Monday, February 11, 2013

Not All Pink Ribbons are Created Equal

A couple of years ago, Susan G. Komen for the Cure faced substantial criticism for its efforts to prevent other organizations from using pink ribbons and/or including "for the cure" in their names and/or fundraising event names.  While many viewed this as a mean spirited attempt to squash small charities with good intentions, it turns out there is something to their concern.  Many organizations rely on the pink ribbon to tout their support of breast cancer research and breast cancer survivors, and not all have the same credibility as Komen.  Below, I will discuss a few breast cancer charities that use the pink ribbon extensively to raise funds, but use those funds much differently than donors may think.

American Breast Cancer Foundation (ABCF)
ABCF raises funds from individuals but also relies on a set of corporate sponsors (strangely, many of of its sponsors are energy companies).  In its most recent financial report (2011 Form 990), ABCF recognized $1.9 million in revenue.  Where did the money go?
  • $808,777 went to telemarketing and direct mail companies.
  • $356,571 went to compensation and related costs.
  • $254,875 went to grants and program services.
  • the rest went to various fees and miscellaneous expenses.

The Breast Cancer Charities of America (BCCA)
BCCA is a relative newcomer, but it has grown substantially.  It touts national sponsorships by Chick-fil-A, CocaCola Bottling Company, J. CREW, and Tiffany & Co.  It also has the celebrity endorsements of Stacy Keibler and Gretchen Rossi (of Real Housewives of Orange County fame).  From its most recent financial statements (2011 Form 990), it had $15 million in revenue.  Where did the money go?
  • $8.8 million represented medical supplies received by the organization which were then donated overseas (Zambia, Ghana, and Honduras).
  • $5.9 million was paid to telemarketing, mail marketing, and donor processing companies.  Some of these costs were treated as public education expenditures.
  • the remaining expenses went to various areas, with just $42,620 going toward providing financial assistance to women with breast cancer.

United Breast Cancer Foundation (UBCF)
UBCF touts its relationships with several clinics and health centers, and has a broad mission of helping those diagnosed with breast cancer.  Like our other contestants, though, the money trail is disappointing.  Based on its most recent financial filing (2011 Form 990), its $1.5 million in expenses went to the following places:
  • $470,015 went to professional fundraisers.
  • $465,947 went to education and awareness campaigns.
  • $203,501 went to advertising.
  • $127,656 went to grants and breast cancer screening services.
  • the rest went to various fees and miscellaneous expenses.

This list is far from exhaustive, and is hopefully far from representative.  However, it raises the issue that just because an organization has a pink ribbon and corporate and/or celebrity sponsors, donor funds are not necessarily supporting breast cancer research or providing financial assistance to breast cancer survivors.  All the more reason to read through their financials carefully or rely on a reputable watchdog who does.

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