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September 14, 2011

The Big Business of Breast Cancer

pink megaphone

Photo Credit: Stephen Lewis

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These well-regarded breast cancer organizations spend most of their funds on research and treatment:

  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  • The University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • The Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center

Crucial questions to ask before donating to a breast cancer charity, courtesy of the American Institute of Philanthropy:

1. How forthcoming is this charity?
Never give to a charity you don't know anything about. If you can't find an annual report or tax return on the charity's website, ask to see one before donating. Think twice about giving to a charity that drags its feet on such a basic request. You have a right to know how much the organization is raising and spending — and how it does that.

2. Where is the money going, exactly?
Find out how much of your donation goes to overhead — administrative and fundraising costs — versus actual programs and services. The American Institute of Philanthropy recommends that at least 60 percent of charitable donations go to actual services. (That means that the bulk of your dollars go to, say, research or underwriting mammographies versus, say, paying salaries and marketing costs for an event.) "Most highly efficient charities are able to spend 75 percent or more on programs," according to the AIP. Note: Be especially wary of charities that list "public education" as a service — the oblique term is often used to disguise telemarketing expenses. If the charity rep says it sponsors educational programs, pin him on specifics.

3. How clear is the charity about its long and short term goals?
Be skeptical of breast cancer charities whose mission statement includes "awareness". What exactly does that mean? How does it plan to make people more aware? At what point will it have satisfied its mission?

4. Am I being pressured to donate?
Do not give a dime to charities that use guilt, harassment or other aggressive tactics to solicit a donation. And you're under no obligation to donate, even if the charity has sent you stamps, cards or other ‘gifts' designed to sway you. It's also OK to ask for more information about the charity in writing. If the charity balks, don't give, period.

5. Don't be fooled by impressive or familiar names of charities.
It's astonishingly easy to set up a charity and name it whatever you'd like. Some dubious charities specifically use names that sound like larger, more reputable organizations to confuse donors. Check out whether the charity has ever received complaints with your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and review the latest financial reports the charity has available at Guidestar.org.

6. Is the person soliciting a donation from you a volunteer or a professional fundraiser (ie. a telemarketer)?
You have a right to ask and a right to know. Keep in mind that telemarketers, while perfectly legal, are rather expensive. Which means less of your donation goes to the cause.

Not all pink ribbons benefit breast cancer. Before you buy a product anything to support "the fight against breast cancer", ask these key questions:

How much money from the purchase actually goes toward breast cancer programs and services?
Can you tell? If the company selling the merchandise says "a portion of proceeds", find out how much exactly. (The packaging or label ought to make this explicit.) Also, is there a cap on how much the company will donate to charity in total? Some companies will give a set donation, regardless of your purchase.

Where is the money going?
What organization will get the money? If you can't tell or you don't know what the organization does, reconsider your purchase.

What types of programs are being supported?
If research, what kind? If services, are they reading the people who need them most? Be wary of programs supporting "breast cancer awareness" — what exactly does that mean? How are they making consumers aware?

Is the product itself not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
In 2010, Susan G. Komen for the Cure controversially partnered with KFC on a "Buckets for the Cure" campaign, which promptly inspired howls from breast cancer advocates who argued that fatty foods like fried chicken actually raise your risk for breast cancer.

Questions courtesy of Breast Cancer Action.

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