New Life

It may be the thought that counts, but only donations will keep the Colorado AIDS Project out of trouble.

To balance its budget, CAP has had to lay off employees and cut programs. Last year the organization had a staff of fifty and eliminated four positions; it also froze pay raises. Instead of doing the same this year, CAP laid off an additional three people. "People are fighting a tough battle, and they need to be compensated," Maloney says.

With those staff positions also went some longtime services. The Buddy Program, in which volunteers provided clients with emotional support and help with daily activities, was eliminated this year. "That was one of CAP's first programs, so it was really devastating to lose that," Maloney says. "But it didn't serve as many people as some of our other programs, so it wasn't as cost-effective."

The intensive case-manager position was also cut. That person worked one-on-one with about twenty people who were not HIV-positive but who were considered at high risk of getting the disease; the case manager helped them understand how their behavior was dangerous and how to prevent infection. The money from that position was then shifted to the speakers' bureau, which had been unstaffed for more than a year because of a lack of funding. The person in charge of the bureau arranges for clients to speak at schools and other venues about HIV prevention. CAP chose to reallocate the money because the speakers' bureau affects more people, Maloney says.

 
Clay Sisk
 
Colorado AIDS Project director Deirdre Maloney has a lot of work ahead of her.
John Johnston
Colorado AIDS Project director Deirdre Maloney has a lot of work ahead of her.

Former CAP grant writer Mauro says the agency wouldn't have to cut services if it wasn't so top-heavy. More than half of CAP's 2000 budget was spent on salaries and benefits; the next biggest expenditure -- $916,000 -- was for client services, and the rest was spent on contracted services, advertising and overhead. "It's a bureaucracy run wild," Mauro says. "The cynical donor might say, 'Why should I give to an agency that's self-perpetuating?'"

Mauro doesn't understand why the public-affairs department spends more than the development department --$259,285 versus $229,136 -- which is directly in charge of bringing donations into the organization. "If you're talking about needing to raise more money but you're spending it at the rate your money-earners are, there's something wrong.

"By the mid-1990s, a lot of the stigma [around AIDS] disappeared. Tom Hanks had done Philadelphia. People were wearing red ribbons all over the place. AIDS patients were no longer the pariahs they were a decade ago. So why the need to spin?" he asks.

But Maloney defends CAP's expenditures, saying, "Public affairs has a major role in bringing money in. I agree with the way the organization is structured."

Mauro also has concerns about the way Cornerstone, CAP's individual donor program, has been managed. "It has floundered, and there are a lot of questions about what happened to that," he says.

Maloney admits that the attention paid to donors has waned in recent years. People who gave more than $250 a year used to receive thank-you notes as well as invitations to donor-appreciation events. "We did go through a period in the last few years where it wasn't as active as it could have been," she says. "Maybe thank-yous and reminders didn't get sent out. One of the mistakes we've made is not thanking people enough. We've had a lot of people who stuck it out with us through thick and thin and probably didn't know why they stood by us. I don't think they know the difference they've made for us. We're planning on redeveloping and reintroducing Cornerstone. It's one of our main projects this year."

Maloney also thinks CAP needs to get creative about attracting new contributors. "We need to think of new ways to raise money," she says. "We're going to have a new fundraiser this year -- a golf tournament -- and we're researching other grants and trying to think of other businesses to reach out to."

The Spin

While Maloney acknowledges CAP's past mistakes, she and past board president Tom Buche and new board president Terence Shea attribute their funding woes more to the public's perception about AIDS. They blame complacency about the epidemic, along with the fact that AIDS is no longer a media darling.

"In the mid-1990s, we were in our heyday with regard to AIDS awareness," she says. "That was when everyone in Hollywood wore red ribbons. It was a politically correct cause. People think that as time goes on, awareness goes up, but that's not the case. A lot of people are tired of hearing about AIDS. Every cause has its time in the limelight, and since AIDS isn't in the limelight anymore, it's hurt us. Funding nationally for AIDS-related services has gone down 20 percent."

In addition, the red ribbon seems to have been replaced with the pink ribbon as breast cancer has become the disease of the month, Maloney points out. If the amount of money raised for this year's Race for the Cure is any indication, she's right. The Denver affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation -- a national nonprofit that raises money for screenings and treatment for low-income women as well as breast cancer research and education -- raised approximately $2.3 million from the race this year, and the checks are still coming in, says Nancy Olson, the local affiliate's executive director. Last year's race raised $2.1 million. That increase was especially significant considering that this year's race was held less than a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Denver affiliate, which has been holding races for nine years, had to stop publicity for the event for ten days as a result of the nonstop media coverage of the attacks.

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