Public’s Assistance Sought In AIDS Fight

LAS VEGAS – Nevada’s oldest and largest support agency for AIDS patients is trying to tap into a new financial support base – anyone and everyone.
Although Aid for AIDS of Nevada has been around for 22 years as the area’s primary advocacy and assistance group for people with the HIV virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, it has never before conducted a public fundraising campaign.
In contrast, AIDS groups in other communities have been actively seeking money from their general communities for more than a dozen years and nonprofit organizations in general have been doing it seemingly forever.
Now the Nevada organization is going to take a stab at it, launching its Campaign of Courage. Fundraising mailers will be sent not only to long-identified supporters but also to local residents who may never have given money to the fight against AIDS.
Local AIDS activists say the public campaign reflects the belief that the stigma against the disease may be waning. It could not have happened at a better time, as more sources of revenue are needed to overcome cutbacks in federal funding that threaten some programs.
“We have worked hard to educate the public that AIDS is not just a gay man’s disease,” said Rob Elliott, a board member and immediate past chairman of Aid for AIDS of Nevada. “The reality is we have to keep our programs going, and to do so we need to step up our visibility in the community.”
The organization’s leaders and supporters say it needed to mature before taking on such a risky venture.
“It took time for AFAN’s foundation to be solidly laid down,” said Amy Ayoub, a fundraising consultant who put together the Campaign of Courage. “AFAN went through a growing period in which it put much of its energy into refining its programs.”
GayThose programs include medical assistance, housing and transportation aid, emergency financial help, referrals for substance abuse, legal services, food vouchers, groceries and counseling.
Much of the nonprofit group’s funding has long come from special events such as the annual Black and White Party ($100,000) and its April AIDS Walk ($340,000). Individual donations from the gay community and from straight family members of homosexuals who were infected with HIV total about $150,000 a year.
“The gay community took ownership of the fight against the disease in the 1980s but the disease has spread beyond that (group),” AFAN Executive Director Caroline Ciocca said. Targeting the general public, she said, was the natural next step in the organization’s growth.
“The campaign will allow us to tell the story about this disease to more people and continue to educate the public, which is one of our goals.”
AFAN spends 19 percent of its donations on administrative and fundraising expenses.
The new communitywide campaign has a fundraising goal of $75,000. Virgin Advertising is donating printing services, time and materials.
Donations can be made by mail or online at, Ciocca said.
Ciocca said the organization hopes to one day raise more than $1 million and to grow its mailing list to include the names of tens of thousands of supporters.
AFAN officials say they have relied too heavily and for too long on federal money such as allocations from the Ryan White Fund, named for the boy whose courageous efforts to return to school after contracting AIDS in the 1980s put a poignant face on the disease.
At one point in the 1990s, AFAN received $1 million a year from the fund. It now gets about $450,000 annually from that fund, with the restriction that it be spent specifically on health care programs, Ciocca said.
Because other communities have long tapped the general public, local AIDS fundraisers think they can learn from those groups’ mistakes and successes.
“We began our annual campaign 15 years ago when there was a terrible stigma about the disease, yet we have done well,” said J. Cory Curtis, spokesman for the 23-year-old Lifelong AIDS Alliance of Seattle.
Lifelong’s campaign database has grown from a couple thousand names to 25,000 and its annual appeal accounts for $1 million of the $4 million the organization raises in private funds, Curtis said.
Asked if Las Vegas started too late in seeking financial help from the general public, Curtis said when it comes to the fight against AIDS no time is too late.
“AIDS and HIV in the United States is in a crisis situation and it is not going to go away anytime soon,” he said. “We are still at least 25 years away from a cure. Las Vegas can raise a lot of money in that time to help a lot of people.”
from The Las Vegas Sun / Ed Koch

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