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A quarter-century ago, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) held the country’s first AIDS Walk, and the star-studded event has remained the group’s largest private fundraising source ever since.
So APLA staffers were concerned when they discovered that AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) had scheduled the first ever California AIDS Walk just three weeks before the 26th annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles.
In response, APLA has filed a lawsuit, claiming copyright infringement and demanding that AHF change the date of their event.
Craig Thompson, executive director of APLA, said the name California AIDS Walk does not accurately describe the event, which will be held in Griffith Park in late September and will include a concert, carnival rides, and food, in addition to a five kilometer walk. He also said the event’s advertising looks very much like the ads AIDS Walk Los Angeles has used for the last several years.
“If it was called something else, and if it was not three weeks before our event, I think we’d be very supportive,” Thompson said. We’re always supportive of other nonprofits attempting to raise desperately needed money. But we are very concerned about confusion. We’ve gotten calls at all levels, from corporate sponsors, donors, walkers, even the city of West Hollywood called saying we couldn’t change the date without talking to them.”
Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, said he was surprised APLA sued.
“I’m not surprised that they don’t like the fact that there’s another event being scheduled close to theirs,” Weinstein said. “I didn’t really think about it in terms of that, per se. There are more than ten million people in L.A. County. There are multiple breast cancer events. The city can support more than one AIDS event.”
In 2006, AHF was involved in a similar controversy, when it scheduled an AIDS Walk in Ft. Lauderdale the same day as AIDS Walk Miami, which benefits Care Resource. Care Resource, which provides services in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, changed the date of its event. The AHF event, now called Florida AIDS Walk, is now the bigger fundraiser of the two.
The recession has hit nonprofit organizations particularly hard. Last year, state budget cuts to AIDS prevention services cost APLA about $1.7 million, and led to a reduction in some programs and services the group offers around Los Angeles, even as demand for its services has continued to rise.
AIDS Walk Los Angeles raises about $3 million for APLA each year, and the group’s board of directors just approved an operating budget of $18 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, assuming a similar yield from this year’s event.
By contrast, AHF, which is also based in Los Angeles, has an annual operating budget of $180 million. The group employs 1,000 people worldwide, and provides services to 135,000 patients in 23 countries.
“We’re growing,” Weinstein said. “In terms of the numbers of clients we have, and in terms of being able to generate revenue to be able to continue to grow the organization.”
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, which also provides free HIV testing and STD treatment services, has criticized AHF’s decision to schedule a new event so close to AIDS Walk Los Angeles.
“We were very surprised that AHF scheduled a competing AIDS Walk just a few weeks before the AIDS Walk that has funded AIDS Project Los Angeles’ services for so many years,” said Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the Gay & Lesbian Center. “The needs of people with HIV should come first, and hurting a sister AIDS service organization hurts people with HIV/AIDS.”
However, Jack Kyser, chief economic advisor with the Southern California Association of Governments, said in this economic climate, open competition for funding between nonprofit organizations is likely to become more common.
“The economy is tough, contributions are down, and lots of nonprofits have been forced to close or merge with other nonprofits,” Kyser said. “I expect the economy to be challenging for the rest of this year and into 2011, and that means we’re going to see more competition between nonprofits. This is the first one where you have open warfare, but you would expect to see more of that.”
Still, Weinstein said the point of AHF’s event is to help maintain the health of the overall AIDS healthcare community. The California AIDS Walk’s proceeds will go towards supporting five smaller Los Angeles AIDS organizations, which focus on the needs of African-American and Latino communities. In contrast, he said last year, only $113,000 of the $2.9 million APLA raised from AIDS Walk Los Angeles went to other AIDS organizations.
“I believe that people who participate in AIDS walk, generally speaking, believe their dollars are going to benefit AIDS causes as a whole, not one organization,” Weinstein said. “I think there’s a disparity between this event being the best-known event for AIDS, and the fact that it overwhelmingly benefits one organization. If it wound up being the case that in L.A. the only organizations that survive this recession are APLA and AHF, I think that would be a tragedy. Where are the people with AIDS primarily coming from? From African-American and Latino communities. Those are the communities that need the most help, and they don’t have the ability to raise private dollars. That’s not our expertise and it’s not APLA’s expertise. We need to extend a hand to these organizations and help them to lift themselves up. That’s what this event is about.”
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