Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

New director for Academy of Friends


New AOF Executive Director Mike Horak. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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The San Francisco agency that has distributed more than $6.8 million for AIDS service groups throughout the Bay Area from its popular Oscar night viewing party has a new executive director.

Mike Horak, 43, started work at Academy of Friends October 22. The nonprofit agency hosts its long-running Academy Awards night charity party to raise money for groups that provide services ranging from legal advice to counseling to health care. Since it was founded in 1980, AOF has helped more than 60 agencies.

Horak has years of experience working with a diverse group of organizations. Most recently, he was chief development officer for the Chicago-based Howard Brown Health Center, which offers health care and wellness programs for people in the LGBT community. He's also worked to help people who are mentally ill, homeless, or incarcerated, among others. Horak said his experience in working closely with others would help him in his new position.

"I'm here to build relationships," he said.

That's important for AOF, which depends on donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Horak, who's openly gay, said a big part of the agency's work is keeping donors informed of the agency's plans, and ensuring they feel connected to the groups that they're helping.

He said donors shouldn't have the feeling, "I gave my money ... and I don't hear from you again until you want more money."

This year, he hopes that AOF will be able to distribute at least $500,000 to 12 beneficiary organizations. Besides the Oscar party, the academy hosts monthly events that spotlight a different nonprofit each month. This helps donors get to know the groups they're assisting and learn about the programs and services they offer.

Horak said that AOF has many donors who have been involved for a long time, and he's hoping to attract new donors, too, such as young professionals who may not know about the organization.

"For people that want to be involved philanthropically, this is a good way to become involved and exposed to a large array of agencies," he said.

AOF, which has a budget of about $1.3 million this year, will soon have a staff of three – Horak said he's close to bringing another person on board. Horak's salary is $100,000 a year.

Scott E. Miller, chairman of the academy's 29-member board, works for Korn Ferry International, an executive recruitment company. Miller said he knows how hard it can be to find the right person for a job, and said Horak is a "godsend."

"To be able to find someone that has everything you're looking for ... I can't tell you how rewarding that is," he said. Miller pointed to Horak's strengths in several areas, including development, operations, and his "proven track record" in helping people with HIV/AIDS.

The academy's last executive director, Kathy Meyer, left in August, Miller said, after 14 months in the position, including several months as interim director. He said that Meyer and the board came to a "mutual decision" that she and the organization weren't a match. Miller said the board requires a lot of hands-on involvement from the executive director, and that made finding the right person for the job difficult.

Meyer could not be reached for comment.

Miller also said the fact that AOF is at a point where it can attract someone like Horak is "truly incredible."

On Thursday, November 15, AOF will host a gathering for food and drinks at Sens Restaurant, 4 Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, from 6 to 8 p.m. The nonprofit highlighted will be Maitri Hospice. A $20 donation is suggested of non-Academy of Friends underwriters. For more information, visit

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