What you can do to support breast cancer research

Since it’s PinkTober, you might be asking yourself, “What can I do to support breast cancer research?”

Before you buy any pink product or donate to any cause, first head to Charity Navigator. It turns out that the top-of-mind non-profit may not be the one you want to give your time or your money.

In you want to support breast cancer research, Charity Navigator has two top picks:

For education and public awareness, there are three:

I have a couple more for you to consider, depending on your goals:

I can hear you thinking: what about the Komen Foundation? The American Cancer Society?

Neither get good marks from Charity Navigator.

American Cancer Society

This month, Chevrolet teamed with the American Cancer Society for the seventh year in a row to support the ACS breast cancer walk, called Making Strides. The Instagram and Twitter hashtag: #iDriveFor

Chevrolet met its limit of $400,000 a week after they released a news release about the campaign. So all those tweets and Instagram photos for the remainder of the month? Gravy for Chevy.

The American Cancer Society has gotten sour marks from Charity Navigator since 2003 (the earliest record). For Fiscal 2011-2014 (the latest available), the organization has only one star (!) for its financial performance.

American Cancer Society
Revenue dips while fundraising jumps, 2005-2014
American Cancer Society
Expenditures for fundraising versus programs; cancer research is a quarter of programmatic expenditures, 2005-2014

Over time, the spending ratio between money earmarked for research and money used for fundraising has been moving in the wrong direction.

Only 60% of American Cancer Society expenses for fiscal years 2012-2014 went to programs, which include a variety of efforts. Research is in second place, and only a quarter of the program bucket went to research ($150M) in fiscal 2014. With total revenue at $824,703,280, that means 18% of revenue went to research.

American Cancer Society program breakdown
Screengrab from Charity Navigator

The ACS website claims that 75% of expenses in 2015 went to programmatic efforts. However the organization has not made its 2015 990 (IRS documents) public. It will be laudable if true; in Charity Navigator reports going back to 2003, the best figure is 73% (achieved twice).

It’s not like there are no stories criticizing the commercialization of PinkTober with ACS as chief enabler. From 2014, an expose of six years of pink-ification of the NFL:

The month-long campaign that paints everything from player’s shoes to fields to penalty flags pink, doesn’t actually result in a single dollar donated to breast cancer research… The NFL donates proceeds from its awareness campaign, auctions, and the NFL Shop to the American Cancer Society (ACS), which in turns uses that money to increase awareness, education, and screenings for women over 40 (emphasis added).

Finally, the American Cancer Society paid its top four employees a combined $4.7 million in fiscal 2014. They were all men. Fundraising and administration account for 40% of annual expenses.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure

With a sub-title of “Ending breast cancer forever,” you’d think that Komen spends most of its money on research. You’d be wrong. Like the American Cancer Society, it spends about 1-in-4 dollars on research.

Komen fares a little better than ACS in its Charity Navigator ratings; it’s a three-star organization (out of four) with a two-star financial rating. Organization marks have dropped since Fiscal 2012, when the financial rating was four stars.

Komen’s fundraising expense, as a percentage of the budget, is much less than the American Cancer Society. The bulk of its expenditures is for education (45%).

Komen paid its top four executives a combined total of 1.3 million in fiscal 2015. Only one was male, Miguel Perez, vice president, affiliate network.  Fundraising and administration account for 20% of annual expenses.

I’ve focused on Charity Navigator, but other watchdogs include CharityWatch,  and BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

Think before you pink!



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