4 min

What’s Pride cost?

Everybody has a different idea on who should pay

Credit: Rosanne Metz

This year Pride Toronto hired its first full-time staff person: Frank Chester as managing director.

The hiring – along with the federal government’s effort to sponsor the event for as much as $40,000 – doesn’t just raise the question of how Pride Toronto has managed to grow to its present massive size with only volunteers and one part-time administration person. It also raises the question of how other cities organize and fund their Pride events.

It’s not a popular question.

“I don’t like to compare,” says Suzanne Girard, director of Montreal’s Diverscité. “It’s weird to participate in that. We just recently met at Interpride, an international organization for pride coordinators, where we shared our views and concerns. Comparatively speaking, even operationally, it’s not good to compare. It took us nine years to stop comparing.”

But let’s.

San Francisco, for example, puts on what’s considered the world’s largest Pride (estimates are in the million-attendee range) with government funding of US$80,000 on total revenue of about US$2.5-million annually. As with all other Prides, the rest of the San Fran budget is made up of corporate sponsorships and individual donations, as well as revenue-generating activities like booze sales and entry fees.

San Francisco takes a creative approach to encouraging volunteerism: Non-profit community organizations can become either donation partners or beverage partners. Beverage partners receive 40 percent of the net proceeds from beer and soft drink sales plus all tips, while donation partners receive a percentage of the money they collect based on the number of volunteer hours they donate.

Like Toronto, San Francisco Pride is managed by an unpaid board of directors; their office staff is also volunteer. However, San Fran does employ several independent contractors to provide specific services.

In Los Angeles, Pride is run by the Christopher Street West Association, which is governed by an unpaid board of directors and an alternate non-voting board. They have one paid staff member and three paid consultants on a budget of $####TK.

Montreal’s Diverscité has paid staff including Girard and some summer-only employees; some board members are also paid out of its annual revenue of $1.5-million.

Girard says Montreal gets “very little funding. Even with sponsorship, our sponsorship dollars are below market value. We get some government funding, but not a lot. We feel like we’re begging. The events have become so huge, that we do mostly crowd management.”

Funding they receive from the city of Montreal and the provincial government helps pay for costs like security. In Toronto, the city and province don’t hand over any cash (and it’s still waiting to see if it’s going to get promised federal dollars), but the city doesn’t charge Pride for street closures, extra policing or extra garbage duty.

Out west, the Vancouver Pride Society receives no government funding and has to cough up $4,000 for cops and $13,000 for street closure, which it pays out of annual revenues of about $225,000.

“The city told us that if they didn’t charge us, it would set a precedent for other groups,” says Vancouver Pride Society president Michael Cowan. “We have a conservative city council. But on a lot of levels they are supportive.”

Cowan’s position is for three years and is paid. The 10-person board of directors is volunteer and there are 250 other volunteers to manage more than 130,000 spectators.

Pride Toronto, with annual revenues of about $500,000, relies on about 700 volunteers for Pride weekend, with an estimated attendance of 800,000 people last year. Until Chester was hired in March, the paid staff was only a half-time office person.

Chester is in charge of developing and implementing several strategic plans – including finding more sources of cash, recruiting and holding onto volunteers.

“Because Pride has become such an enormous event, the organization has to become enormous. Volunteer management is a tough skill. We needed someone around with a corporate history,” says Kyle Knoeck, who is volunteer co-chair. “We have a lot of ideas, but no time to make them happen.”

Toronto Pride’s collective mentality – anyone can become` a member by attending three meetings – has made the organization historically resistant to paid positions. And some believe that’s a good thing.

“We should be looking for community things,” says Terry Theakston, member of the lefty queer group Glamorous Outcasts. They want to see Pride re-politicized, which also means less corporate involvement.

“We became frustrated with all the corporate floats. community groups are frustrated,” says Theakston. “We have to look at how we pay for Pride, government funding and the fundraising aspect. Corporate sponsors don’t pay as much for Pride as people think. We have arrived at a point where we see huge, corporate floats. We are about networking and bringing politics back into pride. Pride is a celebration of victories and struggles that began with Stonewall.”

Others see a need for Pride to get even more organized.

I’m glad they have a paid position now,” says Michael McGaraughty, who was Toronto Pride co-chair in 1996 and 1997. “There should be some compensation. There is no sense of legacy or continuity any other way. It seemed like every time we were doing Pride we were re-inventing the wheel.”

Because of the rapid growth of Pride – in Toronto and other cities – it can be hard to meet public expectations with only volunteers, says Chester.

“For instance, we get all these phone inquiries from people who think we have these huge departments for every aspect of the event,” he says.

A big part of Chester’s job is the development of an improved sponsorship guide that will explain to potential sponsors to what an extent Pride contributes to the economic vibrancy of the city. He also wants to do an economic impact survey that may woo more money Pride’s way. The last one was in 1996 and showed that Pride generated between $42- and $56-million dollars for the city.

This attention to the economic impact of Pride is becoming increasingly important as a way to sell the event to governments, sponsors and local businesses. Vancouver’s 2001 survey suggests that city’s Pride brings in $22.7-million. Montreal’s 1999 survey pegged that city’s benefit at $21-million. Sydney, Australia claims Pride spending of more than US$100,000.

“There is government money to be had,” says Chester, “but, we have to go after it. And that takes time that we don’t have. So one of my jobs is to work with these revenue-generating ideas and make proposals.”