And other, more subtle things have alienated people, according to clients and former employees. Up until a few years ago, CAP would give people $10 food coupons each month that could be redeemed at grocery stores. "That wasn't a lot of money, but it was a gesture that said, 'We care about you,'" says the former employee. "When they cut that, it created a lot of bad will among people who triggered a lot of donations."
CAP also used to let clients eat lunch in the waiting room, but at the request of case managers, the organization asked Project Angel Heart, a food bank that collects food for people with HIV and AIDS, to stop delivering meals there in the spring of 2000; at one point, some people at CAP proposed removing chairs from the lobby because clients were loitering as they waited for taxis to take them home. Over the years CAP has also debated whether to cease its annual toy drive for children of parents infected with HIV or AIDS, but so far, that hasn't happened. "They don't see the need to do those social feel-good things because they feel like they're just there to provide basic services," the former employee says. "The agency has lost sight of what it's there for. It's supposed to be about serving people."
Maloney knows CAP hasn't done the best job of communicating with people, and she wants to change that, as well as correct what she says are misconceptions about CAP. The reason a lot of clients complain that they don't get the services they need is because grants come with restrictions that force the organization to turn down a lot of requests for assistance, she explains. "One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that we get to give out money as we see fit. The majority of our money for client services comes from Ryan White and HOPWA (Housing for People With AIDS) grants, and those grants have specific needs," she says. "Living with the disease and the stigma is hard, and they just want help. They don't want to be turned down. But when we say we can't give money, it's not our choice."
The federal government gives out Ryan White emergency and housing grants, named for the Indiana teenager who got AIDS from a blood transfusion in 1984 and died six years later. Ryan White emergency grants can help low-income clients pay for prescriptions or phone and utility bills. But that money can be used only for the most current bill, not bills that are past due. People also can't exceed more than $200 in phone-bill assistance each year. Some clients whose income qualifies them for housing assistance through the federal government's HOPWA program can't get that money if they already live in subsidized housing. Those are just some of the many ways CAP's hands are tied, Maloney explains. "I think that's very hard for our clients. When we have to turn down a client's request, it's not a won't, it's a can't.
"CAP has had a very chaotic eighteen-year history and has made a lot of mistakes. I don't think we're perfect by any stretch, but we're trying to acknowledge those mistakes," Maloney says, referring in particular to the way changes within the agency have been handled. "We made some specific choices about restructuring the organization and about how we communicated it to our staff, to the community and to the clients. We're trying to be consistent now in the messages we give to the staff and the community and to keep everyone in the loop. Far too often, it feels like the staff and the board and the executive director are doing different things when we're really all in this together."
Just how much of an impact CAP's past mistakes have had on donations is impossible to measure, but the fact is, contributions are way down. In the 1997-1998 fiscal year, CAP had almost $3 million in revenues; $1,615,948 of it came from individual and corporate donations, private grants and fundraising events. In the 1999-2000 fiscal year, CAP had $2.8 million in revenues, but only $1,291,086 came from those sources.
The income from fundraising events alone has dropped dramatically, from $972,880 in the 1997-1998 fiscal year to $567,868 in the 1999-2000 fiscal year.
For fourteen years, CAP has organized AIDS Walk Colorado, a 10K walk that benefits about twenty local AIDS service organizations. In 1997 it raised a record $1.4 million. But this year, the walk garnered only $880,000. Still, it was a gain over the previous year, when CAP spent $200,000 to pay a private events company to recruit corporate participants and design promotional materials. CAP went back to producing the walk itself again this year.