Dana E. Auslander wants to do something that has a purpose.
The 40-year-old veteran of the hedge-fund world is on a hiatus of sorts—a "self-discovery journey," she says, to evaluate a return to finance or a start in philanthropy.
Part of that journey has been raising money for Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, a charity that provides HIV and AIDS education in New York. Ms. Auslander spent about half of last year and most of the summer raising money for the organization and most recently gave $15,000. She is to be honored at the organization's gala on March 7.
Though Ms. Auslander has a number of philanthropic interests—microfinance, clean water, the Museum of Modern Art and the New York City Ballet—Love Heals is special, she says, partly because she "grew up in the AIDS pandemic age."
Love Heals was founded more than 20 years ago in memory of Alison Gertz, a young woman from the Upper East Side who contracted HIV through a single sexual encounter at the age of 16. She became an activist for HIV and AIDS and died in 1992 at the age of 26.
Ms. Gertz's closest friends, Stefani Greenfield, Victoria Leacock Hoffman and Dini von Mueffling, carry on her message today. The organization is the leading provider of HIV/AIDS education in New York City, 600,000 people have been involved in its programs over the years.
Still, despite the reach of Love Heals, Ms. Auslander feels that there's complacency when it comes to HIV and the topic, from a philanthropy standpoint, is getting less attention than it used to. It isn't the philanthropic topic du jour for many, she says.
"What's more important is those topics that are left alone that no one goes near. Like microfinance. Like HIV, which is no longer cool. I can tell you right now that none of my finance-related friends donated or wanted to donate to it," she says. "And that to me makes it more interesting. Important."
Further, says Ms. Auslander, many people think that HIV/AIDS has been "solved" with the advancement of medical treatments. There's still a taboo attached to the disease and many believe that AIDS is the problem of emerging nations, she says.
"People are a little bit still afraid of this topic," says Ms. Auslander. "If you ask the average Upper East-Sider whether they would donate to Sloan-Kettering or an AIDS cause they would 100% donate to Sloan-Kettering. Not that that's not important."