Holiday season. The time of giving. The phone rang at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. Molly–or rather, an interactive computer programmed to say it was Molly–was on the line. After telling a lame joke, she/it cut to the chase. She/it said she/it was soliciting donations to the Women’s Cancer Fund, and hoped I could be counted to make a financial pledge.
I had not heard of the Women’s Cancer Fund (not all that surprising since there are thousands of charities in the country with the word “cancer” in their names). Where is Women’s Cancer Fund located, I asked. “Harrisburg, Pa,” she/it replied cheerily.
I asked for the organization’s federal tax ID number. “You know, I don’t have that,” she/it said, adding that her/its supervisor could help. Indeed, a real live human–who likely was monitoring the back and forth between “Molly” and me–quickly came on the line and gave me a nine-digit number.
Except that after looking it up online, I discovered the number wasn’t in the name of Women’s Center Fund. It was in the name of something called Cancer Recovery Foundation International. Women’s Cancer Fund is one of several cancer-themed trade names that CRFI uses as it asks an unsuspecting public for funds. Other d/b/a’s include Nevada Cancer Research Fund and Pink Diamond Women’s Cancer Fund.
And do I mean unsuspecting. In its latest fiscal period, according to my reckoning, only a sliver of the cash donations CRFI received went directly for anything that I would call good works. The rest was spent on fundraising, marketing and overhead. CRFI does business with several sketchy outfits–several of which I have written about–while using an accounting ploy to make its financial efficiencies and largess seem better than they really are.
The numbers and data I cite below are right off the IRS form 990 tax return that CRFI filed for the year ending December 31, 2016. You can download that tax return from the Foundation Center by clicking here, and then follow along.
CRFI received $1.25 million in cash donations, plus another $340,000 providing administrative services, presumably to related cancer charities. But from that $1.25 million it shelled out $1.19 million in fees to four paid telemarketing fundraisers and related expenses. That’s a cash fundraising efficiency of just 5%. To put it another way, 95 cents of every dollar given by someone like you went right out the door in fundraising. That’s not going to provide a lot of cancer recovery.
The biggest of CRFI’s telemarketers, Associated Community Services of Southfield, Mich., long has had serious run-ins with regulators as it perform telemarketing for a host of dodgy charities. For a previous blog I wrote about ACS after it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013, recounting its, ah, colorful history and m.o.
According to CRFI’s tax return, $1.9 million in cash was spent. But only $124,000 was paid out in cash grants to individuals and other organizations, and maybe a similar amount in what I would call related program support. Most of the rest went for the aforementioned fundraising, executive compensation and overhead. I figure the cash charitable commitment–the cut of cash expenses spent in direct support of the stated charitable mission–was 15%.
Note I keep using the word cash. That’s because CRFI claimed it received one single donation of $2 million in gift-in-kind medical supplies that it immediately shipped to a single medical facility in the Dominican Republic. To me, a single gift nearly double all the cash gifts sounds a little suspicious. Gift-in-kind is a valid form of charity. But the accounting can be murky. Gift-in-kind is subject to puffed up valuations of off-point material that make financial efficiencies seem a lot better and rules that don’t require the charity to take actual possession of good so long as the paperwork is in order.
According to the CRFI tax return, it had the gift-in-kind assistance of Charity Services International Inc. and World Assist, two organizations that have run into trouble with some of their efforts elsewhere. Indeed, World Assist just announced on its website that it is going out of business.
But with the suspicious-to-me gift-in-kind donation, CRFI had a fundraising efficiency of 82% and a charitable commitment ratio of 71%. Both were above the 65% threshold set by charity watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. Still, neither the BBB nor other evaluators like Charity Navigator of Charity Watch has given CRFI a favorable rating.
On its tax return, CRFI says it does business and has a common board member with Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation, now of New Oxford, Pa. In 2013 I posted several articles (here and here) about this dreadful charity. Nor was I alone. The Tampa Bay Times later ranked it No. 11 on its list of America’s Worst Charities for the large amount of money it raised and the tiny amount that found its way to a charitable purpose.
The CRFI return said CRFI is the surviving entity of a merger last year with Cancer Recovery Foundation of America. The return also disclosed links of various kinds with other separate charities: Breast Cancer Charities of America, Cancer Recovery Foundation of Canada, Cancer Recovery Foundation of Germany. Donor beware, I would say.
Now, CRFI is registered as a fundraising charity with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, and the online display lists Women’s Cancer Fund as one of its trade names. But the Secretary of State’s Office continues to ignore a Nevada state law requiring the office to post CRFI’s IRS return or financial statement online, which would make it a lot easier for Nevada donors to figure out how little money makes it to a worthy purpose. That’s why I had to go to the Foundation Center in far-away New York City to get the information.
Several weeks ago, I sent an email to CRFI asking for comment on many of the issues I am raising. I haven’t heard back, which isn’t all that surprising. But if I do, I will update this post.
Meanwhile, to the she/it computer who goes by Molly, I say this: Ho ho ho.