One of the murkiest charities I’ve ever come across is Breast Cancer Research & Support Fund, a trade name of a Pompano Beach, Fla., outfit called Community Charity Advancement Inc. As near as I can tell, virtually none of the contributions received went to breast cancer research and support. The charity used legal accounting tricks to make itself look more efficient rather than the honey pot it really was for its paid fundraiser, who ended up with more than four-fifths of the cash given by unsuspecting donors. There are all kinds of inconsistencies on BCRSF/CCA’s regulatory filings and its Web site.
I’ve twice nominated BCRSF/CCA for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. Why? Its fundraisers kept calling the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money after being written up here as a skanky operation. How much dumber can dumb be?
A recent query from a visitor to this space has focused my attention again on BCRSF/CCA. Right now on its Web site, BCRSF/CCA twice claims its good works benefited a well-regarded nonprofit health care provider in Seattle.
I don’t think so.
On one page of its web site, BCRSF/CCA lists 17 cancer research institutions around the country–some rather well known–as its “Program Partners.” One of them is Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a quite-reputable partnership of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
On another Web page entitled “Research,” BCRSF/CCA lists six healthcare institutions the charity says “received grants” from BCRSF. One of them is “Seattle Cancer Alliance.” There is no entity that I am aware of called “Seattle Cancer Alliance.” So I’m going to assume that was a botched reference to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (That wouldn’t be the only printed glitch on this short list; the words “comprehensive” and “of” are misspelled, too.)
I formally asked Seattle Cancer Care Alliance about all this. Have you ever received any research grants from BCRSF/CCA? Have you ever been a program partner with BCRSF/CCA? Have you ever consented to the use of your name for fundraising purposes by BCRSF/CCA?
A public relations representative of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance provided answers. No, no and no.
I also queried BCRSF/CCA about this using the “Contact Us” function on its website. You might not be surprised to learn I have not received a response. I’ll update this if one comes in.
Here’s how the situation looks to me. In its latest federal tax return and audited financial statement, for calendar year 2013, BCRSF/CCA reported receiving $3.9 million in cash gifts. Of this sum, $3.2 million went to its paid telemarketer, Courtesy Call Inc., of Las Vegas. That’s 82% of the money raised, leaving just $700,000. Of that, $650,000 was spent for management and overhead. A small amount was banked.
That left less than $50,000 for good works–barely 1% of cash donations. How many donors to a charity want 99% of their cash gifts to go to something other than charity?
Yet the financial filings stated $5.9 million was handed out in “grants and other assistance to governments and organizations.” How was this possible? BCRSF/CCA claimed it received this very amount in donated goods called gifts-in-kind, or GIK. While theoretically a valid form of charity, such goods can be acquired with almost no fundraising cost or actual possession beyond paperwork and are prone to wild exaggerations of value, which makes the charity look better.
Indeed, BCRSF/CCA said it valued the GIK using “fair market value,” which often means pumped-up retail prices like you’d find in Walgreen or CVS rather than much lower wholesale prices or even Costco pricing. GIK is also prone to double-counting, with multiple charities claiming credit for the same goods.
BCRSF/CCA stated in its financial statement the donated goods consisted of “medicine, topical first aid creams and sunscreen [and] clothing, antibiotic creams and blankets.” To me, this sounds a lot more like run-of-the-mill medical supplies and goods appropriate, perhaps, for disaster relief but not especially geared to cancer research or support. Off-point GIK is very suspicious.
By lumping together the donated goods with the cash contributions, BCRSF/CCA was able to gin up a charitable commitment ratio–the percent of total expenses spent directly on the charitable mission–of 65% (the figure now listed on the Washington State Secretary of State’s website). As it happens, 65% is the minimum threshold set by various charitable watchdogs for respectability. That number was definitely a lot higher than the 1% I reckoned on the cash gifts.
Not that BCRSF/CCA, which originally called itself Seven Sisters of Healing Inc. before apparently deciding a few years ago that cancer was a better fundraising shingle to hold out, cares much about the watchdogs. BCRSF/CCA has refused to answer questions from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, which evaluates charities using good governance criteria. This is not a reassuring sign of charitable responsibility.
But maybe that was because BCRSF/CCA, according to its tax return, said it had zero employees. Not a one. Management–such that there was any–was farmed out to a third-party outfit. This is also not a good sign.
BCRSF/CCA filings were a model of internal inconsistency. At one point the tax return stated BCRSF/CCA “contributed to cancer research through donations to various research organizations.” But no research recipients were identified and certainly none in Seattle. It’s pretty clear not a single dime went to cancer research as that term is ordinarily understood. Indeed, research was not even listed as an endeavor in the financial statement footnote describing BCRSF/CCA’s “nature of activities.”
One part of the tax return said that BCRSF/CCA’s mission included providing assistance “in the US and Central and South America.” Yet according to another part, 96% of the assistance, all of it donated goods, went to an institution in the Dominican Republic–a country on half of a Caribbean island that is not in either the U.S., Central America, or South America. The other 4% was said to go to Lancaster County Fire Service. That’s an organization of volunteer fire fighters in South Carolina, which at least is in the U.S. but probably not on the cutting edge of medical research.
Unlike Seattle, neither the Dominican Republic nor Lancaster County, S.C., is mentioned anywhere that I can find on the BCRSF/CCA website. I’d say the topical creams and sunscreen that BCRSF/CCA claims to handle do double-duty as a cover-up.