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Bay Area Reporter
Beneficiaries express confidence in AIDS walk change
<p>Matthew S. Bajko</p>
December 13, 2012

Executives at several agencies that financially benefit from AIDS Walk San Francisco are optimistic that the planned transition of the event to Project Inform's oversight in 2014 will be a positive change.

Although the bulk of the proceeds have historically gone to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation since the launch of the fundraiser 25 years ago, the walk also funnels donations to AIDS service providers throughout the Bay Area.

In 2012, 45 local nonprofits were named benefiting organizations of the walk and will share approximately $517,000 raised through the event. As the lead agency, SFAF is expected to receive more than $650,000.

Leaders of half a dozen nonprofits – located in Marin, the East Bay, and San Francisco – contacted by the Bay Area Reporter expressed confidence that the changes with the 2014 AIDS Walk would not have negative consequences for its success. For many it is a major source of revenue, and there is some hope of seeing their share of the proceeds increase once Project Inform takes over.

"It is very important to us. We know it is very important to everyone else too," said Marin AIDS Project Executive Director Jennifer Malone, whose agency received a $16,210 grant from SFAF in 2011 based on the AIDS foundation's IRS filings for that year. "I think we are all supportive of AIDS Walk as it has been and everything it will continue to be."

Project Open Hand, which received a $24,056 grant from SFAF in 2011, is also "supportive of the change," said Executive Director Kevin Winge. "We will continue to do what we can to make sure it is a successful walk."

Leslie Ewing, executive director of the Berkeley-based Pacific Center for Human Growth, said her "gut feeling" is that come 2014 "the grants might be a little bit larger." class="st">In 2011 the LGBT community center received a $6,010 grant from SFAF, according to the IRS filings.

But this year it was not invited back as a beneficiary, though it did organize a team of walkers who participated in hopes of raising $5,000. It is unclear if the Pacific Center will qualify under next year's grant process, though Ewing said her hope is that come 2014 "the agencies that have not been funded the last few years would be funded again."

She is worried what the impact would be on the 2014 AIDS walk should SFAF launch a new fundraising event that year. She questioned what corporate sponsors with ties to SFAF would do if placed in such a predicament.

"The success of the AIDS Walk going forward, I think, hinges a lot on the ability to retain those corporate sponsors," said Ewing.

Jimmy Gale, who manages the thrift store at the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County, also expressed concerns about what the future may hold for the AIDS Walk once Project Inform becomes the lead agency in an emailed reply.

"This change in leadership definitely puts the future of this event in question. The team at Project Inform is thrilled (and perhaps a little nervous) to be undertaking such a hugely popular event. My concern is that longtime walkers may not stick around to see how they do," wrote Gale, who is also an outreach coordinator, HIV prevention and education specialist at the LGBT center in Concord.

Involved with the walk the last eight years, Gale said the money the center receives from the event is vital to supporting its various programs and services. It received a $9,705 grant in 2011.

"My outreach and clinic definitely wouldn't be able to survive without it," wrote Gale.

He hopes the 2013 walk is a success, "... just to say thank you to Neil and the team at the foundation for their endless supply of optimism and support."

"After the 2013 walk is completed, we shall see what happens with this new venture," added Gale. "At the end of the day, it shouldn't matter who is running an event like the walk, as long as we raise money to change the course of this epidemic."

Project Inform held a two-hour meeting with leaders of various nonprofits that benefit from the AIDS walk at its offices Friday, December 7 to discuss the planned changes. It is not making any guarantees, at this point, that grants will be increased come 2014.

The agency is committed to "at least" maintaining the current percentage of funds that are distributed to the co-beneficiaries, which is pegged at 43 percent of net proceeds. Project Inform is projecting that the 2014 event will have expenses of $1.4 million and hopes to hand out $545,000 to partner agencies.

"A major goal of ours through the stewardship of the event is to increase the amount of grant-making going to many co-beneficiaries of the event over time," said Project Inform Executive Director Dana Van Gorder.

He said at this point no decisions have been made on what process will be used to decide how co-beneficiaries will be selected in 2014 or if their number will be increased. The only certainty, he said, is that Project Inform will be looking to recruit new constituencies to the event to build up participation and increase revenues.

"The 2014 event is a long way off," said Van Gorder. "One thing I would say about changes and what we are trying to do is there is no question revenue for this event has declined a fair amount in recent years, some of it having to do with the recession and some of it having to do with a decline in community-based participation in HIV-based fundraising."

Despite only signing a one-year contract with Project Inform for 2014, AIDS Walk founder Craig R. Miller said his company MZA Events expects to have a long relationship working with the agency.

"We expect Project Inform to be the lead beneficiary of AIDS Walk San Francisco for many years to come and we are very committed to Project Inform," said Miller. "If they asked us to go ahead and make a commitment to 2015, we would be open to it. I am most focused on how to meet their needs in 2014 and to help them succeed in this role."

With so few details certain at this point, most nonprofit leaders affiliated with the AIDS Walk are taking a wait and see approach before rendering judgment on the planned changes in 2014.

AIDS Emergency Fund Executive Director Mike Smith told the B.A.R. that he has no concerns about Miller's decision to part ways with SFAF, though he added, "I don't know if it's a good or bad thing."

AEF received a grant of $12,969 in 2011 from SFAF. Smith praised Miller's oversight of the walk and expressed confidence in Project Inform's ability to be the lead agency.

"I have every reason to believe nothing will change when Project Inform is the contract holder," he said. "I think we have 18 months before the AIDS walk really changes beneficiaries and that should be plenty of time to smoothly transition things."


Miller created the world's first AIDS walk in Los Angeles in 1985, according to MZA Event's website. By 1987 the company had launched similar events in New York and San Francisco.

During the history of the San Francisco fundraiser, the main benefitting agency has been SFAF. But as government funding for AIDS decreases, Miller said smaller AIDS agencies are facing increased need for community support.

Due to that predicament, Miller believes those agencies that do not have the internal fundraising capacity that SFAF has should be getting a higher percentage of the money raised from the AIDS Walk.

"My opinion has been, for some years now, ideally the AIDS Walk would be providing a larger share of net proceeds to the co-beneficiaries," said Miller. "That desire is principally driven by the fact SFAF, much to their credit, are fabulous fundraisers. They have the AIDS LifeCycle, which raises enormous proceeds."

Yet there is no guarantee that the same corporate sponsors that SFAF helped recruit for the AIDS walk will remain in 2014. As the lead agency, SFAF shared responsibilities with MZA Events to recruit major sponsors and assigned a staff person to work on the event fulltime for five months out of the year.

Van Gorder expressed confidence that Project Inform could take on that role.

"We will increase our development department staffing in order to do what we need," he said.