Last week Anderson Cooper's "Keeping Them Honest" aired a story about a cancer charity rip-off on CNN (Cable News Network) that made my stomach turn. While we've unfortunately grown accustomed to hearing about the latest scam, it's still a tough realization that there are people out there who would take advantage of the sick and dying.
If people like myself find this offensive, I can only imagine how those who have made donations to these charities must feel after discovering it's very likely little, if any of their donation, helped a single cancer patient, while it most likely helped line the pockets of the CEOs of these so-called charities.
It's scandalous stories like this one that make us leary about giving to charities. We wonder or worry - how much of our money will actually go to those in need? Is this charity for real? It's a shame.
The charity Cooper exposed is the Cancer Fund of America, Inc. Here's the skinny on what Cooper and CNN Reporter Drew Griffin uncovered.
The Cancer Fund of America, Inc. is a family conglomerate of cancer charities based in Knoxville, Tenn. (The logo is "Helping Today For A Brighter Tomorrow.") The problem is that this conglomerate of charities returns big salaries to the CEOs, all family, but according to the their tax records, donates very little to cancer patients.
One of the outposts of the conglomerate is the Breast Cancer Society, Inc. in Mesa Ariz. The President and CEO, who is the son of the founder of the Cancer Fund of America, "earns" a hefty salary of $261,609. According to 2011 tax filings, the charity took in $13 million in 2011, but just 2.4% of that money went to cancer patients. The Breast Cancer Society website, however, claimes 75% of donations go to the charity.
When approached by a CNN reporter, the CEO declined to grant an interview. He actually sped off in his truck and flipped his middle finger at the camera.
Isn't media coverage good for business, especially charities seeking donations? Who wouldn't welcome coverage? Maybe someone who has something to hide?
The Public Relations Officer for the Breast Cancer Society, who is also the wife of the charity's CEO and president, sent an email to CNN stating the Breast Cancer Society's "guiding mission is to provide relief to those who suffer from effects of breast cancer." She also stated, "We've made a difference in the lives of 10's of 1000's of men and women."
She also declined an on-camera interview. Imagine that.
Another outpost of this conglomorate is the Children's Cancer Fund of America, Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn. It's run by CEO and ex-wife of the founder of the Cancer Fund of America. While she refused to do an interview, she did send an email stating, "We have a clear conscience because we feel we are making a good difference in people's lives."
According to 2011 tax records, her salary is $227,442, while her ex-husband's salary is $236, 815.
This family is making a living off of donations from donors who believe their money is helping cancer victims.
In 2011, donors sent these charities a total of 26 million dollars in cash. According to their tax records, only about 2% in cash went to helping cancer patients.
The Cancer Fund of America raised $6,025,451 through its fundraising campaign in 2011 and gave away just $14,940 in cash.
Telemarketers hired by the Cancer Fund of America told potential donors 100% of their donation would go to the Cancer Fund of America Support Services. In a recorded conversation, the telemarketer said donations were used to "purchase medical supplies for cancer patients, to provide hospice care for the terminally ill, and to supply over 600 hospice offices with medical supplies all over the United States." The telemarketer went on to say, "Your donation goes 100% toward the charity itself. I'm calling directly from a charity and not a telemarketing agency."
The recording was provided by the Iowa Attorney General's Office to CNN. The callers taking donor calls were in fact telemarketers being paid to make the calls. The state of Iowa fined the telemarketing company $35,000 for making false representations.
The Cancer Fund of America also claimed on its 2011 tax records to have sent $761,000 in so-called "gifts in kind in the U.S.", not cash, to churches, some hospitals, and other programs and organizations around the country.
When contacted by CNN, however, several groups and organizations listed by the Cancer Fund of America to have received those gifts said they had never heard of the charity nor had they received anything.
The Cancer Fund of America also claimed to have sent "overseas donations" of $16 million in 2011 "without documentation."
The Chief Financial Officer of the charity, whose salary is $121,000, pretty much told CNN's Griffin he didn't know anything about anything, and he quickly walked out of the view of the camera and asked that he not be filmed. (Nothing shady there, right?)
The Cancer Fund of America should take a lesson from the American Cancer Society (ACS). Records from the fiscal year 2011 show 72% of donations to ACS went toward prevention programs, activities that support people with cancer, and efforts to find cures to end cancer ($148 million for cancer research, $280 million for patient support, $150 million for prevention information and education, and $103 million for detection and treatment).
The remaining 28% went to fundraising expenses and management and general expenses.
ACS's mission is to "focus on ensuring we spend the funds entrusted to us in the most efficient manner so we are able to make the greatest impact as we fight for every birthday in every community."
The bottom line is - the proof's in the pudding. We have to remember what we get isn't always what we see. There are many fine charities like ACS to support and give to, we just need to do the research before we hand over our hard-earned money.
Charities like the Cancer Fund of America need to be exposed for what they really are. Shame on them. And it's good to know we can rely on Cooper and CNN to dig up the dirt and bring out the facts - the truth.