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"Mean-spirited" NZAF retaining 50% of street appeal donations

Sun 17 Jul 2011 In: HIV View at Wayback View at NDHA

The NZ AIDS Foundation stands accused of being mean-spirited in negotiations which preceded its handing over responsibility for an already struggling fund which supports financially stressed people living with HIV and in holding back half of that fund's main income to supplement its own government-funded prevention work. HIV positive people's peer support and advocacy organisations have for some time lobbied the NZAF to hand over the Wellness Fund and its administration in face of criticism that in recent years criteria for grants have frequently changed, with increasingly small grants available for a narrowing range of purposes. From its inception two decades ago the Fund, which was initially composed of several regionally-based funds such as Auckland's Burnett Fund, has been primarily financed by the national bucket collection held each December 1st in conjunction with World AIDS Day. Organised by the NZAF as a fundraiser for people living with HIV, the collection has in recent times generated a little over $30,000 annually once running costs have been deducted. Small amounts from other collections run at the same time have been used by the Fundation for prevention work. This amounted to $2,800 from the 2009 World AIDS Day appeal. But HIV organisations are counting themselves fortunate that the NZAF is releasing even half of future bucket collection proceeds to directly assist needy people with HIV through the Fund. Since reporting on the handover of the Fund and the associated 50/50 proceeds split, late last month, GayNZ.com was advised that in negotiations last year the NZAF was initially refusing to hand over any World AIDS Day street appeal proceeds at all. And after further negotiations the NZAF upped its offer to just 25% of the World AIDS Day collection. The zero and then 25% offers staggered the country's largest HIV people's support organisation, Body Positive, which will now operate the Fund on behalf of all HIV peer support groups. “It outraged us,” responded Body Positive's general manager Bruce Kilmister. “It was the most mean-spirited thing we had ever encountered.” The Foundation refused to budge on the matter and the negotiations then stalled until recently when the support organisations managed to secure a 50/50 deal. At that point “it was take it or leave it,” says Kilmister. In Body Positive's view the 50/50 deal, however unpalatable, was a trade off which at least enabled HIV positive people to oversee the Fund's future. “And, after all, the NZAF will still be running the collection,” Kilmister acknowledges. The Foundation says it will deduct direct expenses from the collection, as it has in recent years. It says it also puts in significant staff time to organise the appeal. Body Positive acknowledges that the NZAF is better placed, with its three regional offices and large staff and a national volunteer base, to mount the street appeal in conjunction with its local promotion of the international HIV/AIDS awareness day. In its statement released after the hand-over of the Fund the Foundation said the retained funds would be used for prevention work. It has subsequently elaborated to GayNZ.com that projects currently under consideration include “expanded and enhanced rapid testing and additional and expanded provision of information about HIV targeting gay and bisexual men’s communities.” The NZAF's rational for diverting half of the appeal funds away from the personal support grants provided by the Wellness Fund is that in recent years people with HIV are living better lives and have access to alternative sources of financial support - and that the NZAF needs the money to plug the gaps in its own work caused by shortfalls in Government funding of its support and prevention programmes. It says the last comprehensive research into the lives of people living with HIV, HIV Futures NZ-2 “provided clear evidence that 75% of people living with HIV in New Zealand rate their wellbeing as good or excellent.” It says that with vital anti-retroviral medications being fully funded by the Government and the availability of increased access to health support including HIV peer support organisations such as Body Positive, “the priorities of the NZAF have shifted.” The Foundation says Government funding hasn’t increased to keep pace with costs and there are activities within its health support services and prevention programme that it needs fundraising to support, “particularly with the epidemic at an all time high among gay and bisexual men.” Body Positive, by far the largest of the HIV people's peer support and advocacy organisations and which caters primarily for gay and bi men, says the Foundation is misreading the on the ground situation regarding the needs of people living with HIV and is not taking into account the increasing numbers of people battling HIV infection. “I suppose from the Foundation's perspective they can see that WINZ is NZ's Government agency that supports people needing financial support,” says Kilmister. “But our role predominantly is social work for peope who need support and we provide that support across a wide range of accommodation, treatments information and support for income. And of course we see that the number of people living with HIV is increasing all the time. So we see a greater demand on that fund. The only way the Fund has been able to cope in recent times is by restrictions on the acessability of the payments. We would ultimately like to expand that because we saw the reduction of significant $3,000 grants down to just $500 for important and costly things like treatment for facial wasting - which cost far more than $500. And that's why we would like to se the fund re-built to a level where it would be able to support that kind of thing. We see there is more potential for the fund to be used.” Kilmister says Body Positive and the other peer support organisations will have to try to boost the Fund's income as soon as possible. Last month, six months after its World AIDS Day 2010 top-up of over $34,000, the balance of the Fund at hand-over from the NZAF had already dropped to just $8,000. This balance must therefore be spread over the next six months until the coming December 1st appeal proceeds are available. Already several gay community venues which host donation boxes for HIV positive people's support have been asked by BP to commit those proceeds specifically to the Wellness Fund from now on. It is understood they have all readily agreed. But the amounts raised from those sources “while they are most appreciated and useful they are much less than the Fund needs for ongoing viability and to be useful to all those in need,” says Kilmister. The Wellness Fund will continue to receive donations from individual donors and bequests made specifically to the Wellness Fund. However, the NZAF has indicated that the total annual contributions to the Fund from those sources are less than the half of the amount which it is now prepared to release to the Wellness Fund. Despite its criticism of the AIDS Foundation over this Wellness Fund issue body Positive says the relationship between the two organisations remains fundamentally sound. “We've always had a good relationship with the NZAF and today I'd describe it as a good relationship,” says Kilmister. “But it is unfortunate that there are items we will not agree on and during the term of the last Executive Director there were an increasing number of items we were not in sync on. And we never will be on everything but all of those items would constitite a minor percentage of the relationship we have with them and which we have to have with them. It's those items where we are out of sync which tend to get the attention, particularly from the media. And in those things there is a strong focus on our differences. That is the reality and there might be some occasions when we have to agree to disagree... but it doesn't make them abny more right for that though.” BACKGROUNDERS World AIDS Day 2010 street appeal financial summary: $38,311 total donated nationwide -$3,619 direct expenses (see list above) =$34,692 net proceeds According to information supplied by the NZ AIDS Foundation, organising the World AIDS Day awareness and street appeal incurs direct expenses associated with: "advertising; posters, banner ads etc.; printing costs for buckets stickers and info sheets (buckets have to be clearly identified by law and partner organisations like hotels all want info for their staff); organising cars/paying for petrol to pick up volunteers for breaks and ensure that fresh volunteers are transported to relieve them, also picking up money and taking it to the bank; the cost of collection boxes for counters of bars, restaurants etc.; the cost of thousands and thousands of red ribbons; printing schedules, info packs and making packs of maps, ribbons and buckets for volunteers; printing collector's ID's (required by council); and ordering new buckets to replace broken ones (we lend these buckets to anyone who needs them throughout the year).” These expenses are deducted from the collected amount. Activities which incur indirect costs covered by NZAF staff hours include: “applying for council permits for designated streets (legal requirement); recruiting and organising 200 volunteers (signing them up, contacting them by email and phone, scheduling 200 people to take two hour shifts on fifty intersections and taking their commitments to meetings, kids, uni, appointments, personal preferences about locations and partners into account); securing money that comes in after the banks shut; numbering, locking and tracking the buckets so that donations don’t get lost or stolen (with a thousand buckets, it would be easy to lose a couple); calling national, regional and local media outlets to pitch stories, driving interviewees to photo calls, TV studios etc, sending answers to media inquiries (probably the busiest time of year for mainstream media interest); liaising with bars, restaurants and venues collect and providing them with collection boxes, posters, ribbons etc.; liaising with hotels etc. that have special collection boxes; applying to petrol companies for vouchers to give to volunteers; getting permission from shops and malls for collectors to use bathrooms and collect inside; receipting payments that come online or by phone and cheque; acknowledging donations and sending thank you letters; meeting with places like WORLD that would like to participate in some way other than having a collection box (the second and subsequent years are relatively easy but the first year always requires time and commitment). This doesn't take into account the organisation that goes into planning events like the Red Parties, getting staff to attend events like those in Whangarei and then thanking all the volunteers and everyone who helped afterwards.” “From the outside it may look relatively easy but World AIDS Day actually requires a huge amount of planning to do it well,” the Foundation concludes. NZAF INCOME AND EXPENITURE Based on figures presented in its 2010 Annual Report the Foundation's income last year was $4,600,000. Its four largest areas of expenses were: Personnel: $2,500,000 HIV prevention, communication and events: $761,000 Travel: $170,000 Positive Health Programmes: $85,000 Jay Bennie - 17th July 2011

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 17th July 2011 - 12:43am

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