World AIDS Day observed amid falling donations

Mike Zacharias

Saturday is World AIDS Day, and HIV/AIDS organizations around the world will once again sponsor events in an attempt to bring attention to what the United Nations AIDS program calls the fourth-biggest killer in the world.

But many HIV/AIDS organizations – as well as other nonprofit groups – are waiting to see what effects the events of Sept. 11 will have on policies, funding and donations.

The National Association of People with AIDS is an HIV/AIDS advocacy group in Washington, D.C., partially funded by other AIDS organizations. NAPWA has noticed waning donations from other charities since Sept. 11.

Terje Anderson, NAPWA’s executive director, said many AIDS groups are giving less money because of their own fund-raising woes. NAPWA has laid off some staff and struggled to keep HIV/AIDS concerns on legislators’ desks.

“Trying to keep our issues on the agenda is very challenging,” Anderson said.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, the nation’s oldest AIDS organization, is fretting over contributions that typically come from city, state and, to a lesser degree, federal donations.

“We are very nervous about what’s going to happen with budgets,” said Marty Algaze, the director of communications for GMHC.

The terrorist attacks combined with an already sluggish economy and have forced the federal government and states to slash dollars from their budgets. Many nonprofit groups such as Algaze’s fear a reduction in government support.

The unprecedented generosity seen in the wake of the tragedies might also detract from people’s ability to give.

Amy Buck, the communication manager for the Minneapolis chapter of the Red Cross, said $4.8 million was collected for the Liberty Fund by her chapter alone. In an average year, the Minneapolis chapter collects approximately $100,000 for national disasters. This influx of money has also made it difficult to solicit, Buck said.

“We’re finding that, especially with corporations, when we’re trying to solicit money, a lot of people are tapped out,” Buck said.

Lorraine Teel, who sits on the board of directors for the AIDS Action Council, said AIDS groups in Washington, D.C., and New York have been hit especially hard since Sept. 11. The Washington, D.C., AIDS walk raised close to half of the money it made last year.

The amount of donations received over the holidays will give nonprofit groups a better idea of Sept. 11’s effect on them, Teel said. Regardless, groups will continue working, she said.

“We remain committed to our mission to stop the spread of AIDS,” said Teel, who is also the executive director of the Minnesota AIDS Project.

While it remains to be seen how nonprofit organizations will fare following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Minnesota AIDS Project will be sponsoring two events Friday to commemorate World AIDS Day.

The organization and the Target Corporation will host a business forum Friday morning in an effort to educate about HIV/AIDS issues that affect businesses.

If businesses request their services, the Minnesota AIDS Project will supply relevant information about working with HIV-positive employees. They will also offer help writing company policy for HIV-positive employees to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, which apply to HIV/AIDS, said Todd Sorensen, communications coordinator for the Minneapolis AIDS Project.

The third annual Lunch Out Loud will be Friday afternoon and give legislators in St. Paul and 12 other Minnesota cities a chance to eat lunch with HIV-positive people.

“It’s simply a way for these legislators to talk to people about living with HIV,” Sorensen said. “We want people to realize that people are living with HIV, not dying of it.”