The (Un)official SaveBRC FAQ

Since Burning Man Project kicked off the Save Black Rock City campaign, seeking grassroots community support to get us back to Black Rock City, it’s been deja vu all over again. As has been the case forEVER:

  1. Burning Man Project does something.
  2. Burning Man Project is accused of nefarious intent, gross incompetence or worse, based on incorrect assumptions about how Burning Man Project’s business is conducted.
  3. What could otherwise have been a productive community conversation devolves into debunking and fact-checking whack-a-mole.

I worked for Burning Man Project for 13 years before I left (more on that below), so I have direct personal experience of this dynamic. But I have a better idea: let’s clear some things up, get on the same page, and then have the conversation. Here’s the deal though: you have to read this post. (It’s not too long, and it’s funny. You can do it.) Sound good? Good. 

I’ve got your Frequently Asked Questions right here:

Q: Who needs Burning Man Project to host a Burning Man event? You guys just put out porta-potties, right? 

A: Have you ever thrown a little kid’s birthday party at your house? You know, for like 10 kids and some parents? Some decorations, activities, a clown, sheet cake, party favors, first aid kit, the works? Seems simple on the face of it, but it’s a ton of planning, stress, ordering, buying, and running around town, and it sucks. Now imagine throwing that same party for 80,000 (also largely unpredictable) people. For a week. Oh, and your house is the surface of the moon. And your house is actively trying to kill your guests. Right, then…

I know this sounds crazy, but it turns out running an 80,000 person event in the middle of the most remote and inhospitable place in the world is a fairly complicated operation, involving long-term advance planning, subject matter experts across a variety of disciplines, and the commitment of a lot of money early in the annual process to lock in things like vendors, rentals (porta potties being just one of many), and (9 different local, state and federal) permits. These things don’t exactly fall out of trees perfectly where they need to land. Black Rock City requires a full-time year-round staff to pull off this annual minor miracle AND a robust seasonal staff as we get closer to the event.

So sure, you can certainly throw a small event that smells something like Burning Man — and if you do, great! Invite me! — without a large year-round operation to support it, but if you want Black Rock City? Well, that requires a monumental year-round lift.

Q: Black Rock City is just a week out of the year. What could you possibly be doing year-round that’s so important?

A: See the part above, about highly-complex, long-term advance planning? Right, that. That’s what it takes to produce an event the size, scale and sheer magnitude of Burning Man… you just can’t spend three months half-assing it and hope it’s going to work. We have 80,000 people going out to the desert, and as an organizing entity we’re essentially responsible for their health and safety (Radical Self-reliance or not, we need to be able to Medevac your ass to Reno when you bust your head open doing something stupid). So yeah, throughout the year, we’re doing all of the things you don’t care to know about (believe me, it’s a lot of spreadsheets) to make the sausage, preparing for you to come to the desert, lose your mind and go berzerker for a week. You’re welcome.

Other than that, we’re responding to a steady stream of requests to support what’s organically happening in the culture, providing facilitation, communication, educational resources, and opportunities for participation and connection, keeping the culture flowing in the community while BRC is dormant. That, and we shifted gears to accommodate our virtual community through culture-bearing platforms like Kindling, podcasts, BMIR programming, and the multiverses. With so much going on around Burning Man culture, there’s a lot to do.

Q: Why don’t you just lay off all those extraneous people from your bloated, overpaid staff?

A: Oh, we did. And it sucked. Because none of ‘em were extraneous, and they are all family. Burning Man Project’s highest earners (leadership, some of the founders, and executive team) took pay cuts, everybody’s stretched thin (#NonProfitLYFE), stressed by having to absorb their former coworkers’ roles, and leveling up to learn new roles. (Like, the team that normally facilitates year-round in person events is now working on digital events… stuff like that.) 

This isn’t an attempt to elicit your sympathy, by the way — everybody’s struggling everywhere, and we’re lucky to have jobs at all — these are just the facts you should know.

Oh, and let’s get clear on this point once and for all, please: our staff is not overpaid by any stretch. Believe it or not, Burning Man Project actually pays in the mid-range for salaries in the Bay Area, where the cost of living is ridiculously high. If you’re looking at those salaries from somewhere Not Bay Area (or NYC or LA), they’ll seem crazy high to you. But if you’re not living in the Bay Area, you’re likely not spending $14 on a sandwich, either (or $2,800 median rent on a 1BR apartment, for that matter). But we are. Welcome to life in the Bay Area! So yeah, our salaries are not anywhere close to out of line, considering we like to, y’know, eat and stuff. 

The other thing that can skew your perception is that only salaries for Burning Man Project’s top earners are published in public disclosures. Only a handful of high-level executives earn those salaries, and they are 100% reasonable, given the roles they play and responsibilities they carry — we frankly wouldn’t be able to retain the talent we need without paying what we do.

Fun Fact: I left Burning Man Project in 2016 because after having my second kid, I couldn’t afford to work there anymore. So let’s not talk about Burning Man Project staff being overpaid, shall we?

Q: Well, why don’t you move out of the Bay Area then, geniuses?

A: That’s a hard one for a number of reasons, including the fact that the great majority of our long-term staff (and their invaluable institutional knowledge) lives in the Bay Area, as do the world’s highest concentration of Burners. 

But we were lucky to get a deal on our headquarters’ office rent, which helped make it possible. In 2018, we opened a Reno office where 14 staff members now work, because it’s closer to the playa, with a large and dynamic Burner community, and the office space is cheaper. And we’ve now expedited the 3-5 year plan we were working on before COVID hit to support a more distributed work model, which helps us hire (and for people to move) outside the Bay Area.

We’re always looking for creative opportunities to save money — as Marian Goodell said, “everything is on the table.” 

Q: Why aren’t you transparent about your finances? What are you hiding? YOU’RE HIDING SOMETHING AREN’T YOU!?!

A: Not sure why’d you think that, because as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we’re legally required to be transparent about our finances, or we lose our nonprofit status. (We’re so transparent, philanthropy.com called Burning Man Project one of the most transparent nonprofits going, so there.) Thing is, a lot of people don’t ever read that stuff, because it’s pretty damn boring (unless you’re really into weird event production and global cultural stewardship). Instead, they jump to conclusions based on their experiences with mainstream corporations who are looking to serve you only inasmuch as they can fleece you, and they paint us with that same brush. Which I get, but c’mon… do the research. 

So if you really want to know about Burning Man’s financial picture, read our Annual Reports and Form 990’s that we send to the government and publish every year, which lay it all out for you to see. You can also see Burning Man Project’s expenses and where your ticket money goes

NOTE: The latest financial information available is from 2018. The 2019 990 will be available toward the end of 2020 (it just takes that long for it all to play out).

So yeah, it’s all out there…  all we ask is that if you’re going to throw around accusations about how we do business (which, have at it), at least learn how we actually do business first? It’ll make for a much less fraught — and likely much shorter — conversation. 

Q: Wait, you idiots didn’t have a financial reserve in case of a rainy day?

A: Oh, we certainly did… $10M worth. And guess what? The last few months were one big fat rainy day. So our reserve was spent to carry us through the summer after we refunded people’s ticket money (huge appreciation to those who donated theirs!), depriving us of our normal annual revenue stream. And let’s all agree this is not a normal year. For anybody.

Also, we think it should actually give you some reassurance that Burning Man Project isn’t sitting on an exorbitant cash pile. That whole “no corporate sponsors” thing? No “pay-to-play?” Yeah, that’s real. It would be way more alarming if Burning Man Project somehow managed to amass bags of cash to simply ride out years of not holding the event. The reality is that ticket sales to Black Rock City are what keep the lights on. No BRC = No Lights On (without your help).  

Q: Fine. Sell Fly Ranch. Problem solved, right?

A: Sadly no. First off, selling Fly would literally take years, we’d take a huge loss on it, and the likely sale price would net us only a fraction of what we need to get through this. More importantly, we see Fly (as Larry did) as a core feature of Burning Man’s future, where we own a piece of land with a year-round creative incubator and arts center, where people can co-create and envision a better, more sustainable future together, year-round. Our back may be up against the wall, but we’re not ready to sacrifice that to survive.

Q: Why can’t Burning Man just continue on without Black Rock City? Who needs it?

A: There’s an argument for that, sure. Burning Man is a culture and a community… a global network and an idea. And while the diaspora is definitely making creative waves of their own with events and activities, that energy and inspiration originated from — and continues to emanate from — the crucible that is Black Rock City. Burning Man culture would certainly continue on without BRC, no doubt, but its potential would be seriously hamstrung without Black Rock City pumping out freshly-dusty, wide-eyed and inspired new Burners into the world. And we happen to think the world needs what comes out of Black Rock City now more than ever. Maybe you think differently, which is fine… just go out there and do something with what you learned at BRC, and make it awesome.

Q: With everything that’s going on in the world, how can you say with a straight face that Black Rock City is a priority right now?

A: When your daily news feed may as well be headlined “What Fresh Hell Today?”, it’s easy to succumb to nihilism and wonder why we’re doing anything at all, really. We’ve all double-checked our priorities this year, for sure. But I think there’s a stronger argument to be made for the connection, creative inspiration, collective action, participation, and innovation that happens in Black Rock City. I mean hell, we practically invented an entirely new sociocultural dynamic with Black Rock City. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the lessons we (all of us, including new Burners) take from BRC are exactly the lessons we need to be taking out into the default world at this moment. Perhaps you think your money is better spent elsewhere? Definitely spend it elsewhere, that’s entirely up to you.

Q: Where do you get the gall to ask us for money, when you’re a multimillion dollar corporation and we can’t pay rent or put food on the table?

A: Absolutely get that. This pandemic has been like a wind-blown wildfire, wiping some folks out clean while sparing others, some of whom are thriving. Our community is made up of people across that spectrum, and in the spirit of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort, this is one of those times we hope to see those blessed with resources support the greater whole. So no, we wouldn’t expect you to prioritize BRC over food on the table. And while it can certainly come off as tone-deaf to even be asking, we have to throw the net wide to find the folks lucky enough to be able to subsidize those who are struggling.

Also (and this is one of the most common misperceptions people have about Burning Man Project), we’re only technically a multi-million dollar company. While we normally bring in (roughly) $43M in ticket revenues every year, we’re a nonprofit, and the great majority of that money goes right back into funding the event (or that rainy day fund we were talking about). Nobody’s sitting on a big pile of cash and rolling around in diamond-encrusted limousines, guys. Here are the numbers, if you don’t believe me.

Q: Why don’t you just get all the plug-and-play billionaires to pony up and be done with it? 

A: We certainly could, and we’re having those conversations. At the same time, Burning Man was built by (wait for it…) participants like YOU. It’s always been YOUR event, which YOU co-created with your best and craziest friends. It’s not Disneyland, ready for you when you get there… you build it, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s as awesome as it is, and why it’s so awesome for YOU. We built it together from the beginning, we build it together today, and we should always build it together, even through times of crisis. 

So sure, somebody with deep pockets could probably dig the change out of their couch cushions and save our skin, and it would be a hell of a lot easier than running a crowdfunding campaign, believe me, but that would be a shameful betrayal of one of our core principles: Participation. So we’re reaching out grassroots style, and rallying the community to, once again, rebuild Black Rock City, as we hope — and expect — to for years to come.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

112 Comments on “The (Un)official SaveBRC FAQ

  • Newsboi says:

    I’m so touched by this thoughtful (and snarky) FAQ. Thank you for setting the record straight while also inviting thoughtful dialogue. Keep on doing what you’re doing Burning Man! The world needs you more now than ever <3

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    • Deborah Castillero says:

      First, I had no idea people were complaining. Awesome answers to these deep rooted questions. Transparency with all the details, there you go. Can’t argue with the facts. A big thanks to everyone who works so hard to make Burning Man happen. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to organize such a massive event. PS – I’m making a donation tonight after reading this.

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      • Prophecy says:

        If you like facts…

        Google:
        If Burning Man Dies, Is There A Will?

        Or check out “my website”

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      • LetThemEatCake says:

        If you have a moment, please google (link or reference to this has been removed by the moderators thus far) “If Burning Man Dies, Is There A Will?”.

        This is a great summary of how many of us are feeling right now about BORG.

        Sorry, I’d put a link if the moderators didn’t keep removing it.

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  • kbot says:

    This is absolutely perfect. Thank you, Will.

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  • Than you for the honest and easy to understand answers I can share with all those noodninks who think BRC happens by magic. With some magic probably but it doesn’t just appear out of thin dust.

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  • John says:

    Will since it has become so hard to get tickets would it be possible for the first 15000 people to apply and pay 100 dollars up front on top of the ticket price and this would guarantee them a ticket. Problem solved

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  • Jayboboy says:

    I’ve been attending on and off since 2006. I’ve only attended 3 out of the last 10 years due to ticket scarcity. Yes, I want the event to continue. But why would I ever contribute if there’s only a small chance I’ll ever get to attend again. I’ve physically and financially supported my local burner community and other worthwhile programs born out of the event. (Burners without Borders). This feels very different.

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    • Mauricio Niello says:

      I agree. I’ve been attending, participating, and creating art for many years until the lottery system was introduced. Since then, I haven’t been able to get tickets once. I could help but I won’t . Nothing has been done to stop scalpers getting tickets and I’m very resentful the organization hasn’t deal with this.

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  • Love this Will! Thank you. It ain’t easy building a city of magic on the moon!

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  • Paulski says:

    Unmm.. you said this post would be short. I feel like I got tricked.

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  • Turbo says:

    I love everything you’re doing. Thanks for the witty and concise faq. Your words made me giggle, provided me with some clarification, and gave me hope. I look forward to when we dance in the dust together once again!

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  • LetThemEatCake says:

    Wow, so many positive comments, is almost as if someone were curating this comment thread… luckily this article has convinced me that Borg is completely transparent and we’re just ungrateful children.

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    • Greg says:

      They’re not just transparent, they’re “so transparent, philanthropy.com called Burning Man Project one of the most transparent nonprofits going, so there.” In fact they’re the best ever. Nobody knows more about transparency than they do. Burning Man Project knows more about transparency than any organization on earth.

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      • Leroy says:

        They have evolved beyond transparent. They are so open about everything they do that the term, open, really needs to be redefined. Never has any organization been so enlightened and brilliant. Even their farts smell like roses, but better.

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    • The Hustler says:

      Some of us actually like Burning Man.

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  • Jennifer Raiser says:

    Will, It is SO GOOD to see your name at the top of this document, and read why BMP is crowdfunding. There are no free burritos. But if we can bring BRC back, there will be joyfully gifted ones. And you know how to stir the pot of (human) beans like no other.

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  • Well said! The threads I see on FB, Reddit, etc. about BM this year remind me *so* much of the interactions I had when I was led the board of a local non-profit art gallery for a few years. People exhibit an astonishing degree of Dunning-Kruger confidence when it comes to the finances, planning, volunteer-wrangling, logistics, etc. that goes into even the *simplest* art exhibition. They also tend to be incredibly magnanimous donating time and money — provided it’s someone *else’s* time and money. Fortunately, the loudest voices then were also the minority, and I hope that’s the same situation here.

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    • LNM says:

      Seriously. There is always someone complaining about something, and usually those people have no interest in learning about what actually goes on behind the scenes, or putting in the hard work. Not to say burners don’t put in hard work when it comes to the event, but so many people don’t even understand what a nonprofit is and isn’t to start. They’re mad that BMorg didn’t have 50 million set aside for a rainy day but were SO upset with the 10 million they DID set aside. Even that was a fight and a result of “irresponsible leadership” while it was happening. There is no winning with these people. They’re angry that the BMorg staff won’t upend their lives to move to Reno. Seriously? Burning Man started in SF and the knowledge is there. The BMorg staff could easily work for other organizations, stay in their city, and make more money. Then we can all say goodbye to the burn as we know it. Oh, but so many people on Reddit said they could do it better, so I guess they’ll step up if BMorg doesn’t survive. Also, I was at Not Burning Man this year, it was just OK, so don’t let anyone tell you that BRC is replaceable. Go to 4th of Juplaya if you want a scaled back event, save BRC!

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  • Avni says:

    Why don’t you downsize? Have an event for 5k people instead of 80k, and cut down expenses. Take care only for the legal staff (permits) and let the people practice radical self reliance. BRC grew too big, and if you can’t survive it means it grew over its natural size.

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    • Will Chase says:

      While everything is on the table, and that would help some, it wouldn’t significantly reduce our costs. It’s like if you tossed out one of those kids at the birthday party … you don’t have to pay for his slice of cake, but you’re still paying to host the other 9 kids. You’d have to cut population a lot in order to realize significant savings. But, of course, when you cut population, you cut your revenues, soooo …

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      • Donnie Hoadley says:

        If you live in a 2 bedroom apartment, you are limited on the number of ‘kids’ that can be invited to the party. You don’t force the parents of those you invite to pay for dropping them off. You don’t charge the parents so their kids can see Chuckie the Clown, or swing at the pinata.
        You DO have a budget for the party, and if the things you WANT costs more than the amount allowed, it is dropped.
        My 1st year on the playa was with an overzealous theme camp right on the Esplanade. We literally worked the entire week maintaining, performing, and all of the things involved. I took a few hours off one night to wander around, leaving others to fill my vacancy. I learned that trying to cram too much into a paper bag, merely blows stuff out the bottom. I never got involved with another group that did not have a realistic vision and plan.
        You talk about ‘grassroot style’. So – either find another location, of DRASTICLY reduce the number of people allowed each year. BRC has grown by being injected with ego. More and Bigger in NOT ALWAYS BETTER.
        I won’t even start on your ego-centric decision to operate in one of the most expensive cities in the country. When companies relocate, some employees don’t go with them.

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    • Mansoon says:

      I don’t know how a worldwide catastrophe that hit nearly every NPO on the planet and might close a third of U.S. museums (and they have tons of physical assets to sell off) means you outgrew your natural size. A once-in-a-century hurricane nearly swamping a city might prompt you to make better preparations next time, but it doesn’t mean you were dumb, 5-6 years after you really got going well, financially, to only prepare for NEAR-catastrophes or should limit all coastal cities to a thousand people living in stone houses. This ainty the early 1800s anymore.
      And a small amount of people gathering somewhere is, in some sense, even MORE vulnerable than a bigger event, because it doesn’t attract and build a wide array of people and resources to help it in times of serious trouble.
      Also, BM’s grown to 80k through vision and natural evolution. You could have a million tickets up for sale, but the people who show up have grown as part of the natural interest level in the culture, and there’s been times where pop even went down because not enough people were interested.
      The whole idea of keeping it artificially small strikes me as kind of elitist and anti-Radical Inclusiveness. I’m an East Coaster, and can’t afford fly in and out, plus, rent and stock an RV or camper to survive if not a single other soul was there. I’m a tent camper and I need a ride in and out, some support, at least ice, while I’m there, and I’m happy to contribute to make it happen, but I wouldn’t have thousands of dollars to fly across country to mostly sit and watch a sunset. They have those where I live. To me, “keep it small so that few outside of here could or would ever want to come” seems like a “rich person” stance. “My life is set up in a way that I can do this. Why isn’t yours?” I’m poor enough that I probably won’t even have to pay taxes this year, but, to the toothless, formerly homeless, guy living in the basement, I’m richer than he ever expects to be.
      But there are people who can and do go out there co0mpletely self-sufficiently or in small groups. People who want it that way can and should do it that way, but, seems like they don’t want a modern Burning Man that also values Inclusiveness and Community and that has huge possibilities, but also huge costs. I’m no longer a toddler, and people who wish I could magically regress so they could pick me up and squeeze my cheeks are looking for a different person, because that’s not me anymore. And the Burn has moved beyond what it once was, also.

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      • Mansoon says:

        (And there’s a few typos in my last post, so please overlook them)
        Plus, I’ve looked at the annual report, and the idea you could move Burning Man wholesale to say, Nepal to save costs makes me put my hands in my heads in weary astonishment. It’s not like moving a sock factory (and then you’re moving American jobs. Ahem). The Met is located where it is in New York for a reason. You won’t get the same result and interest and culture if you move it to a canyon in West Virginia. And if you look at the way the costs are distributed, it’s not like moving BM will mean you can do the same thing but for only $20 a ticket.
        SF has a unique culture and mindset and artistic and talent base used to experimentation that made/makes the whole thing possible. Utah is a nice place with deserts, but lacking in appreciation for tens of thousandss of people gathering, being happily freaky, and it’s 10,000,000-to-1 against their state ad local officials and arts scene wanting ANYTHING to do with a place where someone barely-dressed being happily whipped in a cage on a main street is really only blocking your view of a scorpion car shooting fire, one of dozens you can see and many more you can’t, and Doctor Megavolt playing with electricity that looks like lightning while angels walk by on stilts.

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  • Butterfly says:

    Well written, delivered and received Will… as always. thank you. Miss you. And will co-create with all you lovely crazies again!

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  • nikkideee says:

    this was really painful to read. putting this kind of negativity out there is probably not called for right now. this might have been therapeutic for the author to read, but it really doesn’t do much for community building. i understand it is stressful times but, really, there are so many ways to get a message across and this is what you choose?

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    • Will Chase says:

      I’m sorry if it distressed you. These questions were pulled and paraphrased directly from comments on social media and elsewhere. I used them almost verbatim in order to hold a mirror to the tone of my audience’s questions, and answered in an equally snarky way to provide an engaging read (people don’t read; humor helps). Also, I will readily admit to being allergic to, and easily inflamed by fact-free arguments.

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    • LNM says:

      If you didn’t like this humorous and thoughtful response, you’re going to hate what you read elsewhere. Don’t go to Reddit!

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  • The Hustler says:

    I’ve always been sort of curious about the anti-Burning Man trolls (including one who runs a disinformation anti-Burning Man blog in one of the first comments). It appears that they make up information and then are upset when it isn’t true, or something.

    I think we’ll need Black Rock City more than ever — and hopefully develop a deeper appreciation for it — if we get through … everything.

    As for me personally, I knew three people who died of cancer, the last one in September being especially tough. Someone else I care about is undergoing treatment for cancer (she’ll be OK, it’s just a bit rough for now). I knew one guy who died of covid, I didn’t know him well, but it was still tough news. I know people who either have covid or are slowly recovering.

    Police (city, county, state, federal) are totally out of control here in Portland. We had the worst air quality in the world for a few days, at any given time something giant is on fire on the west coast.

    However, it’s not all doom and damnation; this year is testing us, showing us the cracks, the problems that perhaps not everyone saw. I think we can safely compare this year with the first time tickets sold out (2012?). Larry said something like scarcity jolted people out of complacency, no longer able to lounge in the warm embrace of complacency knowing a ticket is always within reach.

    Knowing a functioning and free society and thriving cultures — including Burning Man — are not a given thing that will always happen by magic, will hopefully be a chance to do better. Or not. Who knows?

    Burning Man is stupid.

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  • Orville Wrong says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve donated this year.

    One of the most FAQ my circles have been discussing is the percentage of ticket sales that go into producing BRC vs the (pre-Covid) mix of non-BRC cultural promotion activities. I made it about 40 pages into the Form 990 and decided that ratio isn’t going to be clearly disclosed in there, but an earlier post here cited 60% of ticket sales go to year-round cultural activities. Is that balance up for consideration? I think it affects my willingness to donate more.

    Also, while we wouldn’t want the org sitting on “bags of cash to simply ride out years of not holding the event,” can we now agree that planning for a reserve that can weather one year’s cancellation of BRC would be a worthy goal?

    Thank you for fighting for this, and it’s nice to see your name on a Journal post again!

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    • Will Chase says:

      Everything is on the table, and it’s safe to say BMP will make whatever budget reallocations are necessary to accommodate making BRC happen, while maintaining as much community cohesion and momentum as possible until then. Desperate times, desperate measures, and all that.

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  • Roger says:

    Good to have you trying to help, Will. Bad times for a lot of people and collective efforts that I love, Burning Man and the people I have dusty ties with from there, not being the least of the wounded.

    I hope we can save it; I hope there’s a plan to get to March and then, worst of all cases, to somehow make it to 2022…but if not, it was magnificent while we had it.

    Thanks for all you did, do, and will try to do—

    PS
    For what it’s worth—and it’s hard to say it because it will sound hard and it probably is—-if things have come to be this dire—then my vote (which I doesn’t really exist, I guess) is to save the event first and mourn letting go of the rest—the network, the travel, all of it. Because all of THAT came from the event—and, painfully and much delayed, it could come again. Or maybe grow into something new and survive a drought. But it’s a tough world if there’s no event, and if it’s not saved, then it will be hard to nurture and re-seed…

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  • Yolanda says:

    Trust us, guise. It costs 2.5 million dollars a month to make Burning Man happen. We do really important stuff. Give us some more money. We like money.

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  • FYerB says:

    I have a question about the finances and fundraising effort that I’m hoping someone from the org can answer. I don’t mean this to be presumptuous or accusatory, I’m just genuinely curious and think that the community would feel a lot better about donating if someone addressed this directly.

    The most recent 990 form shows a total expense for 2018 of $44M. The current sum of funds in the “How we have stayed afloat” section of the Save Burning Man info page is $42.7M, and there’s a goal to raise an additional $12M. I am confused about why $54.7M is needed to sustain the org during a year that BM is not happening, when $44M can sustain it for a year that BM does happen.

    Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but can someone enlighten us as to where that $54.7M number came from?

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    • Jamal says:

      >I have a question about the finances and fundraising
      That’s racist.

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    • FYerB says:

      Thanks for your input Jamal. I would still love an answer to my question above, but I’d also like to add a couple points. 1) Anyone complaining about the snark in Will’s post, have you been to Burning Man? Did you take that type of attitude as personally in real life as you do on the internet? Calm down, it’s in good fun. 2) The top-level salaries are a non-issue, they could (and probably should) be twice as large. If you want competent people running the show, then you have to pay for it. Just because none of us (save Elon…) make as much as Marian doesn’t mean we need to get mad at her about it.

      Now, with that said, could someone at least point me in the right direction as to where that 54.7 million dollars is explained? Because previous year 990s are obviously irrelevant when it comes to 2020-2021…

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      • Mansoon says:

        Actually, if Marian makes $270k a year now, it looks to me like she made much less for years, based on a Propublica report. I’ve seen mid-level workers in he area say they make more, and many NPO CEO’s make more, and “The New York Times indicated that Musk made $2.3 billion in 2018.” Soooo, as a comparison, I’m laughing and shaking my head, but not WITH you

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  • Hollywood says:

    Tone deaf… which is dissapointing.
    And yet another post failing to acknoldge any missteps… not all criticism has been insane/ignorant accusations… so the the provided are straw men. There are many things between “multimillion dollar company swimming around in scrooge McDuckian piles of money” and “We did everything right… right away … and always have. We have made zero missteps… this is a
    ALL covids fault…so give us money… so we can keep doing it all perfectly.

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    • Will Chase says:

      Have you *read* the questions as they’ve been posed on social media? These are pretty much copied and pasted.

      And I never implied BMP does everything perfectly. We most certainly don’t. We’ve screwed up plenty over the years … imperfection is kind of to be expected when you’re running a city on the moon, nurturing a global cultural movement and whatnot.

      We’ll always make mistakes, I guarantee it. But I can also guarantee we’ll learn from them. (Usually.)

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      • Michele LeBelle says:

        Will, EVERY FREAKIN’ YEAR the ticket purchase system for participants has been incompetent, stressful and not fair. I don’t know if it’s because you have a shitty system for ticketing or the BORG simply cannot keep up with anti-bot systems that gobble up tickets and resell them as scalpers.
        I think with all the money the BORG has, they would come up with a fair and equitable system for ticket purchases.
        Otherwise, the almost $1,100 we pay for a car pass and two tickets is just like, oh goodie, we have access to porto-potties for 9 days!

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  • Rautamies says:

    First of all, I love Burning Man and I’ve been there 6 times. It’s obvious that organizing one is a colossal effort and that the latest pandemic places the organization in horrible situation. And let’s face it – it’s already mid October which means 2021 is simply not going happen. So, BM must set its sights to 2021.

    What I would personally want know what is $2 million / month going to after cutting the expenses. People are asking justified questions and there is no need to edit them in such snarky way Will did. It’s almost like saying if you question anything, you’re an idiot which is a rather arrogant way to address questions that are for the most part justified. Yes the organization boasts about being super transparent with their expenses, so why is it so hard to give a breakdown where $2 million / month is going when there will be no event. It would be great to get factual numbers instead of snarky response, avoiding the question.

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    • Will Chase says:

      I pulled and paraphrased these directly questions from social media comments and retained their basic construct so as to hold up a mirror to people’s tone, and met snark with snark in my replies, because you’re 100% more likely to read it that way.

      I didn’t dodge any question. I included links to the financial information you’re asking about, which I’m far from equipped to explain in detail, as I’m not an accountant (beLIEVE me).

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      • Rautsmies says:

        I see links to old financial information but not expenses after cuts. Would you mind posting a link to the breakdown? Thanks

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      • FDisNoise says:

        You’re asking for money NOW, and for the FUTURE – quit referencing now-old 1099 financials please.

        How many times do members of the COMMUNITY need to ask how you are CURRENTLY spending money?

        Deflection looks baaaad on you.

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    • Dusty says:

      Exactly! Nowhere in the 990s does it indicate what $2-3 million a month is still being spent on AFTER salary cuts, AFTER budget cuts, and without putting on the event. THAT is what baffles the community. We aren’t stupid, we know San Fran is expensive, but WTF? It’s not that expensive. Also, yes, we do know that producing a burn is complicated and requires year long effort – we’ve been helping produce it for 20+ years, remember? We’ve also been producing regionals for 20+ years. Assuming that anyone who wants some financial transparency must be an ignorant newbie is just insulting. Also, please stop holding up the 990s as a model of best practice financial transparency – they are not. They are the absolute bare minimum required by law. We’ve read them. We still have questions, and you still haven’t answered them.

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  • Hollywood says:

    … also justifying large salaries by saying “it’s expensive to live the Bay Area.” Falls pretty flat on the thousands of us that moved out of the bay area years ago because it’s been too expensive to operate there (as a family or a business) for many years now.

    I’m not the kind of person whos always telling people to “check thier privalage” but perhaps if you are passing around the cup… maybe don’t point out the cup is silver all the while about the high price of silver cups these days.

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    • Will Chase says:

      Let’s stipulate it’s a very different thing for an individual to move out of the Bay Area vs. moving an entire organization out of the Bay Area, especially one as culturally embedded in its home city as Burning Man is. Not impossible, but damn close.

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    • As someone who sees people move to my city (I’m in South Lake Tahoe) from the Bay Area on a pretty consistent basis, I’ve had a chance to talk to many of them on why they have moved and how. Not one was middle class status. They are all top earners who can afford to uproot themselves as single family dwellings….not entire organizations or businesses- which are still in the Bay Area.

      Will also mentioned that they have made some movement towards office space in Reno. Perhaps a bigger move will happen in the future. But it happens so slowly. Have you ever tried to move a whole business or operation? I have! It takes YEARS….

      Things seem so easy from the outside as in, “why don’t you just….” Until you realize what is involved.

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  • Fly says:

    Re: Fly Ranch
    “…a piece of land with a year-round creative incubator and arts center, where people can co-create and envision a better, more sustainable future together, year-round. Our back may be up against the wall, but we’re not ready to sacrifice that to survive.”

    Land that I financed every year through my ticket fees that I was not informed of in advance and never agreed to…and that I not allowed on.

    Sell Fly Ranch.

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    • Will Chase says:

      Fly was purchased using money raised from private donations, not Burning Man ticket revenues. And you can arrange for a visit (with all the COVID caveats).

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    • MICHAEL KENT MURPHY says:

      That was my first thought, move to reno

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    • Mansoon says:

      Fly, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but BM actually opened up the ranch to outside visitors for the first time in 20 years, according to what I could find. Maybe because of covid and right around Burn time, but, open otherwise.
      And maybe do some research on the land out there. Worth a lot to BM, but the last land prices I could find for the Gerlach area were $157 acre (, and some were discounted 50 percent.
      But, even at $157, if say, you were Amazon and you wanted to buy just 268 acres (the size of Fly Ranch, I believe) to stick a warehouse on — HOURS and HOURS from anywhere with even a cluster of 200 people –you could buy Fly, which, with improvements, would be $7mil at cost, maybe more. Or pay $42k for some scrubland the same size 2 minutes up the road. You don’t care about the artistic inspiration of a geyser, and in fact, it can be a liability for many businesses, because a geyser of spouting water and a high water table likely makes some of the land harder to utilize, less stable
      No matter what you buy land for, if you need to sell it for money, the question is, what can you sell it for? My home growing up was on land that was very valuable to us, on the edge of a small city in the South, at crucial crossroads for the area with room to play and grow a large garden on back 2/3rds of the acre. When we moved out, we tried renting it, but it was pretty worthless and selling it has gone nowhere for the last 18 years. And it’s practically Manhattan compared to Fly Ranch.
      Selling FR for a lot and quickly seems like a fantasy. And misses out on generations of good it could do for the BM Project and even the area itself.

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  • Thanks Will.

    I missed 2020 very much. I work very hard at Burning Man to produce art and now feel a little empty moving into fall. Even more so given the too many worsening crises facing planet Earth and most all who live here.

    Due to COVID-19 I’m concerned 2021 cannot happen and then the Burning Man Project will be forced to shutdown entirely impacting the lives of the employees even more.

    But, even if the worst case happens my guess is our community will come back together and reinvent Burning Man again when it’s safe to venture back to the Black Rock Desert.

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  • Mástarde says:

    My apologies if this sounds selfish but how many more fundraisers are we looking at till we can party on the desert again?

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  • Thank you so much Will!! This is on-point and I love the snark that is juuust the perfect amount of snark;)

    I have been making art for Burning Man for the last few years. Getting in the thick of things and seeing how everything is put together amazes me. The argument that we don’t need an organization to have Burning Man is completely and utterly moot in my opinion. It reminds me of things that seem to just come together magically…movies, weddings, events….and people think it is so easy to do because they are the lucky consumers of such things. Until the credits roll and they realize that, wow… it’s a bit more complicated than that! Or….they don’t and continue to live their selfish lives.

    Speaking of selfish lives, it is a very much so a part of the whole American cultural problem. “Comon’! Get your act together so I can party!” Or, “We don’t need you!!” mentality that has us pretty much screwed if we continue down that path….but that is besides the point….

    I have HUGE respect for the BM Project and what they put together. If it weren’t for that rainy day fund you mentioned, we wouldn’t even be able to have this conversation at all. Because there would have been nothing to save and everything to recreate from ground up.

    Cheers and Chin Up!!! It takes a village! Er….rather….a community of amazing Burners….

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  • Chuck U. Farley says:

    In better days, I would say it’s been a long time since I saw anyone put this much effort into missing the point. Sadly, this tone-deaf submission is true to form for Burning Man 2020. Why don’t you try re-reading your final paragraph, which illustrates that BRC is built by participants, who are full partners in the event and in BM’s culture, and then re-writing the rest of your article as if you really believe it?

    If you did, you might see that the question is not why you don’t sell some of your Gerlach properties, the question is why you have spent millions of dollars of ticket money to acquire unused properties that are, at this stage, little more than unseverable financial obligations. So why did you buy every property that has come up for sale in Gerlach in the last ten years when you had no clear use for those properties? Don’t whine about your mortgage, tell me why you have one. Why WE have one, since you’re asking me to pay it for you. How does it benefit your ticket holders to buy all these properties so you can have empty buildings in Gerlach? How does it benefit the Gerlach community for you to have those properties sitting empty instead of allowing some other entity to open businesses?

    The question is not how bad 2020 is. This year is happening to everyone, everywhere. We all know what it is. The question is: what was your plan for a season like this? In 2017 Burning Man was nearly canceled when the playa was flooded late into the summer. Remember? The event went through that year, and you had three years to refine your canceled-event plan. Did you? No, you used that time to dig an even deeper hole for the ticket holders to bail you out of when the event was, inevitably, threatened again by outside forces three years later.

    The question is not what your bloated SF staff is doing right now, the question is why you retained your bloated SF staff to crank our more and more half-conceived projects no one gives a fuck about. When did your ticket holders ask you to do that? Was it never? I suspect it was probably never. They certainly aren’t taking much of an interest now. Why would they pay for your unprompted foray into the tech world? Why are you entitled to their support, spending millions of their ticket dollars on your many and varied projects that are irrelevant to their interests? Who told you “like Facebook but for Burning Man” was such a great idea that you’ve seen no problem dumping millions into developing it, what? Six times now? And still no one cares.

    The question is not how much it costs to live in the Bay Area. No one needs you to live in the Bay Area. No one asked you to live in the Bay Area. What does it benefit the ticket holders for you to live in the most famously overpriced city in the world? The rest of us got out years ago.  Why are you still in SF? You’ve known for years that you would have to move eventually. Why do you still have years of leases left, and why haven’t you begun moving people out beyond the handful of middle managers whom you have relocated to Reno?

    How were you not ready for this, i.e. why were none of the lessons of 2017’s near miss used to reduce your exposure to an event cancelation? And before you say “covid came out of nowhere, no one was ready” take this moment to remind yourself that it wouldn’t necessarily have taken Covid-19 to get us here. It could have been the BLM becoming slightly more unreasonable. It could have been the State of Nevada with another special permit fee. It could have been 72 hours of hard rain. This was always going to happen, and you knew it, yet you were 0% ready. Why would we continue to invest in your leadership in light of this track record?

    The question is not whether you pay all your staff exorbitantly. We know you don’t. The question is: why do you pay upper management so lavishly when they have led so very poorly? Everyone knows Burning Man doesn’t pay their people what their neighbors earn in SF. That’s irrelevant. Why do you pay them so much more than they’re worth to the ticket holders? Your ticket holders don’t care if BM’s upper management can afford to live in nice parts of SF. They don’t care about BM’s upper management at all. They were only peripherally aware that BM’s management existed before this fiasco. Like the mighty T. rex, ticket holders can only see you when you’re fucking up.

    So the question is not why the crowd has suddenly turned on you. They haven’t. The reason you’re having trouble communicating with your base is that, surprise, they’re not your base. You’re speaking to burners as if you’re their prom kings and queens. You’re not. You’re their prom dance decorations subcommittee.  They tolerate your egotism because you make the necessary arrangements for the event to occur. They’re not loyal to you or your old-man story creation myths, and they double don’t care if you go down in flames. Someone will rise from the ashes and–unless you get your shit together in a hurry–it won’t be you. They will burn again. With you or without you. Everyone seems to know that but you. If you are at all interested in surviving, it’s time for you to start acting like you know it, too.

    2020 didn’t ruin you. You ruined yourselves. 2020 just thrust all the products of your decades-long mismanagement into view simultaneously. The question is not why you don’t do the right thing now. We all know you’re trying, but you’re not competent people. Burning Man has spent the last three decades accumulating one blunder after another. Now, at this critical moment, you have to answer for your mistakes to have a chance of survival. Are you ready to start listening, or are you going to continue lobbing yourself softball questions that don’t address your critics, trying to bullshit a crowd that can already see through you?

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    • Will Chase says:

      Wow, there’s so much to unpack here, Chuck, I can’t even. Some things you’re right about, most you’re not, some we’ll just have to agree to disagree about “woulda shoulda coulda” or what programs are/aren’t/shouldn’t be a priority. I just don’t have the time or energy to answer every line item … maybe someday we’ll meet around a burn barrel and a bottle, and we can really debate it all out.

      But for now — and I truly don’t mean this dismissively, I mean it as an honest suggestion — the bottom line is that if you truly feel that embittered about it, if you’re that angry about exactly how and why your money is being spent (not everybody’s on board with every aspect of this culture, and that’s fine), you should *definitely* spend your money elsewhere.

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    • Mansoon says:

      Yeesh. I’m with you, Will. I’ve been seeing this over and over. You give answers before he asks them but he STILL never reads what you wrote, doesn’t seem to realize the city’s unique culture and arts scene brings about something that would be seriously impossible if you suddenly relocated to, say, Somolia, seemingly has done no research on even how little that land is worth to anyone NOT BM or where the money actually came from (Hint; it’s the least valuable land I could find in the U.S. that wasn’t actually free), just goes off on a tirade, pretends to speak for a majority of others when we’re wondering “Hey, whaddya mean, ‘WE feel yaddayada?’ You got a mouse in your pocket? I’M … NOT … WITH … THIS …. DUDE.’ ”
      Doesn’t speak for ME or the thousands of others who are helping or want to. We in the rest of the crowd are slowing backing away from the guy who might need a vacation somewhere quiet. Somewhere ELSE. If I never burn with him, I’m fine with that. He can really go elsewhere, obsess over something else; there’s plenty of other transformational festivals or he can start his own

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  • Suzanne says:

    Thank you, Will. <3

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  • Playa Dub says:

    Sheesh, Farley! Take a chill pill…
    Time is money and the amount you spent on your comments could’ve but the BMORG back on track!

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  • Dr. Kegels says:

    Thank you, Will!

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  • Andrew Calo says:

    “if you’re not living in the Bay Area, you’re likely not spending $14 on a sandwich”

    Well, I think the problem is presented right there in that statement. The Org. living in their, quite frankly, irrelevant San Fran. bubble, largely insulated from the outside dramas of the rest of the community, and winging it carefree, based on the belief that the Community won’t let them die.

    People are talking about selling Fly Ranch, or moving out of San Fran, or selling tickets for next year, as if these things by themselves will somehow solve the problem of the Org., essentially, haemorrhaging 2 Million Dollars a month.

    It’s fucking simple. You have to live within your means. If there is no burn in 2021, your decisions right now are going to come back to royally kick you in the nads.

    There seems to be this belief that by the time they go and buy the ingredients and make that sandwich themselves, the monies saved will be less than what their time was worth making it. That’s some VIP BS right there.

    Nope. You’re feeding yourself in your own time, and regardless, y’all decided how much your time was worth. It is arse-backwards to declare that it is actually cheaper to buy your $14 sandwich then to make it yourself, based on your perception of your own self-wroth.

    To put it bluntly: you could have made the sandwiches yourselves and kept yourself fed for a month, but you’ve decided to risk going hungry after a week instead. Is it any wonder people jump to ridiculous conclusions and misread your every step when you seem oblivious of how you’re getting the core things wrong?

    You don’t exactly inspire trust with your $14 sandwiches when the rest of us are slaving away in the kitchen, is what I’m saying.

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  • Andrew Calo says:

    p.s. I donated. $23. Which is all I could donate. Happy to know two thirds of my donation bought you lunch.

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  • doug Stone says:

    Excellent job, Mr. Propaganda Minister! – You open (and continue in your comments) by kinda belittling anyone who asks important questions by using generalization. Then you pick and “paraphrase” questions in such a way as to make the questioner appear naïve and/or mean, and worded in such a way as to be knocked down in your answers with glittering generalities (“Straw Man”) all the while softly inserting presuppositions that “shifting gears” to become a digital “culture-bearing platform” is a pre-ordained necessity and not budget/programmatic justification (as opposed to, say, more belt-tightening). I think you know that the 990 and happy pie charts really don’t go into the level of detail/transparency to see where the ORG intends to or could make cuts.
    Finally, to dismiss burners who care deeply about BRC and suggest that they just go play somewhere else kind of sums up a bit of an attitude problem on y’alls part. We love BRC, and we want to love the BORG, too. Rather than being a bunch of whiners, we are the cacophonous creators of Black Rock City – your partners, for better or worse – not to be dismissed glibly.
    Minister of Propaganda, indeed!

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  • Dusk Rider says:

    Sorry Will, despite your stated attempt to address issues based on our real comments/concerns as found on social media, I’m afraid this feels like yet another whitewash. I felt that you cherry-picked some of the less controversial issues, and yes, a little snark is clever and refreshing, but not at the cost of transparency.
    While I sincerely appreciate all the time and energy you’ve dedicated to the org. and BRC, over the years, that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with you.
    For example; why is it that the BMORG is fighting the BLM to prevent the release of the ticket pricing structure? How is that proprietary information? Sure sounds like the BMORG is “hiding” something there. Let’s not pretend that the BMORG is transparent when they are spending (our) money to defend their right to hide information from us, their ticket purchasing community.
    Also, why isn’t the BMORG telling us exactly what’s going on with BLM and the permit negotiations for 2021 and beyond. Clearly, all this fundraising is moot if BRC won’t be permitted, or if the permit requirements are too egregious and/or cost prohibitive. How can the BMORG expect us to feel good about sending them money, when there’s a real chance that they may not be able to negotiate a realistic permit with the agency that gets to say yes or no to BRC?
    I have another half a dozen issues like this I could bring up, but I’m just making the point that you haven’t done much to address two of the most important issues here which are trust and transparency.
    Before you give me your “Burning Man, Love it or Leave it”, line, please understand that most of those of us writing the hard-edged responses to your statements are doing so because we love BRC and want to be able to join our community in the dust once again.
    I appreciate your “unofficial” efforts to provide information and to answer questions, but, I hope you can appreciate my calling you to a higher standard of transparency and honesty as the stakes are high and the BMORG has consistently failed to answer some important questions.
    My suggestion: the BMORG should officially ask the community to send them the questions they’d like answers to, and then condense them down to the fifty most common questions, and then be 100% transparent in the process and answer the questions truthfully. That would take a little time, but it would go a long way to restore the confidence of those of us who have legitimate concerns.
    The bottom line? Speaking for myself, I believe we really want to get back to TTITD, but we need and want to have enough confidence and trust to be able to wholeheartedly support the organization that is key to our coming together to create our BRC home.

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  • Stinger says:

    The one I hear is “how do they expect us the seasonal paid workers (DPW) to give them money when we didn’t even make any money from them this year ourselves? WHAT money do I have to give?!?”

    I don’t think they expect anyone to give anything. That’s why they are asking *everybody*. If you really don’t have any money to give yourself, you should still promote saving Burning Man fundraisers because someone you know MAY be able to give. And then *when* Burning Man comes back, you can thank that someone for getting “your job” back. Me, I’m just going to donate a “couple hours worth” [of my 2019 DPW wage], in hopes that when they hire me back, if I work for at least an entire day, I’ll get “paid back”.

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  • Lorelei says:

    Thank you, Will, for the FAQ. One question I have is what the contingency plan is for 2021 in relation to the pandemic. Is there something they have put out discussing the temporary changes they would make to Burning Man 2021 so that the event can happen? Such as requiring masks and/or hand sanitizing stations and/or quarantining staff and volunteers, etc. We make agreements with BM when we buy a ticket, so there are new agreements that could be made with Covid in mind. Curious what plan they have in mind. Since it is a city, and cities will have spent a year adjusting to the pandemic, it could be possible for BM 2021 to happen with modifications. Thoughts? Have you heard any contingency plans? Thank you!

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  • Neal Milch says:

    Fly Ranch is a couple thousand acres, with some infrastructure. It could support a camping event with say 100-200 people with safe Covid protocols, sanitation, food, etc. Say for 5 days. That would provide data and insight to support an event with 400-500 people. Which provides the basis to expand to, perhaps, 1000 campers? These events could be held bi- or tri-weekly, bringing funds into BMP. Then, depending how 2021 shakes out, the Burn might be staged as multiple 10-15,000 person events as permitting allows. Why not use Fly as the laboratory for developing a plan how to host Burning Man in 2021 in other than its usual high density format, which may not be feasible. There is time to do this in a staged, thoughtful manner.

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    • Mansoon says:

      Well, if you want comparable data, there were thousands of people out there for JuPlaya and UnBurningman. reports range from 2-3 thousands. Clearly, they know this was likely, because it’s listed in writing on their permit for other years as something likely to happen if the event is cancelled. No reports of clusters or any unusual transmission levels. But, on social media, I saw people INCENSED that an “elite” group might be invited out the Fly Ranch, even though the people there were mere dozens, mostly employees, but thousands were on the playa and anyone can go at any time. Even during the event, their permit only covers about 13 percent of the public playa land, so people can and do camp elsewhere during that period. Take some work, but nothing any good contact tracer team couldn’t do

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  • FDisNoise says:

    This whole post comes off as condescending, not snarky. It’s just another fluff piece by BMORG’s past (his words, not mine!) “Minister of Propaganda”.

    OY

    Fail….so much fail. So much disrespect.

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  • Frank Melnick says:

    Excellent writeup and info. Appreciate the straight talk except for this jewel ” We built it together from the beginning, we build it together today, and we should always build it together, even through times of crisis. ” As you know there are a ton of P & P camps and more and more every year. They are sucking up a LOT of tickets. Tickets that should go to long time burners who continue to actively BUILD BRC every year. They ARE NOT building the city and should be banned. They go against the stated principles. However they continue to proliferate and are tolerated by the BORG. When you actively ban them then I can start respecting the BORG again. Best wishes, JM

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    • Renegade says:

      As a noob with only 2 burns under my belt I have been more than a little puzzled by the proliferation of the plug and play camps. In my naïveté I actually believed in the principle of self reliance, which involves a lot more than writing a very large check.

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      • Mansoon says:

        I’m 12 burns in, and I’ve seen the Org work for a about the last 10 years to fight off the PNP camps. It’s a hard thing, because it’s not like the camps slip the Org a percentage, like they announce it. What if you pay your camp dues, but they happen to be high, and you ask your campmates to pick up some stuff for you because you’re traveling light? The idea that everyone always carried EEVERYTHING themselves and never even, say, asked a friend to tie their favorite chair to their truck because they couldn’t get it their in their car or something similar to even the first Burn is pretty laughable.
        They try to ID PNP camps, they ask people to report them, on and off-playa, they have an actual page for it, they ask the Rangers to ID them during patrols, they threaten to or actually do sue, they try to block them from getting tickets, they try to make sure registered camps get tickets for their core people early (part of the reason for the profiles), they became very strict with making sure all registered camps actually DO something to gift the community and even booted a big sound camp from a registered spot when they didn’t comply, they’ve even been sending census sweep teams out to “get to know” the camps (you can join in), which you really don’t need to do unless you’re trying to pick up this kind of thing, etc.
        Sure, anyone new wouldn’t really know, so I’ll just suggest some googling to back this up. Whenever I hear this criticism, I wonder, “Where YOU been all this time? Remember, “Haterade is just another kind of Kool Aid you can drink.”

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  • rNand says:

    Thank you for the informative, detailed, and well written post. I’m always surprised at the amount of vitriol this discussion elicits in the comments here, not to mention social media. My only guess is that hippies like me don’t like to believe that things cost money, and get angry whenever anyone tells us different.

    If it makes you feel any better, your post spurred me out of my procrastination to go support the community. so that’s one for the plus column, if you’re keep score :-)

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  • Sandy says:

    Hey Will – can you reply with a link to the article where philanthropy.com “called Burning Man Project one of the most transparent nonprofits going”. I can’t find that on their site. Thanks.

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  • Lolvo says:

    You skipped the FAQ where I keep asking why you continue to blow $5 million to ensure there are enough feds to hassle your attendees, instead of buying $5million worth of worthless land elsewhere, once, and then you own it. No cops, no hassle, no expense.

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    • Mansoon says:

      Can’t speak for anyone else, but I was going out 5-6 nights a week before all this, and you can ask any club owner or event promoter about the complete and utter fantasy of the idea that you can keep the cops out by throwing it on private land. They can always cite probable cause, make some excuse to be be there, pass some law, surveil from a distance with a drone, especially if you throw something that takes a month to prepare for and a month to clean up after and that functions as a temporary city. That’s why most places have cops, that at least drive by, come in and out during the night, on-duty or off, send in undercovers, have inspections, etc. And they would still hassle people on the way in and leaving, and can partner with other agencies, including the feds.
      Also, I’ve thought about them just moving it, but places like the playa seem fairly unique. I know they had to move it, I think to Fly Ranch land, for 2 years, and people who went told me it was a disaster. If you get land someplace else, you’d have to pull up bushes, bulldoze and level many square miles every year for the thousand art cars (almost literally that number) roaming around, so people don’t get bit by animals hiding in them, so people can put down tents without them getting ripped torn up by bushes or roots or stumble over 100 bushes walking home or get bitten by a snake or scorpion and THEN stumble over tent pegs, that the art is properly anchored. That’s a LOT of expense and your event medical bills will likely be through the roof. A lot of the other places like the playa within driving distance? Also are national parks on state or federal land. Seems to me. there’s a reason why they drove all the way from SF for this, rather than just picking a nice hillside an hour away from SF
      And, honestly, sometimes you need police. especially if you have many tens of thousands of people around. SOMEtimes. I know someone who went out to the playa 3 times this year in a few months, with just a few thousand people there, and she had to call the cops twice and she was far from alone in that. If the cops weren’t trying to fine or arrest their way to a budget windfall, just showing up when actually needed, it wouldn’t always be a bad thing to have them there, IMHO

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Thanks, and congratulations on moving to Maker Faire, it is an ally of Burning Man.

    Social media is social media, and in real life, face to face, the community is a community. Of course, on social media, everyone has an opinion of how they would run any institution better.

    Internet culture proposes if the writer can think of a question, they are entitled to an answer. Real life does not work that way.

    The Burning Man organization has tens of years of internal data, and no doubt endless discussions of how to adapt and evolve the organization. The decisions are the result of being immersed over years in boring data and discussion of options to the point that the organizers have an intuitive understanding of it.

    My belief is that we as burners should be focused on the needs of our community, helping those in need around us, making art, creating camps, and becoming personally involved in our Regionals and or BWB.

    In real life.

    That’s a good reason to keep all the boring stuff internal to the organization, not a distraction to the participants. When we arrive in BRC, all that boring work creates a space for the unique experiences we have.

    Why should burners spend any time on the boring internals of the organization when instead they could be changing the world in real life or making art?

    It would be helpful to provide a reader-friendly view of the main, say 1 year and 5 year, objectives of the organization.

    Personally, I don’t think publicizing internal organization data is going to make a significant difference in donations.

    Burners can become involved in their regional if they want hands-on experience running a nonprofit. And they can become a volunteer in a department for a view into event internals. The summits, post vaccine, are also a good way to become involved.

    All of our social media talk and drama just feeds pageviews that don’t economically benefit Burning Man.

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  • Dusty says:

    Lame answer on the last one. I’m there early and see all those plug n play camps being setup with a fleet of matching RVs, ebikes, Segways… How the fuck do those pimps get early entry and real estate for a commercial operation?

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    • Mansoon says:

      Lame criticism on the last one. Because if you actually are there early, you know that anyone can do a landgrab in undesignated areas as long as they line up super early (and, if it’s your job), but all registered camps have a certain amount of tickets they can try to get in the DSG, but also some limited early entry passes, because what they’re building is so timeconsuming.
      I’ve been in camps where we have camp bikes bought by some and put out early, so segways, etc annoy me, but don’t surprise me. If you’re the kind of person who can support a giant soundcamp in a giant city, giving away scads of food and treats, helping fund the art, maybe you’re the kind of person whose dues would be higher than free-camping but you ALSO might pay so they buy or rent vehicles so you can get around easier. If you’re putting up a dance dome that costs $250K alone and requires heavy machinery, you might be able to chip in more for more than a bike and nothing’s wrong with that if you’re just covering costs (unless you’re a “poverty snob” who thinks anyone who doesn’t eat from a garbage can more than half the time should be dragged to their death behind El Pulpo Mecanico). You shouldn’t support an ass that’s running a business, but it’s a BIG place and not everyone can or will go under their own power.
      I’ve been on foot many burns and it’s no fun and even blisteringly stupid to walk from 6:30 and L around the city, to the Man and then the Temple, dance a dozen places, then walk all the way back, and you never even get to see MOST of the city or art. Can’t remember the last time I was out even near the trash fence. If some people ride Segways and it maybe frees up a few yellow bikes that might get snatched up otherwise, don’t hurt my feelings none. Just keep the speed down.
      And RVs are no indictment. People will often ride with friends who have an RV, chip in together, pick up rideshares in and out to cut costs and help other Burners, so it’s no sign you’re secretly Scrooge McDuck. In the camps I’ve been in, those are more the people who volunteer to or we choose to go in early anyway, because it’s easier for them to survive before the shade structures go up, Artica is open. It’s more practical and a matter of them having the time to come early. And, ironically, an RV might take up less space than 4 or 6 decent-sized Walmart tents. I’ve camped in their shadow and can tell.
      Also, the Org isn’t a combo of the NSA and Seal Team Six, wreaking lethal vengeance on PNP camps. They try their best, but if you have people hiding behind shell companies, different credit cards in different names, straw buyers, it can be hard to defend perfectly against. I met one straw buyer Just some kid from Africa living in France who was pulled into this by outside buyers, told he would be given access on a computer to try to win 2, and he could keep one if he did. He clearly had no idea of anything resembling “Burner code.” He just knew he was being given a shot at something that seemed like a dream. You can do a lot to fight back, but only so much when you’re facing worldwide operations who’ll use the innocent to mule for them and every solution you can think of has a drawback.
      Maybe they could do more with more personnel, but SOME people are already complaining loudly (ahem) at every chance that they have too many people already and they pay them too much. You don’t like it? It’s a participatory community with spots already open for you to help stop this. Otherwise, you talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’.
      I don’t hate on camp leaders or retired person or people with higher incomes who can afford to buy or rent an RV or camper if I can’t. I don’t hate on people who have more money than I do and less time to help around camp. If they come and participate and help make the community better, F* it. Come, and we’ll use their big money and my working hard to create something greater than we could alone.

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  • Rautamies says:

    The more I think about this, probably the best way to handle this situation would be for BM organization to declare bankruptcy. If cuts can’t be done past $2 million / month it’s better to shut down entirely and start fresh when the pandemic is guaranteed to be gone. 2021 is extremely unlikely to happen so it’s better to set sights to 2022 or possibly beyond that. Otherwise, between now and beginning of 2022 (when there’s ticket income again) the organization will bleed $30+ million with nothing to show and “we need $X million dollars to save BM” will become a monthly thing and people will get tired of it, and/or unable/willing to give more money. It’s definitely not something anyone wants to hear (including me), it’s just starting to look like it may be a hard, inevitable fact that’s looming around the corner. Plus it’s a chance to start fresh to reflect gender neutral requirements the society expects these days. Long live Flaming Person!

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  • Morgase says:

    As someone who has done events for years, including outdoor ones, WITH corporate sponsorship, I can attest that a) it needs A LOT of hands on deck and b) even with 10 mil you’d be shocked how fast that can go- and I’m talking events ranging from a couple hundred people to 40k people, which is still only half of BM. And god forbid you make cuts anywhere. If there aren’t the exact amount of porta potties people expect, and if they aren’t cleaned exactly as many times as each attendee wants them to be, it’s hell. Now apply that attitude toward every aspect of the event that is taken care of by the org. You only have to go look at how entitled people are to having the experience THEY deem they should be having by going to Yelp and seeing the people giving 1 star reviews to struggling small businesses right now because they are daring to follow pandemic rules. Personally after this year I feel like I need BRC more than ever, and I’m sure others do too. I do like the idea floated elsewhere in the comments that maybe donors could get first access to tickets next year, but I also don’t mind giving what I can to help make sure there’s something to return to at all. Hopefully this post helps clarify your position and like you said, ppl actually look into where the money goes and are more informed.

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  • Daniel Benny says:

    Thanks for this Will enjoyed reading it.

    My only unresolved questions is, and I know we aren’t there yet.

    When do you think we’ll have an idea if BRC 2021 is happening? And is the org going to be okay if there isn’t one? What would be a positive year for the community in liue of having a formal event next year (even in a world with another year of social distancing, oh god)

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  • Hilary Perchard says:

    I would really like to see a separation of the organizations activities
    – the event
    – fly ranch
    – the other cultural activities

    I love Burning man but the cross funding of different parts of the business make it hard to understand where monies are going. I love the event and don’t want that to end but don’t understand why that has to be muddled in with a piece of land that the founders fell in love with or the other cultural activities. If we could be sure that money going to one part of the project stayed in that part of the project it gets easier to donate to the parts of the org that we care about vs the extraneous pieces.

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  • Dusty says:

    If Marion truly cares about the project, then move HQ, staff and herself to Reno. If staff don’t want to move, then get new staff. Let the SF years be Larry’s legacy.

    Asking for money while maintaining your SF lifestyle is like rolling down the window of your limo and asking a destitute begger who’s holding a sign at a street corner for funds. Get real.

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    • Mansoon says:

      Well, that seems to ignore the fact they’re a nonprofit and, by literal DEFINITION of a 501(c)3 have taken donations for years and even early tickets were listed as “donations” AND most of the art is at least partially funded that way AND the unique culture that help bring the project about. Plus, the lives of the staff and the years and decades of experience and unique knowledge they bring, many participants and volunteer, the sources of funding and creation and even ties to donors (which they’ve had for may years now (SHOCKER! I mean, to you, maybe, so, if you want them to stop taking donations you’re going to need alternate sources of funding and a time machine).
      Oh, and the fact that the OP post says that SOME HAVE moved to Reno. And I know some live and work in Gerlach. Anyone not obsessed with their own narrow vision and no honest outlay of the negative consequences wouldn’t have to even ask questions already answered. Blindly and repeatedly trying to grind some kind of axe on a nonexistent stone doesn’t consider the fact that the reason arts NPOs don’t just move to rural Vietnam or the Mississippi Delta to cut costs is because it’s not like moving a factory that makes hangars, and even THAT sometimes doesn’t benefit from a move.
      That’s like asking anyone who has anything you DON’T to live exactly like you dictate, regardless of the actual consequences or losses, the terrible idea it is in the first place. I never knew Larry, so I’M not so arrogant I pretend to speak for the legacy of him, the other founders and people there at the beginning, and the hundreds of thousands of the rest worldwide, but my guess was that most of us want to make it better, not worse, and realize there’s very real consequences for every decision AND that something to be considered long-term doesn’t help in an emergency. That’s like YOU trying to ram the museum doors with your vehicle of bad ideas (anyone who thinks their salaries are “limo money” doesn’t know much about limos or is trying to use false, inflammatory language because the facts are NOT on their side), running people down and saying the museum shouldn’t be located there, anyway. And that’s the REAL real.

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  • Joseph Elwell says:

    I love everything about this post except this one part:
    “vendors, rentals (porta potties being just one of many), and (9 different local, state and federal) permits”

    Stop the vendors, plug and play camps are merely mimicking BMorg camps. Provide the porta potties, pay for the location and permits, ditch the vendors and let artists and camps be more self reliant.

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    • Mansoon says:

      In case there’s any general confusion , I think the “vendors” thing is more like having to rent portos, buildings and vehicles, even paying people who print and send out ticket packets and guidebooks, etc, (Companies who do this want contracts and to be paid most or all in advance. That ain’t gonna wait 6 months until the dust litterally settles and see IF you have enough left to pay them), walkie talkies that at one point cost $200k because the desert dust is so destructive, equipment for the art which includes heavy machinery, feeding staff and volunteers, a million other small things. Things to make living and working in a place that looks and acts like something you put in a sci-fi prison drama (“Even if you escape the guards, the surface of Planet Ultramax will STILL kill you” — grizzled old prison lifer) doable. Not like, “Vendors, as in the people who sell Coors Lite and dreamcatchers near the MTV VIP showers)

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  • Victoriosa the Magnificent Cunt says:

    wow… well this has been a tremendous show of myopic self aggrandizement, not only by the former Goebbels of the Borg himself but by the profoundly sycophantic commentary. But then again, what can one expect when entering the land of the lollipop guild. I should have just not clicked the link… #regrets
    Good to see the kool-aid is still giving people heartburn… I can attest to that.

    The Borg is about as transparent as Karl the Fog… outdated 990s that apparently are too boring and complicated for your audience to understand. And that somehow take 2+ years to file?!?
    oh numbers oh my! Balance Sheets and P&Ls oh my! How could anyone really understand any of that? Let alone the machinations involved with any type of business model.

    Nevermind the man behind the curtain…

    And the damn board ain’t the board of Tesla, so can we please stop comparing how low their salaries are to the likes of Musk? You can’t compare one aspect of the non-profit to large corporations when it is convenient and then say oh well we aren’t a multi-million dollar corp when someone questions your poor business practices. Although both companies are severely over-valued in their own ways, so there’s that.
    Not to mention, the rest of the employees also lived in the Bay Area and no consideration was given to their cost of living when you were paying them 15/hr… I guess that is a sandwich an hour though.

    Non-profits and FOR-profits all fall under the same basic fundamentals of operations…P&Ls, Cash Flows, and Balance Sheets.
    A 501c3 is still a CORPORATION and functions as one. It just reinvests the profits into itself rather than distributing them to shareholders. But we wouldn’t want to bore people’s pretty lil heads with all that complicated businessy stuff with numbers – better make it really vague with colorful pie charts instead and tell them they wouldn’t understands what the adults are talking about. It worked for Ross Perot in the 90s… oh the 90s… let’s just go back to the 90s…it was all so much more authentic then lol…

    How fucking patronizingly patriarchal!
    Just show people the money or shut the fuck about it.

    #radicalselfentitlement
    #nextyearwasbetter… oh uhh yeah…about that…

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    • Mansoon says:

      Wow. You calling them “patronizingly patriarchal” would have some force if that wasn’t the entire tone of YOUR letter or you knew the slightest thing you were talking about. You don’t seem to know they’re following the most normal practices and are exactly on schedule for when 990s for NPOs are filed. They’re ALWAYS “following” for the year before and the Form 8868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File an Exempt Organization Return, period closes on Nov. 15 for the prior year, a fact that’s easy to look up. An NPO like BM actually needs the extension period because of all the income and outlay in the intervening months between the normal filling deadline. Filing earlier would clearly give you a very unclear picture. That piechart was clearly meant give an outlay normal operation expenses, but, even if you had up-to-the second numbers, you’d still need future expenses and incoming donations and training as a CPA in a very specialized field in the most uncertain environment EVER in this country. They’ve given you some updated info but people who believe in things sometimes just have to take a leap of faith, especially to keep a bold experiment going.
      They get a 100 percent rating for transparency on Charity Navigator, but what do impartial people who look at this stuff professionally all the time and have no stake in the outcome know compared to people who have a preset, ill-informed and dismissive agenda to complain and seem to be taking on multiple nicknames to make it seem like They are Legion? (Yes, your common linguistic patterns are showing, my dusty friend).
      But THEY must be the ones who are wrong, even though you speak disparagingly about them not giving balance sheet numbers, nevermind that there IS more detailed balance numbers on their annual report, whose PDF takes seconds to find. You know, for the Munchkins who actually LOOK. Honestly, to really know about what’s behind them, you have to know what the outlays and classifications mean, do a little research, have an open mind. Doesn’t seem likely, but what the Hell? Though, that’s what you expect from flying monkeys, dropping feces and never looking back. You show them the money, and they have no clue what it is it what it means and they pee on your head and expect you to think they’re raining knowledge.
      And, as far as knowledge goes, the Lollipop Guild? Ahem, they’re Munchkins, symbolically meant to represent the common people. So, by referring to them disparagingly, you are striking out at common people defending what they value, which is actually the most patronizing and elitist of insults. Always tells you a lot about their honesty and insight when a person does the very things they accuse others of.

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      • Mansoon says:

        Also (no surprise) there’s another giant hole in your argument (so many, I keep finding new ones. I honestly didn’t even know the one about the Munchkins BEFORE I looked at it. There’s just so many in these arguments that I figured this one was probably wrong, too), since nonprofits and for-profits ARE distinctly different . A small child and a large lion both eat, play, take a nap and a crap, but that doesn’t mean they are all that similar.
        This isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of the accounting profession. And it’s not just in taking donations and mission statements, but a whole host of other ways. I was reminded of this by a sponsor on NPR, saying that they do accounting specifically for nonprofits. They have special educational courses for this and even conferences for nonprofits accounting, because thinking so ignores many facets of math and law and expectations. You can google MANY links on this, but here’s just one I found
        http://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-accounting/resource/for-profit-vs-nonprofit-accounting-key-differences

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      • Rautamies says:

        I’d still like to see breakdown of expenses after cuts which seems to be a taboo. You could cut these:

        Contractors 12.1%
        Permits 9.3%
        Equipment rental 8.1%
        Office expenses (pens, stickers etc.) 6.9%
        Misc (feeding volunteer etc.) 5.8%
        Grants 5%
        Ticket sale expenses 5%
        Travel, conferences 2%

        and save 54.2% and this does NOT include any reduction to payroll. Get rid of half of staff/pay less and you get 70.5% of savings. Why can’t the ORG do better than 50% reduction? Yeah these documents get filed a year or 2 years late yadda yadda yadda but these are extraordinary circumstances and these numbers should be made public NOW. It’s simply not going to fly to ask for $1-2 million in donations every month moving forward, unless some tech mogul chips in. I see $1-1.2 million / month as somewhat justified monthly expense so it’s hard to understand where $2 million / month goes to.

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  • Jay says:

    Thanks for this detailed and snippy letter! Loved the birthday party analogy! Planning a party for 80,000 in the desert with no infrastructure is monumental. Keep up the good (and transparent) work.

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  • Zombie says:

    Long live snark and Burning Man! BM has provided a setting and experience that has sent positive ripple effects thru my life over the years. So I’ll donate bc I am blessed to be able to.
    There’s a whole psychology to donating and non profits and one can throw all the Negative judgments to the org about its ask but in the end donating is not mandatory. It’s just an ask, so you don’t have to if you don’t want toooo!

    I’m also open to volunteer for admin work if the Org guys need it! I’m a seasoned ops manager with a non profit willing to support FO FREE. Email me!

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  • A Normal Nevadan says:

    My biggest issue with donating is why donate to an event that clearly doesn’t want me there any more. For the last 5 years, I have not been able to get a ticket via an official sale. And every time, the response is “it sucks to be you.” And they keep reducing the amount of general sales tickets each year– to a mere 20K for 2020 (before cancellation).

    This tells me, they don’t want us average folks. Year after year, the event caters more and more to the wealthier folks and the “in crowd.” To me, it’s very clear that the Borg values those people much more.

    That’s fine. Just don’t try to foist some sob story on me begging for my lowly cash, especially after 5 years of “sucks to be you, peon.”

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  • SC says:

    I admit I was kinda pissed when I received the first email. But I like this FAQ and the answers.
    What I’m still curious about is how close is the BMORG to reaching their high goal? What happens if it’s not reached and there is no BRC? I guess we’re just supposed to get out our wallets and have faith. But I remember the ticket fiasco and lottery system that was an epic failure. So it’s a little hard to donate money and have absolute faith in an organization that has fucked us over in the past.
    I think having a smaller event would be a disaster. And bring out the worst in burners who think their entitled to go to the event. Bad idea.
    Since covid I’ve drastically changed my lifestyle to live within my means and burning man is no longer on the list of priorities. I did donate my ticket though with no expectation that I’d be returning to BRC. So you’re welcome.

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  • Burner Tim says:

    I appreciate your well-thought and well-meaning post. However, I disagree with your unstated underlying presence that “for BM to be meaningful/impactful/etc. it must look like it has in recent years.” Wasn’t BM meaningful and impactful when it was closer to its roots? I’d argue that people would get more out of BM if it became less elaborate, less fancy, etc., and forced people to be more self-reliant, per its principles. BM is amazing the way it is, but it doesn’t need to be nearly this fancy/bit/extravagant to touch people’s lives. Thank you

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