The Raffle Dilemma: Scalping or Fundraising?

A concept sketch of the 2012 Canadian art project, Breaking Wave

There’s one thing that can definitely be said about most burners everywhere – they speak their mind. You don’t end up at a 50,000 person art party in the desert by keeping your head down, your nose to the grind stone and your mouth shut. Wonderful; burners are opinionated and invested in the Burning Man community – what’s the downside? There’s always someone to naysay, disagree or play devil’s advocate.
This is exactly what’s happening with the various Burning Man 2012 art projects who are using ticket raffles as a fundraising modality. Burning Man ticket raffles have been around for a while now, last year even the Temple of Transition raffled two tickets to the Burn during their final phase of fundraising. Even though in years past, ticket raffling has gotten some flack from the community, the new lottery system and ticket scarcity has made many burners cry “scalper” at raffles. Raffling is a difficult subject, especially now that so many burners are without tickets. Raffles do provide burners with a low cost option, as most raffles are between $1-$25 to enter, but your chances of getting a ticket fluctuate greatly depending on entry numbers. People have a much higher likelihood of winning a raffle ticket from a small art group than they did in the initial Burning Man ticket lottery, but they do have to make a donation to the art piece in order to enter.

Groups like the San Diego C.O.R.E project have previously done well with raffles. Last year, they were able to surpass their fundraising goal of $1,000 by selling $1 raffle tickets. Over 1,100 contestants participated in the raffle and one lucky person got their Burning Man ticket for a buck! Here’s what Camber from San Diego C.O.R.E had to say about the raffle, “I found the raffle to be a great success. It

The 2011 San Diego Core Effigy

provided an opportunity to really engage with the larger San Diego Burning Man community and share our enthusiasm for the project. The tickets were only sold for $1 each so really nobody was excluded from getting involved. The final total was over $1,100 raised from the raffle, but honestly the money was secondary to the enthusiasm generated in the community. The enthusiasm lead to people volunteering and also to larger donations in Kickstarter.” This year the San Diego C.O.R.E is using a combination of Kickstarter and We Pay to fund their newest effigy, the CarouShell. A really fantastic and fun design incorporating, you guessed it, a carousel and a sea shell!
Current Burning Man ticket raffles are catching a ton of heat from the community, receiving hate emails, nasty Facebook posts and negative comments on Reddit and Eplaya. Most raffles in the spotlight are trying to raise funds to get their large scale art to the playa, a difficult task in today’s economic climate,

New Mexico's Core effigy mock up and mini burn of Kokopelli Rising

especially post-ticket fiasco. Social media is currently flooded with crowd source fundraising pages trying their best to entice passionate art-lovers to make a small investment to the cause. Indiegogo, Kickstarter and WePay are swamped with kinetic sculptures and effigies. New Mexico C.O.R.E is attempting to stay ahead of the game by raffling one of their personal BM 2012 ticket to fund building and transportation of Kokopelli Rising. The raffle should be showing up on the Kokopelli Rising Facebook fanpage soon. Tickets will be $10 for one or $50 for six.


One of the most notable raffles right now is Breaking Wave, a 2012 BM art sculpture using reclaimed drift lumber to raise awareness around ocean pollution. The sculpture will also honor those who perished in the Japanese Tsunami by using building materials that washed onto West Coast beaches during the Tsunami after-math. They hope to make the wave approximately 16′ in height and about 10′x 10′ at its base with solar-powered LED’s and EL wire for night lighting.

A mock build of Breaking Wave

Burn After Reading talked to James Deane, one of the main organizers of Breaking Wave, about their ticket raffle.
Why did you choose to raffle a BM ticket?
Well, our group in the beginning was only four members, and we had an extra ticket that was won in the general lottery hosted by Burning Man, so with the options available to us, and the current ticket situation, it seemed the easiest way to generate some income for the project.

Throwing an event is something we have done in the past, but our crew was only four people strong, so the event would have been fairly small, and really there are so many events to choose from nowadays. It would not have brought in that much income for the expense in time and effort. The other option we discussed was an Indiegogo campaign, this option is still something we plan to follow up on, if the BM ticket raffle does not bring in enough cash.

How did you get your extra ticket?
As I stated above, we won it in the general Burning Man lottery, all our tickets for our crew were won in the general lottery, and all at the highest tier. This means we need to raise $400, or sell 40 raffle tickets @ $10 a piece just to cover the cost of the BM ticket. That’s a pretty steep entry cost for us, and something we didn’t know if we would be able to achieve, but we felt that with enough promotion, and a strong marketing campaign we would achieve this goal. So far, our raffle has run for about 4 weeks, with another 4 weeks till we draw the winner, and we have not covered the original cost of the ticket.

What are your feelings about civic responsibility and tickets?
We have encountered a couple people citing such rules, as some kind of protest to our raffle, thinking we’re getting rich off this thing. We did research this position prior to launching this raffle, and we discovered that we are allowed to do what we are doing and are completely legal in our effort. Our project, and all our crew are Canadian, the laws that govern raffles, and lotteries in the US are not the same up north. We are not just a different state, but an entirely different country.

Do you have any other things you’d like to add about Breaking Wave and the raffle?
Well, it seems to me that anyone hating on a ticket raffle is just looking for something to complain about, too bad they didn’t get a ticket, but hey that’s how it goes this year… If the BMorg can lottery the ticket then why can’t we? If my local CORE project, sanctioned by my local regional BM rep’s Raffle off a BM ticket they got for “free” why can’t we..?

Plus, to be honest, I would have much rather given this ticket to a friend, or one of the many local Burners that I know who did not get a ticket. But instead we will give it away to some random person that enters our drawing. The actual love and gift of the ticket has been almost removed, for the sake of cash. But as we all know, money makes the world go round, and without it, playa art does not happen…. To realize our dream of Breaking Wave, we need money for nails, fuel, truck or trailer rental, 2 loads of decomposed granite from the BMorg, LED lighting, and solar panels, these things all add up. Our crew is small, currently we are five people, and to accomplish this project, we would each have to invest way more than what’s possible if we didn’t fundraise.

You can enter the Breaking Wave raffle at their website or via their Facebook page. Breaking Wave is $10 per entry, the draw date is June 1st. Also keep your eyes peeled for the Kokopelli Rising effigy raffle on their fan page. Who knows, you may even win a Burning Man ticket for just $10 this year. Good Luck, ticket-less burners and ticketed art projects! See you all on the playa!

11 Responses to “The Raffle Dilemma: Scalping or Fundraising?”
  1. Miles

    I don’t really see how it’s any different than scalping: You’re making money off of selling the ticket. You just slapped a “fundraising” label on it. Where’s the line? What if someone just straight up scalped a BM ticket for $1,000+ to fund Regional art for next year? Is that really any different in essence? Shit, for the sake of argument, with all this talk about how the decommodification principal only applies *at* the event, what’s the problem with selling tix for a profit in the first place?

  2. blyslv

    One difference is that the money from the raffles (that you call “scalping”) is going to the playa in the form of art, rather then into the pocket of someone who doesn’t care about our community in the first place, or might not understand the whole BM project. The ticket fandango is a situation of artificial scarcity, which always presents the opportunity for profit that creates no wealth (AKA “monopoly rents”). That’s why scalping is so offensive. It’s a leach sucking energy from something he had no hand in creating.

    A raffle on the other hand keeps the wealth in the community and allows for groups to do stuff they might not otherwise get to do. In our case it will (hopefully) result in a way bitchen’ piece of art that we will burn on the Playa and bring joy to millions worldwide!

    Also let’s think about the “principles” a little. Granted decomidification is an excellent aspiration. But it is not Holy Writ (god forbid that anything from the ORG ends up that way…). So I would say “settle down Francis”, it’s going to be a good burn!

  3. What blyslv said.
    Scalping= Whatever cost paid over the base ticket price goes in the pocket of an outsider business.
    Raffle = whatever cost raised over the base ticket price goes back into the art of the event.

    • wraith

      Scalping is reselling a ticket above face value, period. It doesn’t matter that it is claimed to be ‘for a good cause’, it’s still scalping. Profiting off of the ticket situation is reprehensible, and no amount of art project they could drag out to the Playa will make it morally acceptable.

      • Kodiak
        Danielle 'Kodiak Mc-Stompin Boots' Bissonnette

        The ticket is potentially being “sold” for $10. That’s not scalping, that’s a bargain.

  4. Another point is that the raffle gives anyone who wants to enter a chance at the ticket in question. If you *just scalp* the ticket that is what creates an unfair advantage for that one person.

    • wraith

      The raffle just spreads the cost out over a larger pool of buyers. the goal here (as this is a fundraiser) is to sell the ticket at greater than face value in order to profit. Scalping in a nutshell.

      • Kodiak
        Danielle 'Kodiak Mc-Stompin Boots' Bissonnette

        If anything this is a double charitable act.

        *A piece of art gets funded to be enjoyed on the playa by burners attending 2012.
        *A $10 ticket! That’s hard to beat.

        Scalpers were the loathsome “other” this year. They were the monsters hiding in dark little holes sitting on piles of illgotten tickets ready to bleed us for $100’s more than we were willing or able to spend so that they could do their evil scalper things like start up child-labor-sweatshops that made furry boots specifically designed for kicking puppies from critically endangered Snowleaopard cub pelts.

        But these guys here aren’t the scary, dangerous other, there just a couple of Burners with an extra ticket and not enough money to fund a piece of art they’d be GIFTING to the Playa. If they are scalpers, it’s kind of hard to hate them.

  5. Scalping is greed in action. Scalpers don’t add anything–they gouge. Their fellow burneres aren’t equals, they are income streams. Scalpers have an entitlement mentality. They get their ethics from Wall Street and contort themselves into pretzels trying to justify their actions.

    Rafflers are they opposite. They don’t demand money in an act of mini-extortion. They ask fellow burners for help. In return, everyone wins something. One person wins a tickets, thousands of people win art. Folks raffling the tickets are the antithesis of greedy. They donate hundreds of aching hours to the rest of us. They serve their community and uplift us all.

    The difference is clear if you care to look.

    • wraith

      So it’s totally moral to scalp a ticket as long as more than one person pays to meet the over-face price, and you totally like, put some effort into bringing something to the playa, man?

      Couching the act in feel-good language doesn’t make it any less scalping. If anything, raffling off a ticket is even more dishonest, as it baits in donors who will get nothing in return with the offer of a shot at a ticket, rather than simply setting a price.

      • blyslv

        Please don’t insult the intelligence of those who buy raffle tickets. People know that their $10 – $25 dollar ticket isn’t likely to result in their winning. But they are buying a chance and contributing to a project, and they clearly feel like that is worth their money.

        If you can’t understand the difference between one person (who may or may not even attend the event) charging what the market will bear for a ticket versus a group of burners selling a chance to win one, further discussion clearly will not help. Several people commenting here have very clearly explained the rather significant difference, and done so in a clear and cogent manner.

        BTW, when you conclude that a raffle is somehow “immoral” which moral code or system of ethics are using to arrive there?


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