Cable Positive: Finances are Open Book

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Burnishing the organization's image at a crucial period in its 10-year history, Cable Positive executives say they aren't afraid to stand in the spotlight itself regarding finances and operations.

"Where's the money? We're always asking that question ourselves," first-year president Steve Villano said. "We are responsible to our donors to document where their money is going, and we do that for all of our programs."

Cable companies have been asking that question of several non-profit organizations in recent years — especially now, as the recession takes its toll on profits and budgets across the industry.

Notably, the Walter Kaitz Foundation has come under scrutiny for raising millions of dollars during its annual dinner, yet failing to fulfill its mission of placing qualified minorities into management positions within the industry.

"Because of the weak economy, we have been asking a lot of questions about how the money we're giving organizations is being used," said one MSO executive. "Cable Positive has been one of the more upfront organizations in providing that information."

Villano, a press official with the New York state government in the late 1980s and early 1990s when AIDS cases surged, said he understands the importance of an organization being accountable to the industry that supports it.

As a result, financial records relating to Cable Positive's operations are an open book. Those books show the organization raised more than $2 million through various fundraising efforts — including its annual spring dinner — during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Villano said over $1.9 million of that has gone to fundraising and outreach programs regarding AIDS education, prevention and services for those in the industry afflicted with the disease.

More than $681,000 was committed to public education efforts, including donations to such AIDS/HIV efforts as World AIDS Day and grants for its Tony Cox Fund. Named after the late Showtime Inc. executive, the fund provided over $89,000 in grants to 10 local AIDS service organizations during the period to aid in the creation of local programming and public service announcements related to the disease.

Another $330,000 was allocated for industry programs, including its AIDS in the workplace seminars, newsletters and the development of its state-of-the art Web site.

About $430,000 was used for grants to AIDS-related services as well as the organization's Employee Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance and social services for current and former cable industry employees and their immediate family members living with HIV/AIDS.

Support for its fundraising efforts tallied another $489,000.

Cable Positive relied on help from cable companies, and not only cash. Helpful in-kind contributions came from Cablevision Systems Corp., which donated computers, and Cable Television Laboratories Inc., which helped develop its Web site.

"What was very heartening to me was the commitment this industry has made — not just financially, but in-kind gifts — to the organization," Villano said. "It's help propel us into the forefront of organizations specific to this disease."

Along with providing AIDS workplace seminars, Cable Positive helped support efforts like Black Entertainment Television's HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, launched last November.

BET vice president of public affairs Jacquelyne Willis said Cable Positive was able to put the network in contact with various AIDS-organizations in the Washington, D.C.-area to expand the campaign's reach.

"In my opinion, their contacts were more important to us than any monetary commitment," Willis said. "We consider Cable Positive a very important partner."

Of course, Cable Positive's goal is the total eradication of the disease. While the number of AIDS deaths have fallen by about 42,000 per year, Villano said AIDS cases are still on the rise among minority groups — particularly among African-Americans.

He also said a stigma continues to exist, and people still have a difficult time talking about AIDS. So Cable Positive is working with the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association to incorporate Cable Positive's HIV/AIDS workplace seminars within employee training programs.

"The way to get rid of the stigma is to make it part of your normal employee training program," he added.

The decade-old organization also needs to diversify its fundraising opportunities. Right now, the annual dinner generates 88 percent of annual revenue.

Villano has started looking outside the industry for revenue, seeking a grant from pharmaceutical giant Johnson&Johnson, for example.

"A lot of companies are getting hit by this recession," Villano said. "So just as many cable systems and networks are challenged to come up with more creative ways to go about their business, so are we."

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