Another dodgy cancer charity comes acalling in Las Vegas

dodgy canceer charityThe recent telephone call to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters followed the usual pattern. The telemarketer stated the cause, in this instance The Breast Cancer Charities of America, based in The Woodlands, Tex. I was asked to make a verbal donation pledge on the spot, in this instance for “the ladies.”

Tracking the usual pattern, I would be pleased to read any literature sent me but that I couldn’t consider committing to a donation without first having something in writing to review.

Rather than agreeing to mail me materials, the caller promptly hung up. This also traced the usual pattern.

Besides the somewhat abrupt call termination once I expressed a reluctance to donate sight unseen, there were these other elements of the usual pattern. The caller wasn’t even a human but an interactive computer affecting a pleasant voice (female, this time).

And subsequent research by me suggested that the charity was thisclose to being a scam. Looking at BCCA’s own filings with regulators over the past six years, maybe 3% of the cash donations received was spent directly in grants to those in need. The percentage for the most recent year with filings, 2016, was 7%–a little better but still terrible. BCCA also has some skanky running buddies and has received a fair amount of adverse scrutiny, as I will point out.

Now you might assume an outfit with a plural in its name–the Breast Cancer Charities of America–is a widespread organization with scads of employees and volunteers. Your assumption would be way off. While the nonprofit also solicits under other names, including IGoPink and Breast Cancer Support Foundation, the latest tax return in 2016 stated it had only six employees and zero volunteers.

Want to learn more? Come along for the ride.

You can download the annual tax returns and audited financial statements filed by BCCA going back years from the website of the New York State Attorney General’s Office at this link. (Despite a 2013 state law, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office refuses to post full financial statements or tax returns on its own website, making it harder for Nevadans to figure out what’s going on. In Nevada, effective charitable regulation is definitely MIA.)

By my reckoning, in the six years 2011 to 2016, BCCA received $41 million in cash donations. Of that sum, just $1.2 million went out in cash grants to those in need and other institutions. That’s a mere 3 cents of each cash donation dollar. The rest of the cash went mainly for fundraising expense, marketing, direct mail, overhead and executive compensation–expenses not likely to directly aid cancer patients.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, BCCA received cash donations of $6.4 million. From that, just $500,000 went out in cash grants. That’s a mere 8 cents of each cash donation dollar. A full $5.3 million was listed as being spent in fundraising expense alone. Put another way, 92 cents of each donated cash dollar went to something other than breast cancer relief.

These dreadful charitable commitment and fundraising efficiency ratios have been camouflaged by BCCA’s large receipts and distribution of gift-in-kind, or GIK. GIK is donated goods, such as clothing, personal goods, pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies and equipment. GIK is a valid form of charitable largess, but it is extremely easy to overvalue and misuse, like claiming it for purposes that are off-mission. Also, because it generally comes from so few sources, GIK entails almost no fundraising expense. It bears very little on a nonprofit’s true financial efficiency.

In 2016, BCCA reported receiving about $26 million in GIK, dwarfing the cash contributions. More than $25 million of that came from a single, undisclosed nonprofit organization, which presumably also counted the GIK as charity. So BCCA added no real charity to the overall pot. A single GIK gift four times the total of all cash donations strikes me as pretty suspicious. And where did almost all of this GIK end up? According to the financial statement, “cancer treatment centers in the Dominican Republic and Honduras.”

Okay.

As you might imagine by now, BCCA hasn’t gotten a lot of love from major charity watchdogs or other investigative reporters. It lacks a favorable rating from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator. In 2014 the national TV show “Inside Edition” took a swing. That was a year after a TV station in Houston, near where BCCA is headquartered, ran a scathing investigative series (click here, here and here.) In 2011, BCCA popped up in a Marie Claire magazine story by my former Forbes colleague Lea Goldman about the “gold mine for pink profiteers and old-fashioned hucksters.”

BCCA’s primary telemarketer (which ran the computer-controlled voice that called me) is Associated Community Services Inc., of Southfield, Mich. I know a little about ACS. It has been cold-calling me for years soliciting on behalf of various questionable charities. Which also means I have been writing about it for years, including a 2014 post about its bankruptcy and run-in with regulators.

Besides BCCA, in the past 18 months ACS telemarketers have called me in Las Vegas (encounters I wrote up) on behalf of United Breast Cancer Foundation (2% of cash donations going to good deeds). Foundation for American Veterans (9%), and Cancer Recovery Foundation International (10%). As it turns out, I mentioned BCCA in the last one as having connections with Cancer Recovery Foundation International.

Earlier this week, I sent a message to an email address listed on the BCCA website making many of these points and requesting comment. I will update this post if I hear back. But I don’t really expect a response. The usual pattern.

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