Pride is now attended by millions, and funded via hefty sponsorships from mainstream corporations. Virtually every elected official — the treasurer! the public defender! — rolls down the street in gorgeous automobiles. Revelers take in concerts from the Backstreet Boys or Lady Gaga and wander amid more than two dozen gay-themed pavilions while sipping on ballpark-priced beers or margaritas. Milk's time feels like ages ago — because it was. Accordingly, the situation that last year revealed Pride's deep dysfunction would not have been conceivable in the era when Baker's flags were first marched through San Francisco.

Alcohol and money — or the lack of either — have triggered conflicts since the dawn of civilization. And Pride is not exempt. Last year, a dispute arose between Pride and dozens of the nonprofits that provide manpower for the event's beverage booths and earn a cut of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pride eventually acknowledged it underpaid the nonprofits and pledged to reimburse them nearly $50,000 in sales revenue. This conclusion wasn't reached, however, until weeks of contentious public back-and-forth between indignant nonprofits and sanctimonious Pride officials splashed across the pages of the Bay Area Reporter, prompting elected officials to intervene. The "beverage payment scandal thing," as former Pride board chair Mikayla Connell puts it, eventually led to Pride allowing the city controller's office to subject it to a "fiscal and governance assessment."

For anyone who cared about the well-being of Pride, reading the results of that December analysis felt a bit like wandering into the doctor's office with a sore throat and being given a diagnosis that includes the word "metastasized." This wasn't simply an issue of stiffing community partners on beer money. The controller's painfully concise report revealed that the only thing Pride was doing efficiently was bringing itself to the brink of disaster. To wit:

City supervisors’ main concern with Pride is that it’s not generating enough money for the LGBT community.
Calibree Photography
City supervisors’ main concern with Pride is that it’s not generating enough money for the LGBT community.
Apparently, this is what a well-run nonprofit looks like.
Gil Riego Jr.
Apparently, this is what a well-run nonprofit looks like.

• Pride finished fiscal 2010 down $380,000, forcing it to liquidate the $155,000 reserve it had spent years building. Pride increased spending right as revenue dried up — it poured $204,500 more into personnel alone than it had the prior year, when it finished in the black.

• Pride increased spending during lean times because its oblivious board simply didn't monitor its finances. Board members did not notice that Pride's profit and loss statements see-sawed wildly between positives and negatives, hitting $335,000 in the red by September.

• Pride's board, incredibly, ratified an unbalanced budget that would put it $345,500 into debt. It subsequently passed a balanced budget of around $1.8 million — but neglected to stick to it, and ended up even deeper in the red.

The essence of the report is forehead-smackingly simple. Its authors, Catherine Spaulding and Nikhila Pai, say that Pride erred in neglecting its finances, realizing only at the end of the year that a massive deficit had been incurred, wiping out the reserves and forcing the furloughing of the staff. Rather, the organization should have closely monitored its dollars and made corrections as needed. "It's pretty standard," Spaulding says. The idea of running a business like a business "is nothing we came up with."

An inability to adhere to so basic a financial model cuts to the heart of what's wrong with Pride's inner workings. Most established nonprofits tend to have "governance boards" — overseers who set policy, raise funds, and make sure the money is there to pay for everything. Pride's, however, does none of those things. It is run by a self-styled "activist board" Pai describes as eager to get its "boots on the ground." But Pride has millions of boots on the ground. It needs more eyes on the budget. Shifting to a "governance board," the controller's report states, must be one of Pride's priorities.

It's also something Pride's board apparently doesn't care to do. Several burned-out former board chairs describe "almost no interest" from their colleagues in addressing many of the issues revealed in the report. This hastened a number of departures. "You cannot run the organization like it was 40 years ago," a frustrated Alex Randolph says. A former Dufty aide, he joined Pride's board in January, was elevated to cochair in March, and quit in April — an abrupt move his former colleagues in City Hall read as a clear sign of institutional sclerosis.

While the controller's analysis is easy to comprehend, for many at Pride, it is not so easy to take to heart. An organization that has, astoundingly, nearly made a celebration of gay pride untenable — in San Francisco — may not be eager to make difficult, introspective decisions. "It's no failure on the part of an organization to admit you are in decline. It's like admitting you are not well and going to see a doctor," says Teddy Witherington, Pride's executive director from 1997 to 2005. "But if that doesn't happen, you'll continue to see this downward decline to the point it becomes irreversible. And everyone is blinking and saying, 'I don't know how we got into this situation.'"

Asked whether Pride has reached the point of no return, Witherington takes a deep breath. "It's getting pretty close."


For a long while, even those who should have known better equated the overall health of Pride with the quality of the events it produced. But Pride's eponymous festival is executed by veteran contract workers — Audrey Joseph has overseen the main stage since 1984; event manager Joe Wagenhofer and parade coordinator Marsha Levine each has more than a decade of experience. Handling the actual logistics of a massive event requires a level of competent professionalism that is not ubiquitous throughout the organization. It takes a lot to nearly break a venerated San Francisco institution like Pride — but, in recent years, the organization seems to have been trying it out. In 2009, Pride's complacent board tapped Amy André, who had no prior experience in event management, to serve as executive director. She was soon overwhelmed; the board set her adrift; no one minded the store; and all the while, nonprofits nationwide were buffeted by an economic crisis.

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16 comments
Si Se Puede Deportar
Si Se Puede Deportar

Hilarious if it weren't for the fact that the taxpayers will be ponying up to keep the inept and corrupt "organization" going "for the community". Perhaps public floggings of prominent public figures could be auctioned off to raise funds? After all SF is known for out in the open BDSM.

Thom Lynch
Thom Lynch

All of this is so sad and at one time unavoidable. Many people met with the board before they hired Amy and suggested a major overall of the board was required and that the membership structure should be revisited. Spending had to be reduced, having 26 stages to place everyone is ludicrous. This was widely known by non-profit exports who knew the LGBT groups in town and their problems too. But pride stood out as one of the worst and didn't listen to anyone until it just too late.

Dp1965nj
Dp1965nj

HA HA! In Pride We Trust

Jward
Jward

i dunno. i have little faith, and there's more to be done than one woman/man can do alone. merging with another organization = get a clean slate. if this organization tried to do more than give a short parade and flaunt corporate sponsors, cocks and boobs, then maybe i'd be more enthusiastic. where is the contribution to humanitarian causes? what about us gay families with kids? what about poz people? sure, let's party and have a parade. but let's also do some GOOD for the community rather than just wreak havoc.

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

OK, so Marc has obviously never been to a pride celebration. Anyone with a real comment?

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

Can we please stop calling this an Economy issue? Do you know that people have given MORE money since the country's fiscal crisis started. I work for a non-profit and yeah, its maybe harder to find money - but there's still money to be had. Pride's mis-management and derelict board is what caused all this. Nothing more

Marc
Marc

San Franciscans, especially LGBTQ ones, don't deserve this celebration. You've done nothing to be prideful of for at least the past seven years. It's become a reason to drink and drug and nothing more and it is quite clear you don't have a clue how to bring in money for anything except personal coffers. And don't even get me started on sponsorship by companies such as Clear Channel. Shame on you.

dariamilan
dariamilan

what the article fails to include is that Amy Andre did have financial training in the MBA for Berkeley that she got after the Point Foundation paid for it. Ms. Andre is excellent at taking money from others but seems woefully lacking in paying it forward even when she is getting a paycheck to do just that. The fact that board members are able to take responsibility but she just brushes it off as a "learning experience" is truly sad. She withheld info from the board and the public and has never taken responsibility for it. All after getting her MBA paid for with the promise to serve her community.

thixotropic
thixotropic

My first impulse was "Government money?!? No way in hell!" But the city does get tax revenue from it, and Pride has the benefit, in lean times, of reliably putting of plenty of money in the hands of local merchants. A million people with an above average income spending it is worth 160K in debt.

But fiscal and organisational changes are paramount. Those of the current crew responsible should be held accountable, and competent people must be engaged to replace them.

garrett
garrett

We are going thur a bad time folks, things are shutting down, stores are closing and people are losing homes. Non-profits are having to cut back, less money nowadays. If Folsom is doing well change the model to them. As for getting public money, Why.

MissMimsey
MissMimsey

Lord hep me Jesus.

David Campos says you have to fish or cut bait.

The dam ting MUST be a total mess.

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

kudos to joe eskenazi for a comprehensive, fair and balanced look at the mess known as SF Pride. he did a fabulous job of giving some of the tortured history of the board and most recent executive director, and also acknowledging the extensive reporting of the bay area reporter.

i have one big question after reading joe's piece, and i say this as someone who avoids the pride parade and festival at civic center: what is the gay political point of the damn parade and party on the last sunday of june?

____
____

Pride comes before a fall.

Maria
Maria

Wow. Excellent report (though a dubious title).

What I find especially frustrating is that in the relatively close-knit core of gay people who've lived in the city for decades and know all the players and have a nose for trouble, this narrative has been known for years.

We all winced with every new pronouncement emanating from the Pride org about an ever more edge-case focus on politics and buzz-words and ever dwindling accountability and financial health. Its been going on for years.

In this city, large non-profits are enabled to operate without accountability, to spend tax dollars with out any meaningful tracking of outcomes vs. promises, and in the end we all lose -- except of course the non-profit executives who pocket fat salaries.

Marc
Marc

Really? I'm curious as to what you base your assumption on?

You're quite wrong by the way. I've been a volunteer for SF Pride even but please enlighten me as to why you make that statement.

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

If all you've seen at a pride celebration are people getting drunk and high then you've either not been there or you're an idiot. I was being kind

 
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