Wednesday, January 23, 2008


In this day and age, it's hard to find a charity organization that isn't just out to bleed you dry. Small print and contest/congratulations-style marketing is the norm; and the facts are a thing of the past.

Remember a couple things about charities and organizations:

1.) They will give your name/address out to all kinds of people/organizations. If you do not want this to happen, you have the right to opt-out. Let them know you do not want your address shared with other organizations.

2.) It is also your right to request copies of their financial records - how they spend their money that you are sending them. Take a close look at how much of that money goes to marketing and to administrative costs. If it is a large chunk, then skip that organization.

3.) Read small print. And don't be afraid to check up on them, such as researching them on the internet. I get tons of requests for money from organizations because my address is out in public spaces; half of the requests I get all come from the same addresses or same cities, just with different organization names. Most of those organizations are the exact same "charities," all hoping you will be duped into sending them money each time.

4.) Good organizations will not inundate you with mail because they need their money to go to the worthy cause instead of mass marketing schemes. If an organization sends you mail, especially donation requests, more than once a month, skip that charity.

5.) Beware the fancy guilt tactics! Address labels, notepads, keychains, pens, lapel pins - there is nothing a crappy charity won't do to guilt you into giving money. If a charity is sending out thousands of personalized notepads and address labels, then my humble opinion is that there is not enough money going into the cause. If they have to fancy up their mailing packages with "gifts," then they are losing sight of the cause.

6.) Only give to the causes in which you firmly believe. There is a charity for everyone, but spreading out small change to a bunch of charities with causes that are not so important to you helps less than getting very involved with one main charity about which you feel impassioned.

With that said:

I would like to introduce you to an amazing research organization, if you are not familiar. It is called amfAR - American Foundation for AIDS Research. I went to school for musical theater; in the 90's, I watched several theater friends die of AIDS, so this is a cause close to my heart. AIDS has been around for over two decades, a disease that used to be a fear in the forefront of the minds of sexually-active individuals, gays, teenagers, and the nation [and world] alike. A nation that has since reverted back to the thing it does best: complacency. Today, AIDS is more deadly than ever; subsequently, this nation seems to care less than ever. How does that happen? I will never have an answer to that. But please don't let yourself become a statistic, either with complacency or with the epidemic, itself. Get educated now.

The amfAR organization is amazing, seldom sending crap mailings and never wasting their money on fancy guilt gimmicks. Let me tell you a little bit about them, and about AIDS, in general:

They launched a new research fellowship in 2007, to accelerate efforts to find new treatments, better prevention methods, and, ultimately, a cure for AIDS, which, over two decades later, still does not have a cure. They also launched an international initiative that is helping to check the spread of HIV among hard-hit communities in the developing world, as well as overseeing the approval of a brand new class of anti-HIV drugs that have their roots in amfAR-funded research.

More than 25 million people have died from AIDS since the virus first emerged in 1981. The United Nations estimates that 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today. Tragically, most do not even know they are infected. Right here in America, 1.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and some of our communities have rates of infection that are on a par with hard-hit countries in the developing world. With nearly 7,000 more people worldwide becoming infected with HIV every day, the epidemic continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Until a cure for AIDS is found, we urgently need more effective, less toxic, and less expensive HIV/AIDS treatments. Powerful combination therapies have produced remarkable results for many people. But they don't work for everyone, and, even today, remain out of reach for most people in developing countries. Drug-resistant strains of HIV that do not respond to some or all of these drugs are also becoming more prevalent. Dedicated scientists worldwide turn to amfAR to fund crucial studies that offer hope to a world struggling against this ruthless epidemic.

amfAR provided the essential early funding for the research that led to the development of three classes of HIV medications: protease inhibitors, fusion inhibitors, and - just last year - CCR5 blockers. amfAR also supported pioneering research that eventually led to the use of AZT to block mother-to-infant HIV transmission, resulting in the near elimination of pediatric AIDS in the industrialized world.

Today, the organization is making seriously bold investments in the search for a cure, which is what must be done if we are to go out on a limb and find it:

A recent recipient of amfAR's funding, grantee Dr. Paul Bieniasz, is trying to solve one of the most frustrating mysteries surrounding HIV. Current anti-HIV therapy cannot completely eradicate the virus from the body. HIV hides inside cells where it cannot be destroyed by drugs. When the patient stops taking the drugs, the virus emerges from those cells and ravages the immune system. In an attempt to overcome this problem, Dr. Bieniasz is using sophisticated techniques to search through millions of chemical compounds called peptides for one that could lead the way to eliminating even dormant HIV.

Hope for a cure can also be found in the work of amfAR grantee Dr. Steven Deeks, who is studying why some HIV-positive people maintain low virus levels indefinitely without medication. With amfAR support, Dr. Deeks will test his hypothesis that these individuals harbor a defective strain of HIV that is incapable of reproducing. If his hypothesis is correct, he will set out to use these findings to pursue a cure for the disease by halting the progression of the virus.

These examples clearly illustrate why amfAR's work must continue. Their grants provide crucial "seed" funding for innovative scientists who can then take their research further with support from the government or private industry. On average, amfAR-funded scientists secure up to $12 in additional funding for every dollar amfAR rewards them, which is an impressive return on investment, made possible only by dedicated supporters and donors.

I continue to believe that we can and will rid the world of AIDS. But the pace at which we, as a nation and a world, make this happen will be measured in dollars. Please support amfAR with a donation of whatever you can give.

By mail, you can donate to:

amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research
PO Box 96635
Washington DC 20090-6635

Donate on the internet here.
Check out their website for more information.