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AIDS Walk Money Takes a Winding Path

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SF foundation raises millions each year, but most of its grant money goes to an international organization

A crowd of 25,000 is expected to trek through Golden Gate Park on Sunday for the annual AIDS Walk, which promises to raise nearly $3.5 million “benefiting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other H.I.V./AIDS organizations serving the Bay Area counties,” according to the event’s slogan.

While a majority of the money collected at the event goes to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation itself, only a small fraction in recent years has actually gone to those other local H.I.V./AIDS charities.

Instead, an analysis of government tax filings shows that a significant part of past donations has gone to an international AIDS charity — as much as $1 million during one recent year. By comparison, that same year 26 local organizations split $340,000.

The disparity — foreign spending versus local — has led to concerns that the walk’s benefits to Bay Area charities have been misrepresented, according to leaders in the local H.I.V./AIDS care community who would not speak publicly for fear of losing the financing they currently get.

When asked about this possible lack of clarity, Barbara Kimport, the interim chief executive of the foundation, which oversees the walk, said, “We could do a better job of that.”

But Kimport also bristled at the criticism, saying, “It saddens me that our own community is back stabbing about money when we should be collaborating together.”

The Foundation’s annual operating budget is more than $20 million, which is spent on a wide variety of local help and prevention programs. The group’s other main sources of income are the government and about $5 million from the annual AIDS/Lifecycle bike ride fund-raiser.

In 2001 the foundation created the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, a separate nonprofit focused on H.I.V./AIDS in Cambodia, China, Ukraine and five countries in Africa. The two foundations share office space and a few employees.

Pangaea reported $3 million in expenses for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, the most recent tax return made public.

That same year, according to I.R.S. records, of the $1.7 million the AIDS Foundation gave in grants to outside organizations, $1 million, or roughly 57 percent, went to Pangaea. The remaining money was apportioned to 62 Bay Area nonprofits, with most receiving $10,000 or less. The second-largest grant that year was $65,000 to the AIDS Health Project at the University of California, San Francisco; the smallest was $756 to the California Prevention and Education Project in Oakland. The walk in that fiscal year raised $4.4 million.

In the next fiscal year, ending June 30, 2009, the walk raised $4.1 million, and the foundation decreased the total given in grants to $1.2 million. Pangaea received $910,000 — about 73 percent total.

Kimport said that in recent years the foundation’s support of Pangaea had come from other sources of money, not AIDS Walk donations. The walk last July raised $3.5 million. Foundation records show only $246,000 in grants to local groups in the 2009 calendar year. During the same period, the records show, Pangaea received $500,000.

Using locally raised money in the international fight against AIDS draws mixed views.

David Pritikin of Campbell, who said he had raised $30,000 for the foundation in cycling events, said he knew about Pangaea and supported the cause. “I recognize that the epidemic is universal,” Pritikin said.

But others feel misled. Last year Jamie McPherson of San Francisco walked and raised $1,200. “I have friends who are positive,” McPherson said, believing that the money would go to support them.

“Does it bother me?” he said. “Yeah, it does. You’ve got to take care of home first.”

There is certainly plenty of local need.

Mike Smith, president of San Francisco’s H.I.V./AIDS Providers Network, which represents 40 nonprofit groups, said the recession had strained budgets and fund-raising. “We have the highest density of people living with H.I.V. in the nation,” Smith said — 35,000 people infected in a city with a population of less than 800,000. “It’s staggering.”

Kimport said the grants did not tell the whole story about the AIDS Walk. About 10 groups will host their own fund-raisers during Sunday’s event — walks within the walk — and keep all those proceeds.

But will local charities receive a larger share of the walk’s expected total donations of $3.5 million?

“It all depends on how the board sets our priorities for moving forward,” Kimport said.

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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