to the nonprofit Burning Man Org did not breed a lot of trust. Radical transparency is needed if you want community financial support. Is survival worth being transparent, BORG? What do you fear opening the full books?

    I’d like to know why the BORG didn’t buy an insurance policy for such a reasonably forceable incident? Yes – it would have cost a lot of money that could have been spent on perks, but then you wouldn’t be in this boat now, would you?

    I don’t know why you didn’t let our current tickets roll over to the next year. I would suggest you consider selling a “forever ticket” now – one that gets you in any year in the future. I can’t tell you how much agonizing fear and stress has been caused by your tickets being a three minute web lottery where only 1/100 get tickets. For those who feel they -must- go to the Burn for personally emotional reasons, but can’t afford to buy a $1,200 ticket from Craigslist or the BORG – it would be a lifesaver to be able to hold onto and use that year all ticket options have failed.

    Most importantly though – until and unless the BOARD of directors of the Burning Man Nonprofit becomes an ELECTED BODY – elected by burners who buy tickets – I would never donate a dime.

    I have seen too many amazing nonprofits destroyed by cronyism and decay on the board, and by boards who answer to no-one or answer to the organizations executives rather than members.

    If we the Burners could vote for and control the Burn Board – and we were unhappy how the Burn was run – how untransparently and insider-cronily and sloppily – we could demand -our- board act, and if they didn’t, replace them with Burners who actually represent the principles and the participants interests.

    Of course – it’s not in anybodies natural interest to give up perks and power – including this board. Why would they ever voluntarily give up their unaccountable seats of power? And why would the BORG ever voluntarily want to be accountable and transparent to it’s Burner participants? Well – maybe if they actually believed in the Principles.

    Do you BORG Board members and executive managers believe in the principles? If not – bankruptcy looms. But somehow I think a new Burn would rise out of those ashes just fine. Since the Burn is ultimately the community and not the management.

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    • R2D2 says:

      The Principles are for the little people. I think there are many BM executives who would rather see the company go bankrupt than to let the ticket holders vote on anything. And there lies the dilemma – the executives are not really qualified to do any other job that offers close to their current salary levels, and running BM into the ground won’t look good on anyone’s resume’… The weeping and gnashing of teeth.

      It’s a 50/50 bet whether retirement level embezzling has been going on and the attitude at the top is simply – bail us out or fuck off.

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  • SinglePly says:


    Why is the Burning Man Project suing the B.L.M. to stop the release of ticket sale records? What is Marian Goodell covering up? Why is the Project so secretive and suing to stop transparency?

    See the Reno Gazette April 29 news story (or click on my name): “Burning Man sues BLM to prevent release of financial records that detail ticket strategy”

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    • Yulef Olslom Smythe says:

      I read the 13 page lawsuit the Org filed against the BLM to stop the FOIA release. In the end, they ask for attorney fees and other relief citing the Trade Secrets Act. They say if their competitors get the secret financial data it will destroy Burning Man. Yikes! You sold tickets and people bought them for varying amounts. What could be so damaging? This financial information should already be public, and I thought it was. But now I REALLY want to see it. It’ll probably get leaked anyway, considering the Org’s relationshit with the BLM.

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  • David Qrady says:

    From Marian “additionally we have not received the initial response we had hoped towards donations” no shit.

    I’m continually impressed by how out of touch the org is with their constituents (us!) and their epically awful communication. They haven’t established basic trust (more the opposite, especially around use of funds – even suing to prevent FOIA disclosure!) so why would anyone donate – even as DGS buyers are theoretically the core of the event. The T&Cs for refund “application” – if I was even thinking about donating I sure wouldn’t be after reading that legal CYA – and withholding refund of processing fees and then charging an additional refund processing fee – really? Just do the right thing… But no.

    A real opportunity to build trust and participation off playa is lost.

    How would I fix it? Serious introspection. Basic crisis communication: with honesty. Major board and leadership resignations. Ain’t gonna happen.

    Or: charge the plug and play camps $6k per VIP spectator ticket in advance due now, or they don’t get placed, ever (and get booted if they show up). Won’t make any difference to the mix really – just an admission of the way things are, adding proportional costs.

    Sad that when situation creates needs, the org fails so dramatically.

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  • Mark McCormack says:

    Those that dont want their tickets anymore should be able to put them on STEP to allow them to get their money back. And, this allows for those who would like to purchase a ticket now, and not have to jack with ticket sales next summer. Assuming you will honer this years ticket in 2021.

    This still keeps money in the hands of BM. This is too simple. Stop over thinking what to do on refunds. Plenty of people will purchase those tickets…including me.

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  • grossepieuvre says:

    non-profit but big salaries, cash cow!!

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  • Sam says:

    Our community is strong, large, and well connected. If operations went to zero, or very close to it, until the event were able to happen again, it would survive. Not that the interim would not be painful. Also Read: tutuapp

    Thanks for giving me this information. It is very helpfull for me.

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    • Frank says:

      Where is the community? Reddit? That’s basically it since ePlaya was dismantled years ago. Reddit is a just a groupthink hugbox and not really a community that welcomes different opinions.

      There were attempts in the past to connect to the wider community (when it was a community) to the Org That was called BORG2, and it was shot down quite victoriously by the Org. Those were the years that the community would have shoveled money to the Org in a crisis. But the Org didn’t want that kind of thing because I guess they felt they didn’t need it. And the opinions from the community were rather critical and that bummed them out. Look at the ghost-town ePlaya is now. That’s by design.

      The Org LOVES the idea of that there is some vibrant community of Burners out there with the ‘we’re all in this together’, ‘we are family!’ mindset… while that may have been true in the past, it certainly doesn’t exist today (not in the required numbers) because it was intentionally killed off. That’s why so many DGS ticket holders want their money back – they’ll do their theme camps but they want the firework show on Saturday night and Kumbaya on Sunday night, as promised. That’s the deal.

      So is that the end of Burning Man if they don’t get $10-20 million in donations? Hell fucking no way. BM is a license to print money. They just don’t want to spend their savings, like the rest of us are doing right now (2 sets of rules). 5 people can pay the recurring expenses from their laptops at home, and default on the expenses that can’t be afforded. Then open ticket sales back up whenever next year and they’re back in business.

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  • Dusk Rider says:

    So, thank goodness that it’s all here in this wonderfully extensive thread of diverse opinions and truth-telling. Well done community.
    The harsh but necessary words of those who care enough to ask for true transparency and accountability and a return to the essentials, as well as the hopeful positivity of those who still have a deep and abiding faith in the BMORG (BMP) and trust them to do the right thing for the sake of the entire BRC community.
    The pessimists have stated that perhaps the bloated self-serving unethical house of cards (BMP) is collapsing and will fall in a cloud of playa dust.
    The optimists however, have reacted with their characteristic pro-BMP burner love and a heartfelt “We can do this if we all come together” attitude.
    The folks in between have of course offered up a nice blend of polite but pointed questions with a tone of “We are with you and we understand your position, but…”
    Whatever comes of all this, whether there are no more burns or 20 more, I’m grateful that there has been this outpouring of thoughts, ideas, questions, accusations, support, and snark. If the BMORG (BMP) actually cares to know what the community is thinking and what it’s feeling, there is a healthy representation of that here. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
    If there is a burn in 2021 I’ll see you in the dust, if not, it’s been a good run and I’ll miss BRC and the experiences that can only happen at that unique thing in the desert.

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  • Rev T says:

    What a fantastic affirmation of “who” makes up my neighbors on the Playa (and off). We are all so diverse in our assessment and beliefs….but in at least one way we all are the same…we are burners and have shared one or more years together. My opinions: 1. The salaries were far less (multiples less) than I had anticipated. 2. I would suggest extremely aggressive rent and other expense renegotiations, but under NO CIRCUMSTANCE would be moving our of the heritage center (San Francisca) of the event be on my list. 3. I suggest that most of all this is a cash flow problem….and as problems go, this is a great thing with far more solutions available to ‘resolve’ it. (Mariam, contact me, if you have interest in an ‘interested/disinterested conversation on this critical point with a person who has much large NFP experience) 4. As everything beyond “THE BM” event grew out of this event…it is essential that 100% of the efforts now are focused first, and foremost, on saving the core event….in health terms, it is why in critical life and death situations all energy is focused on saving the vital organs….”THE BURN” is THE vital organ….we can pick up the pieces of the ‘lost organizational limbs’ at a later date assuming we “Save The Man”.

    Disclaimers: a) no I am not from SF nor have I ever lived there; b) 22 years in a row on the Playa; c) like many have expressed, I have witnessed actions and decisions that I did not believe were congruent with the long term future of the THE event. d) no I can not afford it, but I can afford it more than I can afford not to live without visiting my Playa family all together again…a donation will be forthcoming.

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    • Lau says:

      Yes THE MAN is one and only in that special place and time in Nevada, USA. But assuming we do not “Save The Man” I do think that all those others from Berlin to Africa to Honolulu are also interesting. Surely not the same. But live changes. So does BM. I am super interested to see how this plays out.

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  • Sid says:

    Get woke, go broke.

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  • Remember who said that? says:

    Communities are not produced by sentiment or mere goodwill. They grow out of a shared struggle…

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