For the third time I’m nominating Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund, a trade name of Community Charity Advancement, for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. Why? The Pompano Beach, Fla.-based organization keeps calling the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though I have written it up multiple times using words like “dubious,” “sketchy” and even “skanky.”
These are not exactly terms of endearment.
They are, however, my opinions about a nonprofit that allowed paid fundraisers to keep almost all the cash raised, spent maybe 1% of that cash on good works, falsely claimed affiliations with reputable medical facilities and has all kinds of red flags in its filings and on its website.
The call that came in the other day was even from the very same fundraiser who has called me before–sort of. The cheery voice on the line identified herself as Darlene Lewis. I say sort of because Lewis was really a computer-powered voice-activated gizmo likely controlled by a human “supervisor” listening in.
Lewis and I have some history together. So I knew what her m.o. would be. She/it pushed for a verbal commitment that I would send in money if I was sent a pledge card. I said I would be happy to review any literature received but that I could not commit before then. She/it wished me a good day and hung up. I knew the reason. Without a verbal pledge, BCRSF/CCA couldn’t send me threatening follow-ups claiming breach of contract in the event I didn’t pay money.
I detailed the financials of BCRSF/CCA in yet another post just last month.
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?
In her call to me this week, Darlene Lewis acknowledged she/it was working for Courtesy Call but didn’t want to say she was based in the infamous American gambling center of Las Vegas. Where are you located, I asked. “Southern Nevada,” Lewis replied. Maybe she/it was hoping I’d think the Hoover Dam or some place like that.
As I have pointed out here before, there is no evidence that any of the cash donations to BCRSF/CCA–a relatively new charity that evocatively and equally misleadingly once called itself Seven Sisters of Healing–went to cancer research. There is also little evidence much of the cash raised went to cancer support, either.
The BCRSF/CCA website lists the well-regarded Seattle Cancer Care Alliance as one of its “program partners.” In a written statement to me, the Alliance denied it ever has had any dealings with BCRSF/CCA.
Courtesy Call Inc. is a major telemarketing fundraiser for many nonprofits of, shall we say, less than sterling reputations. In Washington State alone, the Secretary of State’s Office says Courtesy Call has worked for 25 organizations. According to its own filings, for 2013, the firm raised $9.5 million from donors just in Washington State and kept for itself $8.4 million–88%.
In my opinion the Courtesy Call client list hereabouts is largely a rogue’s gallery.
Its members include the Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation, which provides mammograms but gave 92% of the cash donations received to fundraisers like Courtesy Call. Yep, I got called–twice within 20 minutes. Then there’s the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, doing business as American Veterans Support Foundation. Over six years, this nonprofit raised $24 million in cash, gave $21 million of it to fundraisers and, of what was left, spent all of $240,000–1% of the cash that was raised–in what I would call good works. I got a call, too.
Also on the client list is the National Police and Trooper Association, an arm of a police union, International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. The nonprofit raises money mainly to help police negotiate collective bargaining agreements. That’s not charity, but persons who are called are not routinely told that. Moreover, 94% of the $8 million raised went to fundraisers. In a post I declared the organization–which also called me–was “among the scuzziest” outfits raising money in Seattle.
I sent an email to Courtesy Call Inc. asking for comment and will update this if I hear back. I’m still waiting for BCRSF/CCA to reply to my last query.
Now, rumors abound that a task force of state attorney general offices around the country that has been investigating nonprofit fundraising practices for more than two years is about to bring down the hammer in the form of lawsuits and negotiated settlements. It will be interesting to see if any of the nonprofits or fundraisers that have called me get hit. If not, my question will be this: Why not?
Meanwhile, if past practice continues–meaning BCRSF/CCA keeps calling me–I’m going to have to buy a new thesaurus. I’ll need more colorful words of description.