March 1, 2010
Jamil Fletcher: A Fund-raising Force for Black HIV/AIDS Organizations
by Willette Francis
Jamil Fletcher has a flair for raising money—and the heart to use that skill to help others.
When he first started chasing dollars for community causes, the recipient of Jamil Fletcher’s skills wasn’t the fight against HIV/AIDS. It was sickle cell anemia. A group organizing a tennis tournament approached Fletcher (who’s an avid player) to help get funding for sickle cell anemia. He pursued that cause for years before making the jump to HIV/AIDS fund-raising for the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC). Soon, Fletcher signed up more black HIV/AIDS organizations to his client list. He has secured funding for community programs and services with the Los Angeles–based Black AIDS Institute; Us Helping Us in Washington, DC; and Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services in South Carolina.
Today, Fletcher is the director of development for the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. There he manages the center’s teen HIV prevention programs and services. Fletcher is also the co-publisher of Swerv magazine, a DC-based publication serving same-gender loving men and women.
POZ spoke with Fletcher about the challenges—and possible solutions—black HIV/AIDS organizations face in their fund-raising efforts.
Why did you decide to start fund-raising for black HIV/AIDS organizations?
HIV/AIDS prevention is a cause dear to my heart. I’ve lost many friends and family who were affected by the virus. I felt fund-raising was the best way for me to fight for the cause. It allowed me to utilize my business and marketing expertise to secure resources.
What are the greatest challenges you face when trying to obtain funding for black HIV/AIDS organizations?
The struggle I have is in developing a comprehensive funding mix. Most black or ethnic-based agencies providing HIV/AIDS services receive the bulk of their funding through government resources. As we’ve seen, the interest in [battling the virus] has waned over the years. It’s really based on the objectives of the government’s administration. During the Bush years, many organizations took a hit because agendas switch all the time. Specifically, I think the primary challenge for organizations serving the African-American community is in securing discretionary funds [from individuals interested] in philanthropy [so the organizations have] a financial base to carry them through the years when government resources are sparse.
How do you create a funding plan for these organizations?
I try to develop a plan that offers a great mix. If you get a third of your funding from government resources, a third from third-party providers or fee-for-services and a third from philanthropy sources, that’s a great mix. The next step is to look at individuals or groups, organizations and corporations that have a vested interest in the demographics you serve. Whether that’s African American, youth, women, men, gay men, you name it, it’s important to try to align their missions with the services that your organization provides. That’s the way I go about it. There are a number of resources to help you identify foundation and government resources. You also want to reach out to faith-based, civil rights and community-based institutions—all organizations in the community that are interested in the well-being of the demographic they serve.
What is the main source of financial support for black HIV/AIDS organizations?
The federal and municipal government and health departments in major cities oversee funding. They issue the bulk of the funds. The challenge is that black HIV/AIDS organizations, especially the small ones, use resources just managing the application of their mission and the adherence to funding requirements. This detracts from them being able to manage other aspects of their organization. Also, they don’t really have the capacity for comprehensive development. Many of them don’t have a full-time development director. And, if they do, it’s not someone with a large amount of experience. Mostly, they utilize their time applying for grants and possibly trying to do events. That creates another challenge. Many of these organizations think that’s the way to raise money. Realistically, that’s the last thing you want to do because it absorbs so much of your time and resources.
What do you think is the best way for black HIV/AIDS organizations to increase their revenue?
I think they should diversify their mix and start cultivating relationships within mainstream African-American institutions, such as the churches and civil rights organizations. There’s money in those communities, but it’s a matter of building relationships. It just requires that black HIV/AIDS organizations invest time and build a strategy to go out and tap into it.
What makes it difficult for black HIV/AIDS organizations to receive other sources of money besides government funding?
The difficulty for many of them is not having the capacity and expertise within their organization to do it. Small organizations, and there are a number of them, are community based. Usually, the executive director is also trying to do some fund-raising, or you may have program managers trying to do the same thing. Often, that’s not their expertise or full-time responsibility. You need someone who can delegate people to manage the day-to-day responsibility of those relationships to move that process along. Even in corporate settings, you need somebody to do that. Often, that’s the problem—you don’t have someone to do that.
What do you see for the future of funding for black HIV/AIDS organizations?
Well, I think they have an ally in the White House, which is a good thing. But the money still doesn’t seem to be reaching the organizations that need it. Most of the money goes to the high-profile organizations, or it may not trickle down to the grassroots people who are providing the hard-core services. I think the future is about diversifying your [funding] mix. The challenge right now is that HIV is still considered a gay disease even though we have high rates among African-American women and youth. As a result, mainstream institutions still have this barrier against dealing with the virus. For them, it is still cloaked in homosexuality. We haven’t been able to move past that. The other challenge is that people don’t see individuals dying at a high rate so they don’t feel a sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS.
How do you think people in the community can help?
I would encourage people to give. It’s not how much you give or how often you give, but that you consider giving. I think there are resources within our community that can stabilize and make our organizations strong. But it requires the involvement of people from all walks of life in the African-American community. They need to participate at whatever level they can. At the very least, we can strengthen our organizations financially through this kind of support. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that is still in front of us and very much present in our communities. It’s not going away, and we must continue the fight.
Search: Jamil Fletcher, fundraising for black HIV/AIDS organizations, Black AIDS Institute, National Minority AIDS Council, Swerv magazine, Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health
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