The High Price of Charity

Photo provided by staff.
Friday, July 4, 2014 - 5:15pm

Times are tough for everyone, but imagine running a non-profit. They depend on donations to keep them going.

When you run a non-profit, there are certain things you can't help but ask yourself...

"From a business stand point, why would you do something that you don't have money to do?" A.J. Johnson questioned.

For Johnson, his answer is selflessness.

"I saw a need that was not happening, and that need was education," Johnson explained.

The need to educate people about one of the deadliest diseases in our community, AIDS.

"And October 5th 1998, I started Baton Rouge AIDS Society," Johnson said.

Baton Rouge ranks among to top when it comes to HIV and AIDS cases in the country, but testing isn't cheap.

"If we had to charge each person to get tested, it would be $194 a person," Johnson admitted.

However, starting up a non-profit to cover it isn't cheap either. Kelly Pepper, the CEO of Louisiana Association for Non-Profit Organizations, understands that. She helps get non-profits off the ground.

"Filing your Articles of Incorporation currently today costs about $75, and then filing your Non-Profit Tax Exempt Status with the IRS. If you have a budget size of $10,000 and below, it's around $400, and you have a budget size of $10,000 and above over a four year period, it would be around $850," Pepper explained.

It's an investment in the community and not just financially.

"It's something so selfless, and that is again why I think that our non-profit sector is so critical to our success as a society because they do give selflessly," Pepper said.

Johnson said deciding to dedicate his life to helping others was not initially his plan, but he thinks it was part of a greater plan.

"I really feel like God called me to do this work because I never knew we would be where we are now," Johnson said.

Baton Rouge Aids Society helps more than a thousand people each year, but it can be hard to meet that need without state funding.

"Some of the funding opportunities don't help a small organization like ours. We don't have a $1.5 million line of credit to be able to afford some of the funding opportunities that you might have to wait five to six months before you get reimbursed. We can't afford to spend $30,000 or $50,000 a month, and wait five months to get reimbursed."

So Johnson said they rely on grants and donations.

"We have to spend the night sometimes working on grants. We have sofas in our training center. I never get paid for the hours that I work. Even if I got paid 40 hours. It wouldn't equal the 90 hours that I put in," Johnson explained.

Johnson said it takes that much just to keep it going, and he does it all from cutting grass to driving limos.

"I've had like 15 other jobs at the same time just to make sure we keep providing services. Also, just to make sure that if we're doing testing and we run out of gauze," Johnson said."I can give the staff $10 to go to Walgreens to get some more gauze or something like that because all the funds are not available to get that."

On top of all that, he has a family to take care of.

"You're working 12-hour shifts," Johnson said. "You're just trying to find a way to keep providing for your family, to keep your house, to keep your vehicles, to keep food on the table, and to keep the lights on."

Johnson said no matter the sacifrice and no matter the struggle, he is going to keep fighting this fight and helping those who need it.

"Keep doing what it is that your vision is and remember that it's not about you because you're really here to serve others," Johnson said. "Make sure you are willing to make the sacrifice. It's not a nine to five, so you got to be willing to put in a lot of work. It says only in the dictionary does success come before work."

Right now, there are more than 20,000 non-profit organizations in our state.

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