Burning Man Project–Director of Philanthropic Engagement

Burning Man Project

Director of Philanthropic Engagement

Position Description

Painter Executive Search is supporting Burning Man Project in their search for a fundraising leader who can translate and execute philanthropic practices which reflect the culture of Burning Man and ensure that financial resources are available to extend this vibrant culture around the globe.

Burning Man Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into the larger world.

Each year nearly 80,000 people gather in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to build a temporary city. Since its founding in 1986, the gathering has grown and evolved into an 8-day event with a worldwide reach. The deep cultural norms and values that emerged from the community continue to be at its core. In 2004, Founder Larry Harvey wrote down the 10 Principles to describe the cultural values at work in the Burning Man experience. The alchemy of these societal norms produces significant personal change, builds strong communities and feeds aspirations that continued to grow long after the annual event concludes. Part movement, part incubator, part container for human expression, part experiment in social living—the experience of Burning Man has grown organically, and the culture has spread around the world as participants transformed by their experience on the Playa bring their knowledge and enthusiasm back to their home communities.

Today there are over 90 affiliated Burning Man events across six continents. There are hundreds of local and regional communities that have developed around ideas for building community, creating public art, civic engagement, and addressing specific local, regional and worldwide community needs. The Burning Man Project supports these activities by fostering an environment of shared learning and open source problem-solving as well as providing seed funding for projects and programs. Working in six overlapping program areas, Arts, Civic Engagement, Culture, Education, Philosophical Center and Social Enterprise, the Burning Man Project is about facilitating possibility. Their programs and projects develop dispersed leadership, create space for learning, visioning, and sharing knowledge. They work toward fulfilling a vision of the world filled with civic-minded, joyful and enabled citizens.

While the event is over thirty years old, it was only in 2012 when Burning Man Project became a 501(c)3 nonprofit, that it began to consider how to achieve the mission of fostering the culture around the world. In this short seven-year period, the culture has expanded quickly, capturing the public’s attention. Things that would have seemed impossible in the 1990’s—like a major exhibition of Burning Man Art at the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery and invitations to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors—are part of the daily dialogue today. While the Burning Man Project continues to be committed to nurturing the Burning Man event in Black Rock City as the seminal manifestation of the 10 Principles-based culture, the growth of communities and interest around the world, has made tending Burning Man culture a fulltime endeavor.


The Director of Philanthropic Engagement will be based in San Francisco, California, at Burning Man Project’s headquarters and will be working with and developing relationships with members of the community around the country and across the world. The primary responsibility of this role will be to facilitate the funding that is needed for the continued growth of the culture in current and yet unimagined ways.

Working in collaboration with the leadership team, the Director of Philanthropic Engagement (Director) will lead the development and execution of a fundraising strategy which celebrates a culture of gifting and extends the opportunities for those who embrace Burning Man’s mission to participate fully in support of that work. Reporting to the CEO, the Director will provide strategic and operational leadership and manage the department staff and programs including annual, major gift and capital campaign initiatives.

This role is highly creative and calls upon an experienced fundraiser to establish sound fundraising practices which embrace 10 Principles-based culture. Deep experience with fundraising mechanics, including clear policies, infrastructure and process development, as well as substantial experience in donor engagement and major gifts is critical. Engaging with donors of a wide range of means, including volunteers whose gifts of time, expertise and passion are essential to the culture, will be highly important.


Fundraising in a 10-Principle Culture

A deep understanding and personal experience with the 10 Principles will be critical in developing and executing culturally sensitive and effective fundraising programs. These principles define Burning Man culture on and off the Playa and play a significant role in how the organization and the larger community approach fundraising, engagement and access.

Gifting, one of the 10-Principles, is at the heart of Burning Man culture. The value of a gift according to this principle is that it is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. Another principle, that of Participation is also important to understand. Participating in experiences, celebrating and supporting work for a common civic good or in the creation of art and events, generates the interaction that is core to any Burning Man experience—it can’t be substituted. Personal engagement is the currency valued by the community. Standard fundraising practices will require adaptation to align to these as well as other principles. Challenges to fundraising methods will arise when philanthropic efforts seek to influence in ways that are contrary to Burning Man values including Gifting and Participation, but also Decommodification and/or Radical Inclusion. Any situation where contributions could be seen as class-driven, transactional or as a shortcut for personal participation will be counter to the values of the community. Maintaining an even playing field, where people are treated and thanked with equal care for their unique contributions–regardless of background or level of personal wealth–are important to adhering to the norms of the community.

Why does Burning Man Project raise money?

In the past, the organization raised nearly all of its money through ticket sales to the annual event in Black Rock City. The Burning Man event is still a primary revenue source and a significant program area, with 83%  (2017) of all program expenses attributed specifically to the event. But ticket sales alone cannot support the flourishing global expansion of Burning Man culture. In order to seed and support the dreams of inspired Burners year-round, the organization needs to grow charitable contributions.

Burning Man Project raises funds for programmatic needs, core initiatives such as Education and Leadership, pilot programs and grantmaking programs for arts and civic engagement. Burning Man Project is building infrastructure and capital resources to facilitate a platform for cultural experiences, innovative projects and community collaborations. Additionally, Burning Man Project is a dynamic, learning community where opportunity to create social impact is sometimes as unpredictable as the founding of Burners Without Borders which developed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Burning Man Project is a platform from which activated members of the community can connect to the knowledge, networks and resources to bring their ideas to the world.

Internal Culture

When Larry Harvey wrote the 10 Principles in 2004, they were crafted as descriptive rather than prescriptive. There has always been a recognition that the power of the event is with its participants, that the culture and the creativity was born of their efforts and experience. This reality is still strongly felt in the daily decision-making and planning process of the organization. Decisions take time as active collaborations strive to reflect the Burning Man community’s attitudes and concerns. As the event has evolved and changed due to its global growth and popularity, the ethos and cultural values are grappled with and debated. This engaged, active stewardship of the culture is highly collaborative and rarely lands on directives. More often, working groups set forth guidance that are descriptive, and create a field of play much like the original 10-Principles. Working in this environment requires a strong understanding and appreciation for one’s own self-worth, but also a willingness to be adaptive and have assumptions challenged. Working at Burning Man Project is unique and stimulating and can be highly rewarding personally and professionally.

Fly Ranch (Case study)

In 2016, Burning Man Project acquired Fly Ranch, a 3,800 acre property just north of the Burning Man event site in Nevada. This property is home to dozens of hot and cold springs, three geysers, acres of wetlands, dozens of animal species, and more than 100 identified types of plants.

Fly Ranch is an example of the kind of experimentation Burning Man Project fosters. With financial support from a small number of donors, the property was procured. The next year the organization hosted an open conversation around potential uses of the property while surveys and assessments were conducted evaluating the existing natural and built infrastructure. Currently the property is actively being used as an open-source site for projects that test Burning Man culture in new ways. What’s happening at Fly is the result of what people want to create. Burners dream it; they bring it, just like the creation of Black Rock City. The Fly Ranch project is developing into a year-round rural incubator for Burning Man culture and a catalyst for innovation and creativity in the world. However, you won’t find a list of goals predefining what that work will be—Fly Ranch is the platform for others working in the culture to define their work, test it and grow their knowledge and impact.

Fly Ranch also is an important element and resource for moving Black Rock City toward environmental sustainability. In the last year, Burning Man Project published a working paper outlining an open-source approach to the event becoming carbon negative, sustainably manage waste, and be ecologically regenerative by 2030. It outlines evolving an experimental process which allows learning and adaptation as needed. As part of this process to create new models, Burning Man Project and the Land Art Generator have partnered to launch—LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch, a multi-disciplinary design challenge that will create the foundational infrastructure of Fly Ranch. Creatives are being invited to propose regenerative artwork for this unique and stunning landscape. The challenge includes dynamic and protected human habitation; places for learning and scientific discovery; venues of self-expression, immersive events, and artworks in nature; permaculture systems for food and organic products; regenerative infrastructures for water harvesting and recycling; and sustainable energy generation from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and other means.

Fly Ranch is becoming a model for the way Burning Man Project approaches ideas and becomes a catalyst for innovation and creativity in the world. Instead of prescriptive solutions and rigid frameworks, Burning Man Project sets the stage for creative ideas and action to prototype potential solutions within a collaborative community of makers and doers.

Projects and Plans

There are many opportunities to support the growth of Burning Man culture; supporting art projects on and off the Playa, donating to Burners Without Borders and the Community Grants Program, or championing community learning and leadership development such as Reno 2020, Burning Man Project’s first global convening. Reno 2020 will bring together over 1,500 creators, connectors, and cultural ambassadors from the Burning Man community and beyond to ideate, learn, build networks, and support thriving year-round communities made stronger by their intelligent and conscious integration of Burning Man culture. It will be addressing questions around how people can more effectively align their real-world realities with the culture of Burning Man, and how the skills and creative collaborations required to do this important work can be developed. 

The work of Burning Man Project is inspired by the community and as such, it is rich in possibility, and ripe for developing innovative approaches focused on action.



The Director of Philanthropic Engagement will build a robust fundraising program that seamlessly integrates into programs and initiatives evolving to advance the organization’s mission. The role focuses on both fundraising program development and relationship building, including identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of contributors to Burning Man Project from individuals, foundations and others including participants and program partners.

The Director will steward systems and processes that enhance the ability to deepen relationships with donors and volunteers and that effectively acknowledge their contributions in a timely and affirming manner. The Director will be responsible for increasing both the number of individuals and foundations supporting Burning Man Project annually, and in deepening the case for support through effective storytelling, engagement and participation. The Director will lead the efforts to create an increasingly healthy and dependable annual fund, as well as prepare the infrastructure for a future capital campaign.

Specific responsibilities include managing a portfolio of leadership donors and prospects, supervising, mentoring and inspiring staff and participating as a critical member of the leadership team. The current department includes an Annual Gifts Specialist focused on annual funds and the Artumnal Gala, a Donor Relations and Gifts Officer, a Foundation Relations Manager, a Gift Processing and Database Analyst (Salesforce) and an Administrative Coordinator. The team is currently raising approximately $2.05 million dollars annually. The team anticipates fundraising goals will grow as plans for capital, infrastructure projects and special initiatives become defined.

Among the important responsibilities of this role will be to partner with the CEO to grow comfort and messaging needed to solicit major gifts in support of the organization. Working together with the leadership team, the Director will continue to develop participation in and understanding of philanthropy across the organization. The Director will also work closely with the Board and the new Fund Development Committee to evolve participation and engagement in fundraising program planning and execution.


LEADERSHIP, STRATEGY AND COMMUNICATIONS                                                                     

  • Support and partner with the CEO and other key leadership to develop and execute a fundraising strategic plan and support their individual learning and fundraising activities;                          
  • Actively work across the organization to set and communicate fundraising objectives and goals in support of Burning Man Project’s mission and build understanding, collaboration and support internally for fundraising efforts;
  • Work with the CEO to engage and activate Burning Man Project’s Board of Directors, including development of the new Fund Development Committee and supporting, motivating, training Board volunteers in their fundraising efforts;
  • Actively understand, reflect, and promote Burning Man to the public; effectively communicate and share fundraising opportunities and needs of the organization and the community;
  • With the CEO and leadership team, steward the mission of the organization, participating in weekly leadership team meetings, communicating priorities and goals, and building a positive team culture that reflects the organizations values;
  • In consultation with others, craft organizational messaging about Burning Man Project’s programs to communicate and motivate current and prospective donors to strengthen their philanthropic commitment;       
  • Working across the organization, help establish an awareness and a vocabulary for communicating outcomes of Burning Man Project’s highly diverse and creative work;
  • Play a leadership role in capital campaigns and discussions that ensure the long-term sustainability of Burning Man Project and its programs;                 
  • In coordination with the Communications department, evolve development-related content in such publications such as Jack Rabbit Speaks, newsletters, annual reports, fundraising appeals, e-mail, and other communication channels;
  • Engage in positive leadership development within the team to advance Burning Man Project as a great organization;
  • Engage with volunteers in a manner that affirms their importance and value to Burning Man culture and both facilitates and celebrates their personal contributions of creativity, participation and time.


  • Manage the day-to-day responsibilities of executing the development program;
  • Identify, mentor, and retain the development team; promote professional development of the staff and creatively organize them to maximize their effectiveness and clearly define their roles, relationships, and expectations;
  • Collaborate with the Finance Director to develop and implement Burning Man Project’s financial strategy; oversee the development and monitoring of the budget for the department and ensure fundraising goals are monitored, met and communicated clearly;
  • Oversee development and execution of all fund development proposals with a long-term relationship-management approach;
  • Monitor donor and fundraising information; regularly provide and present data and analysis to the board and senior leaders, reporting progress and challenges to fundraising efforts;
  • Continue to evolve the stewardship program aimed at cultivating deeper ties with participants and donors;
  • Ensure the systems and processes are designed to support fundraising; facilitate the development of data and information important to cultivating and stewarding donors;
  • Oversee and provide supervision for hands-on, engaged experiences, receptions and events;
  • Assist in the creation, publishing and maintenance of process documentation.


  • Manage a portfolio of leadership gift prospects ($25,000 and above) contributing to achievement of the overall fundraising goals;
  • Regularly meet with the CEO to review the fund development prospect pool and devise specific strategies for individual engagement and solicitation.       


A successful candidate will likely have:

  • Direct familiarity with Burning Man as a result of participating in the annual Black Rock City event and/or official Burning Man regional events in other locations;
  • Ability and successful experience in building strategies for philanthropic engagement and a deep working knowledge of fundraising norms and practices;
  • Demonstrated success in identifying, cultivating and soliciting individual donors which resulted in a robust pipeline of new relationships and significant increases funding;
  • Demonstrated leadership skills capable of mentoring and fostering learning and success of the development department;
  • Excellent relationship-building skills and agility in building rapport with internal and external stakeholders around innovative ideas and programs; presents determination and confidence;
  • Able to work effectively with artists, Board members, and donors of all financial capacities and colleagues across the Burning Man community;
  • Ability to both motivate and engage volunteer leaders in fund development activities, including making ‘the ask’;
  • Exceptional communication skills; articulate, with proven ability to write effectively and speak persuasively;
  • Superior organizational skills, with a strong sense of detail-orientation and excellent time management skills;
  • A bachelor’s degree, preferably an MBA or knowledge of nonprofit finance;
  • Valid driver’s license and a good driving record;
  • Ability to travel, adjust work schedule seasonally, and work away from home (on playa) for up to 10 days during the months of August and September.


  • Dedicated to principles of behavior and ethics of Burning Man; able to embrace the organization’s mission and the sweep of its vision, and can thrive within a culture of strong, impassioned, driven, creative, and dedicated professionals;
  • A dynamic, strategic individual with a deep understanding of their personal value and a commitment to express that value with strength, creativity and perseverance;
  • Inspirational; able to bring out the best in others and approach challenges as opportunities for growth and learning; mature and experienced in navigating a complex culture;
  • Ability to think on his/her/their feet, problem-solve, think critically, and remain calm under stress;
  • An open, warm and personable demeanor conducive to effectively presenting information and responding to questions from executives, managers, staff, vendors, artists, local community members, participants, BMP Board members, and the general public;  
  • Highly organized with the ability to prioritize tasks in a fast-paced environment along with the willingness to accept interruptions as part of the routine; confidence in managing multiple projects and deadlines;
  • Exercise a keen sense of organizational diplomacy, able to maintain personal integrity and uphold high standards of confidentiality;
  • Committed to building a responsive, efficient, and successful fundraising program;
  • Possesses a high degree of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and fortitude.

 For additional information or to be considered for this role contact:

Nancy Painter


(415) 202- 6240