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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



by Mubarak Dahir

This article shared 1844 times since Wed Jul 25, 2001
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Dan Pallotta is the New Age guru of fundraising. But I can't help wondering if he isn't an emperor without any clothes.

The fundraising company that bears his name, Pallotta TeamWorks, has for years been a controversial organizer of AIDS rides around the country. More recently, Pallotta has extended his Holy Grail of money gathering for breast cancer organizations. Summer is the big season for Pallotta events. Many have already taken place, with a series of others scheduled through the end of August.

Pallotta has come under continued criticism because his extravagant fundraisers are so expensive to pull off. The overhead it takes to run his fancy shows, combined with the fees his company rakes in off of them, eat up extremely large portions of the money most people thought they were donating to charity, not to Dan Pallotta.

Pallotta has continued to refuse to give details about his personal salary and the way money is distributed and managed throughout his company. He argues that as a private, for-profit business, he has no duty to reveal his finances. And legally, he's right. But it is reasonable for people donating money they think is headed to charity organizations to ask for some kind of accounting of how the money they give is being spent.

Of course, the problem is that such a large chunk of the money Pallotta TeamWorks rakes in never makes it to charities.

Sometimes, more money is spent or pocketed by Pallotta TeamWorks than goes to charities. In Florida in 1997, AIDS groups got less than 12 percent of the money raised in their names. In Wisconsin in 1998, the figure was about 11 percent. The returns were so dismal in Pennsylvania, the attorney general there launched an investigation and Pallotta TeamWorks ended up paying a $110,000 fine. Of course, Pallotta's gang didn't admit to doing anything wrong.

While Pallotta is fond of telling people he's raised millions for AIDS and now breast cancer charities, what he fails to mention is the large percentage of the total money taken in that goes to other expenses. According to a recent Washington Post article, over the years Pallotta has raised $88 million dollars for AIDS organizations. In that same time, an additional $76 million has gone to expenses and fees. If you do the math using those reported figures, more than 46 percent of the money raised for charities goes to fees and overhead.

The acceptable standard set by the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau is that expenses should not surpass 35 percent of total contributions.

What bothers me as much the figures, however, is the rationalization that Pallotta and his supporters...including the bike riders who take part in his productions...have been able to muster, and somehow expect the rest of us to buy.

Dan Pallotta himself repeatedly tells reporters and critics that his organization shouldn't be compared to other fundraisers...indeed, says Pallotta, it can't be compared to other fundraising organizations. How convenient, of course, that when a group doesn't meet the accepted professional standards of its field, it claims it shouldn't be judged like everyone else.

That kind of arrogance is by itself reason to be wary of Pallotta and his glossy fast-speak.

But what I find even more stomach turning than the money dividend is the major rationalization that Pallotta and his supporters continue to invoke on behalf of these questionable events.

Pallotta says he and his minions are different because they aren't just raising money for AIDS, they are, in the words of the company's mission statement, helping people "experience their own magnificence." The mission statement talks very little about fundraising, and instead describes the organization as "America's premier producer of human potential events."

In interviews with the press, Pallotta says he is trying to change people's lives. In almost cult-like repetition, he and his followers repeatedly, almost eerily, use the same language to describe the AIDS rides: as a "life-altering experience." Pallotta told the Washington Post he cares about "the empowerment of the participant."

And here is the biggest flaw with Pallotta's approach: He's focusing more on bike riders than on people with AIDS or breast cancer.

It's easy to understand why, of course. Pallotta depends on these people to pay his salary. Each bike rider is required to raise thousands of dollars in pledges just to participate in the event. In some AIDS rides, cyclists have had to produce a minimum of $3,400 from their friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors for the honor of pedaling for Pallotta.

No doubt many bike riders really believe they are helping a good cause. And the theatrical, feel-good sloganeering and pep-rallying of the Pallotta events is designed specifically to keep the money conduits feeling all warm and fuzzy.

But I can't help wondering how donors to these bike riders would react if, when approached for money, they were asked, "Hey, would you give $500 to send me on a four-day bike trek and pep rally so I can feel good about myself and discover my inner human potential?"

In fact, there's nothing either new or unique about Pallotta's self-motivational classes, except that he disguises them as AIDS and breast cancer fundraisers. The feel-good, inspirational, self-motivational chatter he sells has been around for decades in many forms and passed through many personalities. You can buy it off gads of late-night infomercials for a couple hundred bucks, self-help tapes included.

What you can't buy with thousands of other people's donated dollars and just a few days of pedaling for Pallotta are the kind of real life-altering experiences you get from being involved with AIDS groups.

I remember when I first volunteered for an AIDS group more than ten years ago, and became a "buddy" to a man near death. He was so skinny and frail, he could barely get out of bed. He couldn't feed himself, do his own housework, even go to the bathroom alone. Assisting him in his final days was indeed for me a life-altering experience, and it profoundly changed my view of both the world and myself.

I'm not alone. Millions of gay men and lesbians have given far more of their time and money to AIDS groups, and walked away from the experience touched by an inner strength and resolve they never knew they had. Talk about discovering your inner human potential.

All the blaring music and New Age hyper speak and pep-rally-like cheerleading that Dan Pallotta manufactures for his bike riders pales in comparison.

Mubarak Dahir receives email at

This article shared 1844 times since Wed Jul 25, 2001
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