Another iffy cancer charity solicits in Las Vegas

iffy cancer charityNew To Las Vegas world headquarters. Ringing phone. “Alice” on the line. Urgent request.

United Breast Cancer Foundation. “Alice” tells me it helps women with financial assistance for things like mammograms. She needs a donation.

So many cancer charities out there with similar names. I ask “Alice” for the organization’s tax identification number to do some research. “Alice” doesn’t have it. She refers me to her “manager,” who does.

By now you’re probably thinking, what with all the damn quote marks? Here’s what’s with all the damn quote marks. “Alice” is not a real person but rather an interactive computer that can recognize some questions and respond. Her “supervisor” is the real human monitoring and directing the computer.

More to the point, from my perspective it also wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to put quote marks around “United Breast Cancer Foundation.” From my reading of its latest available financial filings, the Huntington, N.Y. organization, which also uses the name United Women’s Health Alliance, spent almost none of the cash raised from telemarketing calls such as the one to me on anything I would regard as the financial assistance “Alice” told me about. The rest went to a farrago of fundraising costs and other expenses, including printing, marketing, overhead and, of course, executive compensation.

As a result, various charity watchdog groups hold a rather dim view of UBCF. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance flunks the charity on multiple standards, including one requiring financial statements be put on the charity’s website. Charity Navigator gives UBCF just two stars. Indeed, a few years ago the charity ranked No. 38 on the Tampa Bay Times’ list of America’s Worst Charities, which highlighted tax-exempts that spent very little of the money donated on good deeds. There are more than 1 million nonprofits in the U.S., so UBCF was in rather rarefied company.

And since we all now live in the Age of Trump, there’s even a tangential connection to the extended First Family. Interested? Read on.

My analysis comes from the IRS Form 990 and audited financial statement that UBCF filed for the year ending December 31, 2016. You can download the data–which UBCF deliberately keeps off its own website–by clicking here on the site of the New York State Attorney General’s office.

UBCF raised $8.6 in cash gifts, mainly from telemarketing, and proceeds from a car-donation-program. Of that sum, exactly $189,143 was spent in cash grants and assistance to individuals, plus another $3,000 cash to unspecified organizations. These figures were right in the financial filings. They added up to $192,143. Do the math. That sum amounted to 2 cents of each cash dollar received from folks like you.

Of the rest, a whopping $6.7 million–78% of all the cash gifts received–went toward fundraising and what accounting rules call “joint costs from a combined educational campaign and fundraising solicitation.” About half of that went to Associated Community Services Inc., a Southfield, Mich., telemarketer whose colorful background includes bankruptcy and run-ins with charitable regulators. A cool half-million was banked as a cash surplus.

UBCF is also the rare charity that requires some people seeking assistance to pay what amounts to a $50 application fee.

Audrey Stephanie Mastroianni, who is listed as UBCF’s president, executive director and a director, was paid $234,000 in total compensation. That’s 20% more than the total amount handed out in cash grants and assistance.

Here in Nevada, a 2013 state law requires the Nevada Secretary of State’s office to post a full financial report or IRS Form 990 for most registered soliciting charities–which UBCF certainly is–on its own website, from which these depressing financial numbers could be found. But the office refuses to post complete filings for any charity, leaving Nevada residents in the dark. That’s why I had to go to New York to get the documents.

The UBCF is something of a family business. According to filings, Audrey’s father, Nicholas Mastroianni, is treasurer and a director. Audrey’s brother, Nicholas Mastrioanni II, sometimes listed as Nicholas Mastrioanni Jr., is secretary and a director. There are no independent outside directors.

Which leads me to the promised Trump connection. According to an article last year by the Center for Investigative Reporting–which co-authored that worst-charities list–Nick Jr. in 2012 partnered with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to finance a Trump-branded building in Jersey City, N.J., by raising tens of millions of dollars from rich Chinese investors who then would qualify for a U.S. visa called the EB-5. It became a controversial project, especially after Kushner took a job in the White House but held on to that investment. An earlier 2014 story in Fortune Magazine detailed Nick Jr.’s checkered business career.

Last week, I sent a message requesting comment to the UBCF through its website. I’ll update this post if I get back any “quotes.”

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Another iffy cancer charity solicits in Las Vegas — 6 Comments

  1. In fact, it’s not the stories, Bill, my mistake, it’s the facts they uncover. I don’t understand why the state doesn’t close these dodgy charities down?! Surely there’s some kind of quality assurance measures they can apply or KPI’s these charities have to meet to remain sustainable?! I remain flabbergasted by their blatant bad practice.

    • Unfortunately, most jurisdictions have lax rules concerning how charities disclose what they do, and GAAP accounting rules tolerate a wide range of dubious practices. The IRS, which has some authority here, has almost no investigators dedicated to charities.

  2. This is such a good piece of reporting Bill. The whole world, or at least the USA should hear about it. Have you ever sent anything to the TV channels?? I can hear PBS or Anderson Cooper getting into this. It’s just incredible and unfortunately it’s stories like these that stop people giving to charities wholeheartedly.

    • Thanks. I just put it on the Internet for folks to see and do with as they please. Clearly, many official charitable regulators aren’t much on the ball.

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