AOF retooling 2012 gala

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Wednesday September 7, 2011
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Months after Academy of Friends told beneficiaries they wouldn't be getting the combined $150,000 that they had been waiting for, the nonprofit is asking HIV and AIDS-related charities to work with them again.

Howard Edelman, who became AOF's new board chair in June, and Kile Ozier, who founded the group more than 30 years ago, acknowledged mistakes have been made in recent years. But Edelman said AOF plans to simplify operations in an effort to provide more assistance to its partners.

"There still is a need out there for money to keep people alive," Edelman said.

At least some beneficiaries appear reluctant to again join AOF, best known for its pricey Academy Awards gala. AOF plans to meet with its 2011 beneficiaries today (Thursday, September 8).

Over the years, the group has contributed more than $8.5 million to Bay Area HIV and AIDS service organizations. Through sales of raffle tickets, gala tickets, and other underwriting, beneficiaries have been required to raise 25 percent of their pledged grant. They've also provided volunteers.

But in recent years, AOF hasn't delivered what partner agencies were expecting. The 11 nonprofits that worked with the agency on the 2010 gala were asked to return for 2011 so AOF could make good on its pledges. All but one of the groups agreed.

The charity had initially said it would distribute a combined $220,000 to the 11 organizations. But in May, AOF representatives told beneficiaries they were backing out of paying what they owed.

On Friday, September 2, Edelman and Ozier met with the Bay Area Reporter at the paper's offices and in one hour disclosed more information to the B.A.R. than former AOF officials had in months. (Ozier is serving in a "supportive" capacity, rather than in an advisory role, Edelman said in an email.)

One detail Edelman shared in the interview was that $147,400 had remained to be paid to beneficiaries. He said AOF still will not be distributing that money, and is asking for a fresh start.

Former board Chair Alan Keith and member Jon Finck, who had refused to speak with the B.A.R for much of this year, are among those who have left AOF's board, Edelman said. The oversight panel now has nine members.


Change in direction

In recent years, AOF has held events in addition to the annual gala, apparently resulting in the agency spreading itself too thin. Edelman said this year the focus would be back on the gala, including the raffle and silent auction.

An August letter to beneficiaries signed by Edelman and Ozier said, "Our goal is to sponsor the gala entirely through funding from underwriters and corporate sponsors; this will allow us to bestow the majority, if not all, of the ticket, raffle and silent auction revenues to our beneficiary organizations."

They added they're only planning "a very few 'momentum' events" to help promote the Oscar party, which is planned for February 26, 2012. Tickets will be $250 apiece, the same price as in recent years.

AOF will be at this year's Castro Street Fair on October 2 and is planning a launch event for October 13 to generate interest in the gala.

Edelman said during last week's interview that beneficiaries would get a cut of the proceeds, though "We haven't finalized everything" yet.

He said partners would be given goals, based on their abilities and what they think the best return is, but wouldn't be required to do anything. He also said AOF hopes to give the other agencies some cash flow from things like raffle ticket sales in advance of the gala itself. The money raised at the gala typically isn't distributed until a couple months after the event.

Once they pay the gala expenses and know how much they can distribute, they'll dole out the rest of the money, Edelman said. He said the check distribution party would most likely be sometime in mid to late April.

AOF has asked beneficiaries to make their decisions on whether they'll join by around September 15, he said.

The same beneficiaries have been in place for three years, so other agencies have been unable to take part. Edelman said the 2010 beneficiaries have the "first right of refusal," but other groups might be included if there's money left over.

The number of tickets for the 2012 gala will be limited. Edelman said, "We're targeting 1,000," and added, "The goal is to make it a sold out event." He said, "It would be great to raise $300,000" from corporate sponsors this year. The overall budget hasn't been determined.

Partners hesitant

As AOF officials work toward the 2012 gala, it's unclear how many previous beneficiaries will be joining them.

One of AOF's partner agencies since 2010 was Project Inform. AOF had a contract to pay the agency $20,000, of which it paid $8,000.

Project Inform Executive Director Dana Van Gorder said this week that his agency hasn't decided whether it will participate again.

"I think, along with most of the other prospective beneficiaries, we need a concrete sense the event would actually be profitable and will actually make a distribution to beneficiaries," he said. "I think it's just hard for us to stand behind an effort that results in a significant cost to hold an event that doesn't result in checks being written to AIDS service organizations."

Van Gorder said AOF sharing 50 percent of raffle ticket sales and other proceeds would "help us feel confident that we would actually see some revenue as a result of our participation, but I think we may need to see more on their part."

Credibility for those involved, including beneficiaries, is at stake, he said.

"If for the third year in a row this is not going to be profitable, then everyone would just start looking a little bit foolish," he said.

Positive Resource Center is another agency that didn't get all the money it had expected from working with AOF. The organization was supposed to get $50,000 from AOF last year. But Brett Andrews, the center's executive director, said this week that about $33,000 went unpaid.

He said his agency is "really not sure" whether it will partner with AOF.

Andrews said they need to "really hear from [AOF] on a report out on what's happened this past year, how that didn't translate to actual dollars for organizations and, most importantly, what strategy do they have going forward that will be new and innovative and effectively address some of the shortcomings they've had over the past few years."

Asked if he wanted a guarantee beneficiaries would get some money, Andrews said, "They'll probably not walk themselves all the way up to that level of commitment, considering that would be unprecedented for them." He added, however, "I think it's worth asking." He said that in the past, AOF has carefully worded contracts to say they would make "their best efforts" to distribute certain amounts.

Previous problems

During last week's interview, Edelman, 53, said beneficiaries have expressed great trust in Ozier, 59, who moved back to San Francisco from New York in May. AOF started as a group of friends meeting in Ozier's living room.

Ozier said he'd been puzzled as he "watched from afar" what was happening to the organization.

"It's my baby, and I'm very concerned about its health," he said, adding that he "unrestrainedly" supports the AOF board's new direction.

Edelman acknowledged what appears to have been a key mistake on AOF's part, pledging money that it wasn't able to raise.

Another concern AOF's partners have had is transparency on the part of AOF.

"They felt Academy of Friends wasn't communicating very well with them and we needed to change that," Edelman said. He said being evasive is "not my style at all."

AOF plans to have bi-monthly meetings with beneficiaries, he said.

Edelman also said that less than 1,000 people attended the 2011 gala, and the event lost about $5,000.

Additionally, "We didn't have a budget last year," he said. "We never voted on a budget for the agency. So you wonder why we had problems?" He said "solidarity" had been lacking on the board.

There are no plans to fill the executive director's post as a paid position; AOF currently has one paid employee.

Edelman said as far as filling board vacancies, AOF needs people with experience such as public relations and marketing, and corporate solicitations. He also said, "We could always use more people on the finance side."

AOF owes about $16,000 to vendors, which would be paid down as invoices become due, he said. The group has about $7,000 in the bank.

"This is a really critical time for us," Edelman said. "... Our success hinges on people getting behind us and supporting us," especially through cash contributions.

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