The Whitman-Walker Clinic will net $100,000 from its AIDS Walk earlier this month -- a small fraction of what it once reaped -- and the nonprofit organization has formed a task force to consider whether to continue with the annual fundraising event.
After all expenses have been tallied, the clinic's proceeds will amount to less than 20 percent of the revenue, according to figures provided by the D.C. clinic, which serves 6,000 patients who have the AIDS virus.
"We are disappointed that this year's walk did not meet even its modest minimum financial projections," said Executive Director A. Cornelius Baker. "We are evaluating how we can continue to produce this event, given the costs associated with it and the net return over the past few years."
The 16th five-kilometer walk Oct. 5 drew about 7,000 participants, almost double the number who took part a year ago when the walk was held just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After expenses, last year's walk netted only $4,000.
Contributions to this year's walk continue to come in, but the total is expected to be less than $600,000, said Whitman-Walker spokesman Michael Cover. Expenses run about $490,000.
The clinic shaved $2 million from its operating expenses this year, reducing the budget to $26 million, and officials at the clinic were counting on revenue from the walk. Despite the reduced expenses, the take fell far short of the charity's goal of $840,000.
By comparison, in the walk's peak year of 1997, about 25,000 people participated and raised $2.6 million. After expenses, the walk netted $1.7 million for the clinic.
Several factors may be responsible for the declining revenue, Cover said. Among them are the faltering economy and increased competition for donor dollars from other charitable institutions and causes that hold athletic fundraisers such as walks and runs.
After two years in which the walk's net income fell substantially short of its goal, Whitman-Walker has appointed 20 people to a task force to discuss how, or whether, to go ahead with the event. The panel includes people who have participated in the walk and raised money for it. They are expected to make their report to the board of directors at its December meeting.
"All options are on the table now," said Cover, adding he doubted that the task force would recommend eliminating the walk. "There's going to be a lot of resistance to do anything but support the event and find ways to make it work."
Among the issues the task force will examine are the experiences of charities in other cities. Across the country, events such as walks and runs have proliferated. They have proven popular because participants collect contributions from friends, families and co-workers, significantly expanding the base of donors to include those who otherwise would not contribute.
There are so many events, however, that some charities in recent years have found it difficult to attract enough participants to meet fundraising goals. For most charitable athletic events, expenses are relatively static. The more people participate, the greater the return for the charity.
"Other cities have also experienced a decreased level of support for their AIDS Walk events," said Whitman-Walker's development director, Tim Turnham. "Some have rebounded, while others have continued in a state of decline. Among the issues that we need to address are the reasons why we have not been able to attract the large numbers of walkers we have in the past."