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AIDS Organizations See Fundraising Plummet as Donors Shift to Other Causes

By Mathew Katz | December 3, 2013 7:25am
 Activists demonstrate in Times Square for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 2013.
Activists demonstrate in Times Square for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 2013.
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CHELSEA — Donations to the city's top AIDS organizations have dropped over the past several years as causes like marriage equality have drawn more attention — and money — from New York's LGBT community, according to financial data and nonprofit leaders.

Five of the city's most well-known AIDS service organizations — including Harlem United, Bailey House and Gay Men's Health Crisis — have seen donations dip by at least 15 percent over the past five years, records show.

At the same time, a half-dozen of the city's broader LGBT organizations — including the Empire State Pride Agenda, which fights discrimination against gay New Yorkers, and the Anti-Violence Project, which aims to keep LGBT New Yorkers safe — have seen their donations rise by at least 20 percent over the past several years, according to records.

"A lot of folks went away when 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and marriage equality became sexier," said Regina Quattrochi, CEO of Bailey House, which provides housing programs and support to people with HIV and AIDS.

Bailey House raised about $568,000 in private, unrestricted donations in fiscal year 2012, down from about $680,000 in 2008, records show.

Quattrochi and other advocates attributed the funding drop to the changing face of HIV and AIDS, as the number of HIV-positive black and Latino people in New York City has grown as a much faster rate than the number of HIV-positive white New Yorkers, according to city records.

From 2001 to 2012, the number of black people living with HIV in New York City leaped by 120 percent, while the number of white people living with the virus only rose by about 50 percent, according to a report by the city's Health Department. The number of Latinos living with HIV grew by 91 percent, the report showed. 

"It's not about fatigue and apathy," Quattrochi said of the funding decrease. "It's about who's been impacted by the epidemic — it's racism, homophobia and the criminalization of drug use."

Sean Strub, who helped AIDS organizations become fundraising juggernauts in the early days of the epidemic in the 1980s, said it was easier to secure donations when those who were suffering from AIDS were wealthier and whiter than those who are being diagnosed with HIV today. 

"All these middle- and upper-class donors who used to give, for them, it's no longer about the nice gay boy down the street," said Strub, who has raised money for groups including Gay Men's Health Crisis. "It's about people in poverty, in [a] community of color. It's people with a whole hierarchy of challenges."

LGBT donors still want to help their own community — but what they view as their community has changed and may no longer include people with AIDS, Strub said.

"Instead of being focused on empowering each other, it's now a sympathy appeal — let's help these poor people in need," Strub said. "It changes who's attracted to funding the organizations."

GMHC, the city's oldest AIDS service organization, saw one of the biggest drops in recent years. The nonprofit raised $2.79 million in fiscal year 2013, down about 17 percent from the $3.36 million raised just one year earlier, according to a draft of the organization's 2013 audit obtained by DNAinfo New York.

"AIDS isn't a crisis anymore, so gay men don't want to give," said one GMHC insider who asked not to be identified for this story out of fear of alienating potential donors. "And there's a younger generation that never lived with it and doesn't care."

In the minds of HIV-negative donors, the source said, AIDS has shifted from a health crisis to a manageable illness.

"Unfortunately donations to AIDS-related organizations are down across the board as we collectively work against the incorrect and dangerous notion that AIDS is no longer a problem," GMHC's Seth Rosen said in a statement. "Ultimately, even with the ebbs and flows of individual donations, GMHC’s services remain stable while our Development Department continues to work diligently on diverse fundraising."

New York's most visible event supporting people with AIDS, the annual AIDS Walk, has also seen a drop in donations over the past several years. The event brought in $5.53 million for GMHC in 2009, but only $3.45 million in 2013, records show.

As a result, GMHC has seen cuts, layoffs and furloughs over the past year. The agency is contending with millions of dollars in annual overhead, including $389,000 a month in rent, and has lost two top executives this fall.

At the same time, the Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBT advocacy group that fought for marriage equality in New York, has seen a steady increase in fundraising, even after gay marriage was legalized in 2009. The organization raised $1.42 million from events in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, up from $1.12 million the previous year.

The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

Most AIDS organizations get a large chunk of their funding from government contracts, and they use private "unrestricted" donations to pay for additional programs as well as administrative costs.

But AIDS nonprofits are set to see big cuts in their government funding over the next year, after the federal government slashed funding to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which supports AIDS organizations across the country — and insiders say the shrinking donor base will make it harder to make up for the cuts.

The funding shortage also limits organizations' ability to experiment with new ways to prevent future HIV infections. Bailey House's Quattrochi has long wanted to provide housing for at-risk HIV-negative transgender youth — and prove that giving them shelter will help keep them from being infected.

Bailey House's fundraising briefly improved last fall, but that was only after the organization put out an emergency call for money to help repair its West Village residence, which was massively damaged in Hurricane Sandy. The funding went to repairs, not innovation.

"I would love to take $100,000 of private money, get more apartments and do that research," Quattrochi said. "But [the lack of donations] limits innovation and enhancement — it limits us in being able to take leadership to end the epidemic."