It’s not so much myth as expectation.

In Alberta, private enterprise and capitalism rules.

The way to happiness is through wealth. Wealth is created from profit. Profit is usually created by growth.

Private enterprise, we believe with all our Wild Rose hearts, is simply a more efficient and better way of doing things. Money is what motivates us. Money is how we keep score.

Then there’s the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

It’s a provincial paradox. This organization lives and deals in the free-market world. But it doesn’t really care about money.

It sells out in 12 minutes but refuses to raise its prices. It lets in under 12s, over 80s and surrounding neighbours for free.

It refuses to grow. About 22,000 people, over 3.5 days last weekend at the downtown Gallagher Park, is just fine, thank you.

It’s as egalitarian as can be. “The rich can’t buy their way to the front of the line,” says GM and artistic director Terry Wickham.

It gives a portion of its profits to third-world folk festivals.

But it still keeps making money! The Edmonton Folk Festival has a $1.7 million endowment fund, built from retained surpluses over the years. It will re-invest $250,000 in equipment this year and still will have a million bucks in the bank for next year after this year’s bills are paid.

It’s dependent on government grants, the cynic scoffs. Nope. All three levels of government, all in, cover 10% of the $4 million budget. That’s likely a smaller percentage than Big Oil gets in government incentives and tax breaks..

The folk festival, to my mind, runs with military precision. It always strikes me how super-organized the whole site is. Too organized, in fact, for my liking. A little too squeaky clean.

Yet there’s next-to-no paid staff! One full-time general manager/artistic director, four other full-time , three half-time staff, and 10 to 12 site contractors for last weekend’s festival. Total 2013 labour costs, $750,000.

But there are 2,300 volunteers, on 73 crews.

“The Folk Festival is social enterprise at its best,” says long-time folk festival member and board director Cam McCormick, who is writing a PhD degree on how organizations like the folk festival “engage stakeholders to build community.”

At the heart of this paradox - an organization that doesn’t care about money making scads of money - is an organization built around a volunteer culture.

“Folk festival volunteers don’t care about money,” says Cam. “They’re motivated by the music and its community.

“Your average Joe in a 9-5 job doesn’t care if his company makes an extra 5% profit. He won’t see it. But the festival volunteer knows, if the festival makes an extra 5%, it can then afford to go after a Van Morrison. I’ll work an extra shift or two for that incentive!”

Total cost of feeding and taking care of 2,300 volunteers, $265,000.

The volunteer culture, “Edmonton’s largest functional family,” as Wickham calls it, is the lightning in this bottle.

The culture is inculcated into the festival. As a society, the folk festival is governed by its members. A volunteer, after two years, can become a member. The nine-person board of directors must be members, and are voted in by the members. Oh yes, the board is volunteer as well.

Volunteers are inherently less efficient and effective than paid staff, the theory goes. The comparison is usually to cat herding.

Such is not the case at the folk festival.

Volunteers don’t go away. They stay on their crews for years and years, move up and down in responsibility, and, when they take on “management” volunteer positions are fully trained on the job. The crew leaders are sensitive to “aging” and ensure the engagement of all generations.

“I have fun with my friends in the private sector,” says Wickham, who with a business degree and banking/concert promotion background, is well trained to take care of the money.

“How much is enough? The folk festival doesn’t have to satisfy shareholders with endless growth. We’re more concerned about excellence, about sustainability, about being around for another 100 years.”

The folk festival, Heritage Days, The Fringe, Street Performers … all are leisure-oriented social enterprises that appear to be more efficient and enduring than their for-profit entertainment counterparts.

Alberta, for all its rugged individuality, has a storied history of cooperative or not-for-profit ventures doing rather well in the business world … especially in agriculture, in the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. or Co-op retail chain and credit unions.

It may be heresy – I want the skilled, the disciplined and the risk-takers to make as much money as the market will allow. I wish I was personally smarter about making more money!

But there may be more to this “social enterprise” model, as personified in the Edmonton Folk Festival, than meets the eye.

Factoids: How the non-profit, volunteer-driven 2013 Edmonton Folk Festival made and spent its money. (Source: Edmonton Folk Music Festival).

Major Revenue sources

Box office (net): $1.9 million

Sponsorship (cash and in-kind): $450,000

Total government grants, including lottery: $450,000

Beer Garden (net): $205,000

Merchandising (net): $170,000

Concerts (net, outside folk fest weekend): $100,000

Casinos (net): $65,000

Equipment rental to other organizations: $65,000

Non-government grants: $50,000

Festival endowment fund draw: $50,000

Major expenses

Artist fees: $950,000

Labour costs (5 full-time staff, 3 part-time, 10 to 12 contractors): $750,000

Production costs: $690,000

Volunteer expenses: $265,000

Total budget: $4 million

Total expenses: $3.7 million

Projected surplus for 2013 festival: $300,000