Raising money for AIDS causes is getting tougher


NEW YORK -- Several months ago, after learning he was losing $70,000 in private grants for his AIDS prevention program in New York City, Adolfo Profumo called and wrote to 50 private foundations in the hope of replacing the funds.

"Not a single one has called back or written," says a dejected Mr. Profumo, director of the Bronx-Harlem Needle Exchange Program, which was funded for years by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmFar, one of the country's largest AIDS organizations.

Mr. Profumo is feeling the impact of a recent trend: tough times for getting donations for AIDS causes. Some attribute the problem to an increasing number of organizations fighting for the same pot of money, others to a groundswell of "compassion fatigue," as people tire of an issue with little good news.

As Congress threatens to slash federal AIDS funding, the prospect of fewer private dollars for a growing number of AIDS cases worries organizations across the country.

While overall exact figures are not available, stories of tougher times -- of fewer and smaller donations, of organizations big and small reducing budgets, and of service cuts that threaten groups -- are surfacing.

AmFar, which recently trimmed its budget for this year from $20 million to $16 million, is the best-known example. But others are feeling the pinch, too.

"There's an incredible proliferation of AIDS organizations. I've heard this from donors around the country: 'I used to get one or two mailings a year, now I'm getting one or two a day,' " said Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president of AmFar.

The competition for donations is fierce, advocates said. Ten years ago, a handful of AIDS programs and organizations provided services around the country. Today, there are more than 18,000 such groups.

"People are tapped out. They're tapped out because there's no end in sight," said Eric Smith, a New York designer who has given $50,000 to small AIDS organizations in New York City in the past seven years.

"And there are so many organizations now. Which one do I give to? I'm more skeptical about giving to larger organizations. I go for the grass-roots groups."

In Seattle, the Northwest AIDS Foundation saw its private donations decline this year by $350,000 from $3.5 million.

"There's no magic fund raising anymore. Now you have to show what good work you do," said Liz Smith, its spokeswoman.

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