Interview With Eric Nelson, Executive Director, BEHIV
The name says it all.
Better Existence with HIV does just that: helps those living with HIV live the healthiest lives they can.
Here, BEHIV’s executive director Eric Nelson talks to FundRaising Success about the organization’s history and mission and the creative strategies it uses to raise funds.
FundRaising Success: Tell us a little about BEHIV’s history.
Eric Nelson: With support from volunteers and community leaders, BEHIV was founded in 1989 in response to the growing numbers of people living with HIV in Chicago, Evanston, Ill., and surrounding communities. From the beginning, BEHIV has helped people living with HIV/AIDS cope with medical and emotional crises, as well as provided support to their partners, spouses, family members and friends. With the advent of life-prolonging medications during the 1990s, the focus of the agency has expanded to include helping clients manage their medication regimens, return to work, expand their social networks and lead healthy lives. BEHIV remains a leader in Chicago and the suburbs in fighting the spread of HIV by conducting HIV testing and counseling, educating youth, and reaching out to persons at risk for HIV.
FS: How does BEHIV fund its mission?
EN: BEHIV funds its mission through a combination of government contracts and grants to provide services (case management, housing, prevention activities), as well as support from corporations, foundations and individuals, through grants, special events and individual giving.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned?
EN: BEHIV faces the same challenge that many AIDS service organizations face — waning public interest and a lack of urgency. With pharmaceutical advances, AIDS is seen as a “manageable” condition that no longer requires immediate action. Additionally, AIDS in developing parts of the world draws more attention than do sufferers in the United States.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
EN: With a revitalized board of directors and the formulation of new marketing and development plans, we will reach many more new donors and supporters in a more focused, organized fashion.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
EN: Our fundraising philosophy is both aggressive and relaxed. We are aggressively recruiting new supporters through events and individual relationships, but we are very courteous and relaxed in our approach. We understand that people need to have a relationship to an organization before they will contribute and we are patient in our cultivation of these relationships.
FS: Are you engaged with the new social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, etc. — and other online social networking tools?
EN: BEHIV does have a Facebook page. It was originally designed for us by college students as part of a class project. We use it to disseminate information about upcoming events and maintain contact with individuals who might not receive information in more traditional fashions.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
EN: At our most recent gala event, Club BEHIV & Cabaret, we successfully solicited sponsorships to underwrite the entire cost of the evening. This was the first time that we had ever accomplished this goal. In tough economic times, it was even more important as it provided us with the foundation upon which to build the revenue generated by ticket and raffle ticket sales and silent auction purchases.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced along the way?
EN: I don’t feel we’ve had any major difficulties beyond what many smaller organizations face. With a small board and development staff, it can be challenging to accomplish everything you want to accomplish and meet your goals.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
EN: It is important to hire the right staff to set and meet fundraising objectives. They must work well with program staff to garner information and be able to accurately report the achievements of the organization. Additionally, it is very important to recruit board members who understand their role in fundraising and outreach to different constituencies.
1244 W. Thorndale
Chicago, IL 60660
Staff: BEHIV has 23 employees, they include a grants manager, special events manager and a special events associate. The executive director also is the development director.
Annual operating budget: $1,435,000
Annual contributed income: 37.5 percent
Mission: The mission of BEHIV is to improve the lives of people with HIV and AIDS in the communities it serves through a comprehensive range of quality services, to inform the public about the virus and risk reduction behavior, and to increase understanding and compassion for people with HIV and AIDS.