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

A national study of philanthropic organizations conducted by New York-based nonprofit Funders Concerned About AIDS confirms that donations have indeed decreased for many organizations like CAP. From 1996 to 1997, philanthropic giving for organizations providing HIV- and AIDS-prevention education, treatment and research, went from $37 million to $30 million, a 19 percent decrease, while philanthropic giving overall increased more than 15 percent during that same period, according to the study, titled Philanthropy and AIDS: Assessing the Past, Shaping the Future.

The reasons funders gave for the decrease in contributions were varied: Some chose to give less to AIDS organizations in favor of funding the broader health-care system; some felt they hadn't seen the results they'd hoped for; others said that because of the numerous requests for their support, they'd expanded their giving to other causes. One private foundation explained, "After ten years of giving, we felt that if we had to exit a program, this would be the one. It is sort of a 'been there, done that' mentality. As the epidemic has become more and more linked to issues of poverty, it is not so clear that it is a 'scientific' problem to solve."

AIDS service organizations offered their own assumptions for the decline in giving. "People with HIV don't look as much like grant makers as they used to. Higher numbers of people with AIDS are impoverished, substance-abusing, mentally ill, homeless -- populations that foundations have difficulty impacting. AIDS is now combined with many complex social issues -- this is too difficult for foundations to address," one HIV/AIDS funding collaborative stated.

 
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.

Some nonprofits looked inward for answers. "HIV/AIDS organizations themselves admit that 'we in the community did a really bad job in engaging philanthropy.' They cite ongoing leadership changes and relative instability as significant barriers to engaging philanthropy consistently over time," the study found.

A Midwest AIDS service organization said, "They (philanthropy) are saying, 'We want innovation, we want new things.' As the epidemic changes, most of it is just taking old programs and switching populations. Old programs for new populations may not be innovation for funders, but it is what is needed."

Funders Concerned About Aids has since followed up with another study, completed earlier this year, which shows the dip in philanthropic giving leveling off and, in some cases, rising again. About 40 percent of the funders included in the study reported that their HIV/AIDS funding had stayed the same, while 25 percent reported an increase.

In Colorado, there has been a general decrease in giving to HIV/AIDS organizations because of the economy, but none of the groups have experienced the drop CAP has. The Boulder County AIDS Project has seen a 10 percent decrease in attendance at fundraising events and is anticipating a budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

BCAP had $840,000 in revenues last year and was planning for a $950,000 budget this year. "We're probably going to come in under $800,000," says Robin Bohannan, BCAP's executive director. To make up for the loss, BCAP cut administrative costs by 30 percent and is eliminating positions by way of attrition. "We're not going to cut programming," Bohannan says. "We'll do bake sales before we do that."

Jorge Figueroa, executive director of the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, which serves eight counties, hasn't had to eliminate any programs to maintain his organization's annual $350,000 budget, either. "Our fundraising events haven't been as successful as they have in past years, and the average donor size has decreased," Figueroa says. "But we haven't experienced any significant decreases. It just means we've had to work harder."

And fundraising has remained fairly steady for the Western Colorado AIDS Project, which serves people in 25 rural counties, says executive director Jo Rosenquist. Her organization also has an annual budget of $350,000. "We don't have a PR or marketing person. We just have a couple of outreach coordinators, and all of our fundraising is done by volunteers," she says. "There's a lot of difference between our AIDS project and CAP. In a little county like Dolores, for instance, you know who you're raising money for. In a large metro area, you might not have that personal connection. Chaffee County raised $5,000 in their little AIDS walk. The sense of community may be stronger in the rural areas."

And the Southern Colorado AIDS Project, which serves 24 counties, has actually seen gains. SCAP's annual budget has grown from $700,000 to over $1 million in the last five years, according to marketing and development director Kevin Hattery. "I'm not suggesting anyone's crying in their soup, but you have to go after the resources."

Interestingly, a nationwide survey about AIDS awareness released in May by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Americans still view AIDS as a top health concern. More than one in four Americans listed the disease as an urgent health problem, second only to cancer. Almost half said AIDS is a more pressing problem now than it was a few years ago. More than half of the Latinos and blacks polled said they're personally concerned about becoming infected, and a majority of the young adults surveyed said that they, too, are worried about getting HIV.

Former executive director Pegues says CAP could be successful at fundraising again, but only if it changes its approach. "It's not that they're not sophisticated or creative in fundraising; they have a good mix of fundraising events, from bar parties to black tie. It's how they shape the message that's a challenge for them," he says. "So much of their approach around funding is around crisis. When you continually say over time, 'We need help, we don't have enough money,' people lose confidence in what you're saying. They've been saying that for ten years. They need to say that AIDS is a chronic epidemic and that they'll need help now and well into the future."

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