Heartland AIDSRide Discontinued Due to Falling Returns and Participation, Organizers Say
The organizers of the Heartland AIDSRide announced Friday that the event will no longer be held after this year, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The Heartland AIDSRide, which concluded on Saturday, is a 500-mile, six-day bicycle ride between the Twin Cities in Minnesota and Chicago. The event is organized and promoted by Pallotta TeamWorks, which distributes the proceeds to 17 Midwestern HIV/AIDS organizations. Janna Sidley, a Pallotta spokesperson, said that declining participation and rising expenses led to the demise of the event (Eligon, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/30). The Heartland AIDSRide has collected more than $15 million for HIV/AIDS organizations since it began in 1996 (Howes, Chicago Tribune, 7/28). Participation in the ride "peaked" in 1998, when 1,783 people took part in the event, but the number of participants fell to 1,600 this year. Returns to HIV/AIDS charities have fallen as well. The first Heartland AIDSRide returned more than 56% of funds to organizations (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/30). But the Midwestern charities received only 35.3% of the $5.7 million raised for this year's ride. Courtney Reid, president of the Illinois-based AIDS Cycle Inc., said that the organizations "had no choice" but to break with Pallotta. "We have an obligation to our clients, our donors and even our states' attorneys general to have a solid return on every fundraising dollar we spend," she said. She added that the seven Illinois charities that will benefit from this year's AIDSRide are already considering hosting a shorter bicycle fundraising ride in Illinois next year. A one-state event would cost less and would still draw on Chicago's large participant pool, she said, adding that more than 500 Heartland AIDSRide participants expressed interest in staging another ride next year (Chicago Tribune, 7/28). Other charities that benefitted from the Heartland AIDSRide are also looking for other fundraisers to replace the event (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/30).
Not Displeased With Pallotta
A Pallotta spokesperson described the decision to discontinue the Heartland AIDSRide as "a mutual and amicable joint decision" between the HIV/AIDS organizations and Pallotta, and the charities did not express dissatisfaction with the company. But the Tribune reports that Pallotta has "come under intense fire" recently for what critics call "costly self-promotion and low returns to charities" for its fundraising events (Chicago Tribune, 7/28). In May, the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Food & Friends, two sponsors of the Washington, D.C., AIDSRide, announced that they would sever ties with Pallotta. Last year, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center also broke with Pallotta and created their own bicycle fundraiser, AIDS/LifeCycle, because they felt that Pallotta devoted too much of the funds raised from the California AIDSRide to marketing and operations expenses (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). The Chicago Tribune reports that Pallotta responded to the criticism of its marketing techniques by lowering expenses and curtailing promotion for the Heartland AIDSRide. The company lowered the number of water bottles and brand-name snacks distributed, reduced the size of its entertainment stages and removed its name from all posters and promotional materials for the ride (Chicago Tribune, 7/28).
Paying Their Own Way
AIDSRide participants often "believe they are suffering and sacrificing for a cause," but the money raised for the events often finances "an adventure vacation" for those taking part, and the money could be better spent if riders paid their own expenses, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writes in a Tribune opinion piece. Zorn states that there is "[n]othing wrong with" participants having fun and bonding with others during a bicycle fundraiser. "The genius of the AIDS rides ... is how they harness the energy of our grand if somewhat selfish aspirations by simultaneously appealing to those aspirations and our better natures," Zorn writes. But he adds that participants "shouldn't lay claim to nobility or martyrdom unless they pay all their own expenses related to the trip. Friends, relatives and co-workers come to resent it when they learn that less than half of their donation ... ends up going to the cause." It will be "tricky" to devise a fundraiser that will raise both money and awareness on the level of the Heartland AIDSRide, Zorn states, concluding, "Whatever replaces the Heartland AIDSRide must be lean, yes, but also big, bold and challenging -- a journey in every sense of the word" (Zorn, Chicago Tribune, 7/30).