September 30, 2022

Burning Man — Philanthropy in Action

This September, I hopped on a plane to Reno to embark on my first Burning Man event. While I expected to enjoy the weekend, I quickly discovered that it far surpassed anything I'd imagined. I also came to the surprising (to me, at least!) realization that Burning Man is essentially one big philanthropic adventure.

For those of you who don’t know, Burning Man is an annual gathering in the desert of Black Rock City. It’s actually a temporary city — existing for only nine days each year —focused on fostering a "creative and connected existence, bringing experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and civic engagement.”

The term Burning Man embodies the Saturday night ceremony, where a large statue of a man is set on flames while the whole community cheers under the stars.

For me, the magic began as soon as I arrived at the playa where our camp was situated. At Burning Man, there are 1,500 different camps between the 80,000 attendees — each with its own unique theme. Every camp at Burning Man comes up with something special — a gift for the other attendees. Together, these generous acts and experiences create an unforgettable tapestry for everyone there.

In fact, one of the most remarkable parts of Burning Man (and one I haven't seen mentioned much) is that nothing is for sale. You cannot buy anything except bags of ice — yet the entire event is filled with things to do and try — pop-up dance clubs, mobile ramen carts, and pirate-themed bars. Our camp made pineapple upside-down cake, which we shared with over 400 people!

What contributes to the success of the event is the spirit of generosity. On my way home, I kept thinking about how similar it was to what we have here in the nonprofit sector. We harness the desire to help each other, to share with each other, and to drive real and lasting change in the world. Even the essence of The 10 Principles of Burning Man reflects the nature of nonprofit values:

1. Radical Inclusion
2. Gifting
3. Decommodification
4. Radical Self-reliance
5. Radical Self-expression
6. Communal Effort
7. Civic Responsibility
8. Leaving No Trace (environmental footprint)
9. Participation
10. Immediacy

As a fundraising professional, it's so easy to get caught up in numbers and strategy — sometimes forgetting the underlying reason that we're all in this sector is to make the world a better place for each other. As we head into fall, let's all remember that the work we're doing (our own unique pineapple upside-down cakes) can improve the lives of everyone around us.

Pictured below: Amy (on the right) with her campmate "Hurricane."

A self portrait of Amy Funk and her friend dressed in a fun hat and face paint smiling.

A dancer participating in a fire performance.

A woman dancing with flames while she participates in a fire performance. There is a crown of people sitting in the background at night.

Written by

Amy Funk

Amy Funk is Senior Vice President at TWB Fundraising.


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