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Under New Management, AIDS Walk SF Approaches

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Thursday Jul 10, 2014

Organizers are getting ready for the annual walk that raises money for HIV/AIDS programs and services throughout the Bay Area.

AIDS Walk San Francisco is set to take place Sunday, July 20 at Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park. Sign-in begins at 9 a.m.

This year marks the first time Project Inform, which does education and advocacy work around HIV and AIDS, will be the lead beneficiary. The AIDS Walk organization announced in 2012 it was splitting from the previous lead agency, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

The first AIDS Walk San Francisco was in 1987. Twenty-seven years later, about 20,000 people are expected to take part in the 6.2-mile walk this month.

"So far fundraising is going quite well," said Project Inform Executive Director Dana Van Gorder during an interview June 30. "Most of the action occurs between the Fourth of July and the actual event."

Agencies raise money by fielding teams and keeping 100 percent of what they raise. In addition to those funds, many groups also receive grants.

Van Gorder estimated total expenses would be $1,350,000, noting the figure "is pretty comparable to last year."

Organizers hope the event will bring in approximately $2.4 million. Based on that number, about $530,000 will go back to the 39 co-benefiting HIV agencies from grants and revenue raised by their individual teams.

Net revenue of about $500,000 would go to Project Inform. MZA Events, which produces the walk, will be paid $162,000 in fees. Remaining costs include promotion and advertising.

One of the agencies participating in the AIDS Walk is La Clinica de La Raza, which provides HIV and other medical care in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties. In 2013, the agency had $86,308,558 in operating expenses and saw 91,752 patients. Scott Carroll, 45, of Berkeley, is HIV prevention services supervisor for the agency.

For La Clinica, the event is more of a "community building activity within the organization," said Carroll, who's gay and HIV-negative. "We've never raised more than a few hundred dollars. It really is about pulling people together around the cause and getting out to walk together as a group."

San Francisco resident Marc Jung, 61, who's also gay and HIV-negative, has walked every year for 18 years and is leading a team of Presbyterian churches.

Jung said he started doing the AIDS Walk at a time when coworkers with AIDS would "go on disability and never come back."

He said he continues to walk because "there still is no cure. Even though there are treatment options now, AIDS Walk is a way by which not only are we able to fundraise," but also raise awareness.

SFAF Revives 10K Fundraiser

While it's not leading AIDS Walk efforts any more, the AIDS foundation does have a similar fundraiser planned. The nonprofit is re-launching its Big Gay 10K walk and run in September.

Van Gorder, however, doesn't see the 10K as competition to the AIDS Walk.

"It's an event that has existed in the past and is being revived, and I think probably the constituencies for the two events is a little bit different," he said.

For instance, said Van Gorder, "There are a lot of corporations and businesses that field teams and raise money" for the AIDS Walk.

The demographics for the two events are also different, he added.

"Obviously there are LGBT people, but it's also heavily a family event," Van Gorder said of the AIDS Walk, with people "from all over the Bay Area. While I'm sure some of those people might participate in the Big Gay 10K, I would expect that event, given its name and feel, to be a little bit more queer. In any case, I think it's fine. It's an event they've done in the past, and it makes sense that they would do it again."

Neil Giuliano, the AIDS foundation's CEO, has said that the 10K run isn't meant to compete with the AIDS Walk.

"It's a very different model," said Giuliano, who described the 10K as a "fun, very spirited, costumed big gay walk and run."

Asked about Van Gorder's remarks, James Loduca, the AIDS foundation's vice president for philanthropy and public affairs, said in an email that the 10K run is "attracting corporate teams and sponsors from around the Bay Area. It's great to see this event really take off with LGBT and allies alike."

In an email, MZA Events CEO and President Craig R. Miller, who founded the AIDS Walk, wrote, "I believe the public will have an easy time discerning the difference" between the two events.

The Big Gay 10K benefits only the AIDS foundation, while the AIDS Walk San Francisco, noted Miller, "benefits a collaborative coalition of leading HIV/AIDS organizations throughout the Bay Area."

Miller added that the change in management of this year's AIDS Walk has been well received by donors and corporate sponsors.

"I think that AIDS Walk San Francisco's renewed emphasis on more efficient and volunteer-driven organizations explains, in part, why the restructured AIDS Walk San Francisco has emerged so strongly from the transition to Project Inform's leadership," wrote Miller.

Van Gorder said he's "not particularly" worried about any financial impact the 10K may have on the AIDS Walk.

"It could have some, but we're working to increase the number of teams, and we have a lot of new teams this year, so I expect us to do well," said Van Gorder. "Let's face it. The world of nonprofit fundraising, whether it's in HIV or anything else, is competitive."

Grants to Agencies Will Return

One of the biggest changes Project Inform is instituting this year is bringing back grants awarded to AIDS Walk participating agencies in addition to what is raised by those walking on their behalf.

Because of its losing oversight of the fundraiser, the AIDS foundation last year decided to cut the grant disbursements. It did so in estimation of facing a $750,000 budget gap in its 2014 fiscal year. In 2012 the agency handed out $250,000 through the grants program.

This year a committee that includes nonprofit and county HIV organization representatives will review grant applications, said Van Gorder, "and help us make recommendations."

The news of the grants returning has pleased participating agencies.

"Everyone is quite happy that we're back on track," said Jung, and he thinks the walk "will be very successful."

Other changes are also being implemented in conjunction with the 2014 fundraiser. AIDS Walk organizers will distribute money more broadly this year than has been done before. Eligibility to take part was expanded to agencies in seven Bay Area counties; before, groups in five of the region's nine counties could walk.

The participating counties are Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo, along with Contra Costa and Sonoma counties, which were officially added this year, although Contra Costa had previously taken part.

Organizers are also planning to make the opening ceremonies "just a little bit shorter," Van Gorder said, since "people are often eager to set off on their walk."

There will also be more emphasis on the multiple agencies that benefit from the money walkers raise, he said.

"We will be incorporating many of the co-beneficiaries into the opening ceremonies as a reminder that Project Inform is not the only beneficiary of the event, and to give people a richer sense of what the funds go to support," Van Gorder said.

Individuals may register at any time up to the start of the walk. The deadline to register teams was July 9. Fundraising continues until August 15.

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