The Breast Cancer Charity Scam


There are few causes that are more widely supported than the effort to end breast cancer, yet somehow making sure your money actually goes to supporting research and helping people affected by the disease has become exeedingly difficult. You’re probably aware that companies pushing products festooned with pink ribbons are often giving almost nothing to breast cancer charities. However, it isn’t just the pink yogurt lids and Snuggies for the cure that you need to watch out for. The world of breast cancer fundraising is riddled with despicable people looking to make money off of your good intentions.

An article in the October issue of Marie Claire paints a disturbing picture of where breast cancer fundraising is right now. On the one hand, we seems to have reached critical mass on awareness now that NFL players are sporting pink on the football field, and people are donating tremendous amounts of money to the cause. The magazine reports:

Last year, the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s top agency for health-related research, allocated $763 million to the study of breast cancer, more than double what it committed to any other cancer. The Department of Defense also funds breast cancer research ($150 million this year), as do several states, most notably Texas and California. All that is in addition to the money raised by the roughly 1,400 IRS-recognized, tax-exempt charities in this country devoted to breast cancer. They operate in every state and in just about every major city. The largest of them, Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, grossed $420 million last year alone. All told, an estimated $6 billion is raised every year in the name of breast cancer. And the money keeps pouring in.

This has led to many developments in the way we treat breast cancer, but we aren’t much closer to finding a cure than we were 20 years ago. Part of the reason is that many charities that claim to support breast cancer research actually only exist to make people rich.

Some nonprofits are just mismanaged by breast cancer survivors are relatives who have no experience running a charity. There are also plenty of organizations that purposedly pose as breast cancer charities just to steal money from donors. For instance, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer for allegedly being nothing more than a “sham charity.” Marie Claire reports:

According to the complaint, founder Andrew Smith; his girlfriend, Debra Koppelman; and their associates pilfered almost all of the $9.1 million raised in the past five years alone. Other eye-opening claims: The telemarketing firm hired to solicit donations was owned by CABC cofounder Garrett Morgan, who billed the charity $3.5 million for his services. In total, Smith and Koppelman paid themselves more than $550,000 in salaries between 2005 and 2009, plus another $150,000 in retirement accounts, this though both held down full-time jobs as recruiters. The CABC issued Smith a $105,000 personal loan, which he squandered on bad investments; Koppelman authorized a $50,000 loan to herself toward the purchase of a home.

Nonprofits have to report financial information to the IRS, but it’s easy to fudge the numbers. Money used to hire telemarketers can be described as funds used for education if the words “Don’t forget to get a mammogram!” are stamped on the bottom of the charity’s stationary. The value of gifts may be inflated to make it seem like the charity is bigger, and distort the fact that most of the money isn’t going to breast cancer research. Even some respected groups, like the Texas charity the National Breast Cancer Foundation, are involved in potentially shady practices, like hiring a slew of family members and giving them six-figure salaries for filling vague roles like “senior consultant.”

You only have to look at the number of celebrities whose foundations have folded amid scandal to realize that the issue isn’t particular to breast cancer charities. But it does seem that many scammers are drawn to the cause because people are quicker to donate when they’re asked to help fight breast cancer. It’s sick that you have to wonder if groups are making false claims about helping breast cancer patients, but the phrase “think before you pink” applies to official-sounding charities as well as the massive amount of pink ribbon paraphernalia. Marie Claire has a guide to figuring out if a charity is reputable, and lists a handful that are known to spend most of the money they raise on research and treatment. While it may seem like the more charities the better, smaller, poorly-run nonprofits are just drawing donations away from organizations that are actually make progress in the fight against breast cancer.

The Big Business Of Breast Cancer [Marie Claire]

Earlier: “Breast Cancer Is A Disease, Not A Marketing Opportunity”

Image via i9370/Shutterstock.

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