2015 Form 990

Download the Burning Man Project 2015 Form 990 PDF

2015 Annual Report and Form 990 Questions & Answers

Q. How much money did Burning Man make in 2015?

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

Q. On Schedule C, page 2, it looks like Burning Man spent $1 million on lobbying and $250,000 on grassroots activities. What’s up with that?

A. Those lines don’t state what BMP spent. They say what our “nontaxable amount” would be for those categories; they’re the limits on what 501c3s can spend, determined by the organization’s level of expenses. We actually spent $0.00 on lobbying and grassroots activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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