Nonprofit Comic-Con Reports Nearly $10 Million Cash in the Bank

Latest IRS filing also notes $65K-plus salaries for wife of group’s treasurer, daughter of its treasurer.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. March 26, 2012

With nearly $10 million in the bank, Comic-Con had a good year in 2010. Not bad for a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

In its most recent tax filing—submitted to the IRS in July 2011—the San Diego Comic Convention reported gross receipts of $10.16 million and expenses of $9.1 million. (See attached PDF.)

Based in La Mesa, with nondescript offices on Allison Avenue in The Village, Comic-Con had net assets of about $8.84 million as of Aug, 31, 2010, according to its Form 990 filing.

But the “nonprofit educational corporation promoting comics and related popular art forms,” as Comic-Con describes itself, said it had $9,999,107 cash on its books at the end of the 2010 reporting period.

The largest share of its revenues ($5 million) came from the sale of memberships—tickets to Comic-Con and related events, such as WonderCon, which this year was held March 16-18 in Anaheim, and the Alternative Press Expo. Other revenues ($4.7 million) came from trade show income and  sponsorships—fees paid by vendors for space in the San Diego Convention Center.

Comic-Con also reported that Maija Gates, daughter of Comic-Con executive director Dona Fae Desmond was paid $65,616 in the 2010 reporting period, and Colleen O’Connell, wife of Comic-Con treasurer Mark Yturralde, was paid $69,501.

The highest paid employee of Comic-Con was Desmond, earning $93,038 while working a reported 50 hours a week.

An email inquiry to Comic-Con about its latest tax filing has not been answered.

Original story of June 15, 2011:

Avoiding a cliffhanger ending, Comic-Con met a city deadline of June 2 to submit an application for a business license—after operating on Allison Avenue five years without one.

According to city records, the San Diego Comic Convention—with offices at 8330-8340 Allison Ave.—is doing business as “Comic-Con International & WonderCon & APE.”

Its business license was issued May 25.

But Jolene Cayas, the La Mesa’s business license officer, said Comic-Con paid no fees with its license.

That’s because the operation—which prepares for the world-renowned July convention at the San Diego Convention Center—is considered “exempt” from fees since it is legally a nonprofit organization, meeting IRS rules for tax-exempt status. It pays no state or federal taxes.

Comic-Con—a 501(c)(3) organization—files annual Form 990 reports listing its revenues, expenses, director and employee compensation as well as the mission that qualifies it as a nonprofit.

According to the latest Form 990 available—filed in July 2010 for the tax year ending Aug. 31, 2009—Comic-Con “is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”

Comic-Con had revenues that year of $9.17 million and expenses of $8.21 million for an “excess … for the year” of $955,456, according to IRS filings (attached).

The operation’s executive director, Dona Fae Desmond, made $84,742 that year, averaging 50 hours a week. Among its directors, President John Rogers was paid $18,000 for workweeks averaging 9 hours. Vice President Robin Donlan made $14,418 for 14-hour workweeks.  

Comic-Con has had nonprofit status since 1975, which is well-known.

But since nonprofits generally have some charitable purpose, Comic-Con has raised eyebrows for years.

Says the Internal Revenue Service page on such nonprofits:

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations. ... The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

A San Diego Union-Tribune report of July 27, 2007, quoted Sandra Miniutti, a vice president for Charity Navigator, as saying:  “It is a real stretch to call a group whose purpose is to promote comics via a highly commercialized event a charity. How does that benefit the greater good of society?”

The same article, by John Wilkens, quoted Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy as saying: “The people who appear to be profiting are the pop-culture purveyors who have a great marketing opportunity there.”

David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for the convention, told the U-T in 2007 that being a charity “allows us to return any money made back into our event.”

He told Preston Turegano the same thing four days earlier in a San Diego Business Journal article: “Whatever we have left over after expenses always goes back into the organization to help prepare for the next convention.”

Comic-Con had about $3.8 million in net assets in 2007, according to the U-T report.

In its latest filing, say tax filings, Comic-Con’s net assets were $7.78 million.

La Mesa’s business license fee is $35 plus $3 per employee.

Concern-Ed June 17, 2011 at 12:52 AM
I'm not sure what battle is being waged here? Are feelings hurt because it was reported incorrectly that Comic-Con lacked the appropriate business license, when in fact they didn't require one? What is the purpose in disclosing anything about Comic-Con's financals? Or, is it just a slow news week? The insinuating overtone that they pose a frauds carries heavy weight. Exposing and exploiting their addresss is simply meanspirited. Maybe with real investigative reporting Mr. Stone would find out that anonymity was simply management's goal to steer ticket seekers away from the mad dash at their front doors! Since Comic-Con's ticket sales are outsourced for obvious reasons; the staff which spends the full year organizing the next convention, must concentrate on their expertise and let the ticket gurus, gods, warlocks or whomever take care of their end of the ticket sales. The staff is ill-equiped to handle these inquiries at the main office. Given the need to report on essentially nothing; I'm sure that the aforementioned increase in assets will diminish some, as the need for extra staff to handle front door inquires increases in the upcoming year. Why not do some reporting on important city issues like why certain development groups seem to get all their projects approved? Just a thought.
Yoga for Artist July 16, 2011 at 10:23 PM
At least the ED, P and VP are paid with a very modest salary unlike other Big Name Non-Profit such as UNICEF, United way and ,many more. Check out the articles: http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp & http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/us/27nonprofit.html?pagewanted=2 This is quite disgusting to see such poor stewardship of peoples $$. Much Thanks to the Comic-Con team for keeping it Real.
Maura Larkins July 26, 2011 at 02:50 PM
How much does Comic-Con pay to these staffers for food, travel and other expenses? Shame on this for-profit organization for calling itself a charity.
Jennifer March 27, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Do you guys know how much business the Comic-Con brings to San Diego?? This news story is just going to encourage them to move it to a city that will embrace it for all the tourists/consumers that it brings. Non-Profits are not always charitable either. Some, like Chamber of Commerce's, do "charitable work" for businesses by networking and trying to bring in more consumers to their members. Is this not exactly the same thing? Not only does it bring people to San Diego's convention center but they wander downtown, buy food at SAN DIEGO restaurants, stay in SAN DIEGO hotels... they are doing exactly what they should be doing and if San Diego loses the Comic-Con, you can bet that a lot of San Diego businesses will lose a lot of their profits that month.
Debra April 05, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I think they DESERVE to be well-paid for what they do. They created an institution! On the other hand, there's an epidemic of people trying to escape paying taxes to the communities they make that money in, so I like a business to stand up and call itself a business, and a charity to actually be charitable. So while I appreciate them, and I want them to become rich for their efforts, that doesn't mean they can do whatever the heck they please. Hey, I'd have more money too, if I didn't play by the rules, but I like those rules. They keep the world sane, when not everyone in it is.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »