SantaCon — that horrific event in which thousands of drunkards dress like Kris Kringle and descend upon New York City's bars in a boozy and ostensibly charitable push — may not be so philanthropic after all.
In an investigation, Gothamist found that over the past decade, less than a fifth of the $1.4 million the money the event's organizers have raised have gone to registered nonprofits. More than a third of those cumulative funds, meanwhile, have gone to Burning Man-affiliated organizations and individuals — and in a strange tech twist, more's even gone to questionable cryptocurrency investments.
What began as an anti-consumerist protest in San Francisco in 1994 has morphed into something far more boorish in recent years, as the NYC metropolitan area's normiest and most alcohol-oriented denizens take Manhattan to wreak havoc in red velvet. If you'd forgotten or never knew in the first place that the whole debacle is supposed to be about quote-unquote "raising money for charity," you'd be forgiven.
As the SantaCon NYC website exclaims, the proceeds from revelers' $15 tickets "will be split between the various charities listed on this page, as well as charities in line with Santa’s mission." Other than a second off-handed reference to the org's "charitable mission" on the event's press page, the website itself doesn't explicate what that mission is supposed to be.
As Gothamist reports, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that undergirds SantaCon, known as Participatory Safety, Inc., does have a mission statement: "to bring art to underserved communities." In remarks to the website, Stefan Pildes, Participatory Safety's founder and director, echoed as much.
"Our mission is to bring more art out into the world," Pildes said. "I want to continue to see more creative outlets and opportunities and more people in costume and more cheer being spread."
To that end, its largest named recipient, the makers of a documentary about unconscious or nonconsensual pelvic exams, received $66,340.
That figure pales in comparison, though, to the more than $832,000 that was nearly 60 percent of the funds SantaCon has raised since 2014, going to business expenses. According to Pildes, that figure has covered all manner of bills, from venue rentals and temporary staff fees to permits for street closures and DJs.
"It’s not a small undertaking," Piles told Gothamist.
And speaking of not-insignificant undertakings: in 2018, per the website's analysis, someone at SantaCon lost $17,498 in cryptocurrency investments, which equaled a third of its so-called charitable giving for the year. There's no telling how many shitty DJs or mediocre street vendors organizers could have paid for with that much dough.
As for the Burning Man-adjacent expenditures, Pildes had an explanation for that too. While admitting that SantaCon and Participatory Safety had spent money on multiple Burn-related art projects, he insisted that some of that cash was spent in the form of loans that were repaid.
The same year SantaCon lost so big on crypto, for instance, its nonprofit parent org spent $60,000 to rent out four floors for a post-Burn party. That was apparently a zero-interest loan, per Pildes, and saying it was repaid with a swiftness.
While legal experts Gothamist interviewed said they don't believe SantaCon or its not-for-profit parent company spent money illegally, its "charitable" nature seems fuzzy at best.
"Charities play fast and loose with how they account these things all the time," Lloyd Mayer, a Notre Dame law professor who specializes in nonprofits, told Gothamist.
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