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Look Before You Give

June 14, 2013 | Brian Brewer

It's outrageous. And it should be criminal.

I'm talking about charities that defraud the public. We hear about them every now and then in the news—very little spent on actually helping anyone the charity claims to be helping, while exorbitant amounts go to pay for fundraising fees, CEO salaries, or back-room business deals.

It's disgusting that these so-called "charities" get away with this. People put our trust in these organizations to do something good, whether it be feed the hungry, fund medical research, provide disaster relief, and so much more. Whenever we hear about charities that lie to the public, it undermines trust in all charities and can make someone reconsider ever donating to charity again.

When recently published an investigative report published in the Tampa Bay Times showing just how much America's 50 worst charities were ripping off the public, I went through the roof. According to the report, these 50 charities representing many different health and human services over the past ten years raised $1.35 billion from donors but spent a paltry $49 million on their stated causes. That's less than 3%. The rest went to paying telemarketers or other fundraisers and CEO salaries.

Looking deeper into the report, I counted at least 12 organizations on the worst 50 list that claim to provide services or support to patients with cancer. Their websites often feature pictures of suffering children—anything to manipulate the heartstrings. When looking just at the cancer organizations on this list, I learned that they raised more than $574 million over the past 10 years, but spent only $14 million on their cause. That's barely more than 2%.

I say again, this should be illegal. Every state has laws that regulate how charities conduct business. Charities are required to register with most state governments in order to legally raise funds. The registration process requires the charity to submit financial records and a host of other documents. Yet despite this oversight, offending organizations like those highlighted in the CNN article manage to continue soliciting funds from an unsuspecting public. It's predatory, and state governments should do more than just reprimand the offenders.

What really eats me is that while these worthless organizations are raking in the money, honest cancer organizations like ours don't come close to raising $574 million. It's a shame, considering what we would do with that money. There are hundreds of scientists in need of funding. There are clinical trials of promising cancer immunotherapies that need launching. But each year budget constraints force us to cut some of the very excellent applicants from our grant pool. It's just a shame. And it's costing lives, when you consider that our work has actually led to breakthroughs that are saving the lives of cancer patients. Imagine how many more people we could help if we had that kind of funding?

It's so, so important that anyone looking to donate to a charity—whether it's $10 or $1 million—that you do your homework before you give. Charities are required to publish their financial statements. If you don't want to read through IRS forms 990, there are charity watchdog websites out there that have done all the work for you. Sites like Charity Navigator, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and GreatNonprofits all provide clear to understand information about a charity that you need to consider before giving.

A few minutes of research can give you peace of mind that your donation is going to a worthy cause rather than enriching greedy and deceptive pockets.

And if you're looking to support a great cancer charity, look no further than us! We have top ratings from charity watchdog organizations and a 60-year history of making real impact in the fight against cancer. We'll always tell you the truth about how your money is spent.

So, get wise and give wisely.


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