Berkeley Haas Case Series

Case Information

Burning Man: Moving from a For-Profit to a Nonprofit, the Ultimate Act of Gifting
Walske, Jennifer
Publication date: 1/1/2018, pages 1-26

This case study focuses on Burning Man as an organization, and how its leadership intentionally moved from a for-profit limited liability corporation to a nonprofit 501(c)(3), in keeping with a long-term view of the Burning Man community’s best interests. Burning Man was started in 1986 by two friends who burned a wooden effigy on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Since then, the event has grown significantly in attendance and scope, with more than 70,000 participants in 2017. For one week of each year, the expansive grounds of "the playa" - an area of Black Rock Desert, Nevada - is transformed into a temporary city, with well-marked streets, camps, and luminously large pieces of art that can reach over 70 feet tall. Nothing can be bought or sold during the event except for coffee and ice, as part of the organization’s emphasis on decommodification and gifting. Four years ago, the organization initiated the process of transitioning to a nonprofit structure. This case study describes the motivations behind that decision, along with its associated challenges and benefits.

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