AIDS Ride set to roll, but expenses increased last year, organizers say

On the eve of the third-annual Twin Cities to Wisconsin to Chicago AIDS Ride, organizers have released expense estimates indicating that nearly 70 percent of the $1.9 million raised during the 1997 Ride went to operating costs. The remaining 30 percent, or approximately $570,000, will be split by seven Twin Cities AIDS service organizations.

Critics of the ride say too much of the money raised goes to cover administrative costs. But Jim Maurer, chairman of AIDS Events Minnesota, the nonprofit coalition of recipient groups that backs and benefits from the AIDS Ride, says the fundraising event provides more funding to local groups than almost any other source.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 bicyclists are expected to roll out of the Minneapolis Convention Center on July 6, kicking off a 500-mile ride that has been billed as "one of the largest, most successful AIDS fundraisers in history."

Maurer says the ride is expensive to produce, but worth the cost. An estimated 69 percent of funds raised by Twin Cities to Chicago AIDS Ride 2 paid for rider support and administration. For AIDS Ride 1, the figure was approximately 52 percent. Maurer attributed the increase to changing the dates of AIDS Events Minnesota's fiscal year, which pushed some of the actual costs of the first ride into the second ride's fiscal year, as well as a decrease in total income from the second ride. AIDS Ride 1 raised approximately $2.1 million, while AIDS Ride 2 brought in just over $1.9 million.

While Twin Cities ride organizers and beneficiaries are pleased with the fundraiser, AIDS Rides across the country have come under fire from critics, the media, and, in Pennsylvania, the state attorney general's office. According to Dan Langan, director of public information for the National Charities Information Bureau, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, no more than 30 percent of funds raised by a charity should go toward administrative or support costs.

Langan says it's fine for a for-profit corporation such as 3M to give a small percentage of their profits to charities, but tax-exempt groups have a responsibility to taxpayers as well as donors. He adds that local organizing groups should negotiate smaller fees with Pallotta TeamWorks, the for-profit company that produces the AIDS Ride.

Maurer says criticism of the ride, which he calls misplaced, has dampened enthusiasm among potential riders and donors, but he is optimistic about cutting administrative costs for AIDS Ride 3 and the planned AIDS Ride 4 in 1999. Members of AIDS Events Minnesota have learned from the last two rides and are smarter in their negotiations with Pallotta TeamWorks, which agreed to lower its fee for next year's ride. Maurer also outlined cost-cutting measures now in place, including staff cuts and a decrease in banking fees, but says the biggest administrative change is the addition of Wisconsin groups to this year's ride. Splitting logistic costs between three regions rather than two will be a major factor in ensuring more dollars go to beneficiary groups.

AIDS Events Minnesota, the coalition of seven service providers who organize and benefit from the ride, is composed of Agape Home, the Archdiocesan AIDS Ministry Program, Clare House, Grace House, Hope House, Open Arms of Minnesota, and Samaritan House. Each group made an initial, one-time investment of $25,000 to bring the AIDS Ride to the Twin Cities, and each has received $224,000 in donations so far, according to Maurer, who also serves as president of the board of Clare Housing. Proceeds from the first two rides funded a range of needs for the seven organizations, including operating costs, group counseling, a new roof, and a furnace.

"We haven't been able to raise that kind of money individually," Maurer says.

Kevin Winge, administrative director of Open Arms of Minnesota, says the AIDS Ride is Open Arms' second largest source of funds, behind federal funding through the Ryan White Act. "It's what's keeping us open right now," he says. Open Arms of Minnesota was founded 12 years ago as a meal delivery service for people with HIV and AIDS. The program operated out of a cramped church basement until a year ago, when the money raised by the AIDS Ride was used to make a down payment on a building on Franklin Avenue.

Winge, who will be biking to Chicago for the second time in July, is passionate in his defense of the ride. If the ride goes away, he says, the staff and volunteers at Open Arms will need to start making decisions about who gets to eat and who doesn't. "I would challenge anyone to go out and raise this kind of money," Winge says of the funds brought to Open Arms by the AIDS Ride. "We couldn't do it."

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