Where exactly are your donations to cancer charity going?

Since 2009, a cancer charity in The Woodlands received $45M in donations. So why isn't more cash going to its main program?
November 8, 2013 8:33:24 PM PST
It's a Woodlands cancer charity that has a variety of programs, including one they call their main program, that helps pay the bills of women battling breast cancer. But when we asked exactly how they spend millions in donations, we got very few answers.

Forty-five million dollars -- that's how much the Breast Cancer Charities of America reports it's received in public support since it started in 2009.

The group's founder has said their main purpose is to help women with cancer pay their bills through its Help Now Fund. But as we told you Thursday night, very little of their donations are going to direct financial assistance to women through that program.

So we wanted to know where's the rest of the money going?

"We got a call from Breast Cancer Charities of America and they were asking for donations," Bill Holmes said.

Bill Holmes in Abilene says his family was bombarded last year with repeated calls by a fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Charities of America despite asking to be taken off their call list and making it clear they would not be donating to their cause.

"She was very reluctant to give us any kind of details to what amount of donations went to, or percentage of the funds go to, actually helping out the victims," Holmes said.

Holmes even filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau here in Houston.

That call likely came from an office in Michigan. It's home to a professional fundraiser called Associated Community Services.

And this, along with other solicitors, is where much of the cash the public gives to the Breast Cancer Charities of America is going.

No one from ACS responded to 13 Undercover's calls and emails.

"Breast cancer is certainly a very high-level cause at this point," said ACS' Kevin Bopp.

But the company was unapologetic when it recently told a Detroit TV station its take of donations can be considerable. That's because it's paying overhead and expenses before it takes a small profit.

ACS says it works with many charities that don't have the resources their company provides.

"If you actually look across the industry as a whole, when you're in an acquisition mode, reaching out to new individuals, that is very consistent," Bopp said.

And the charity has consistently spent the majority of cash donated to pay for fundraising, says Charity Watch in Chicago. Here's their analysis of the group's spending in 2012:

"About $4 million of the $5 million that they take in goes to professional fundraising companies," Charity Watch's Daniel Borochoff said.

"We'd like to talk to you about you charity and how you spend the public's donations," we told Breast Cancer Charities of America Executive Director Erica Tullis.

"As requested, I would prefer that we sit down and set up an interview time," she replied.

Tullis ultimately didn't give us an interview to account for the group's spending.

In an email, she insists, "BCCA follows all federally regulated generally accepted accounting principles, Financial Accounting Standards Board and IRS standards." And says, "Over 80% of our expenditures benefit patients with breast cancer, which is verified by an independent auditor on an annual basis."

Some of those expenditures are for educating the public about breast cancer. But often, that's done while a fundraiser is on the phone asking you to donate.

"Non-profit accounting rules allow you to take part of the cost of that telephone call that interrupted your dinner as a program service if you include educational messages and an action step, such as examine yourself or be healthy -- these type of innocuous statements that most people are aware of anyway," Borochoff said.

And Charity Watch says that 80-percent number is largely based on what the charity claims are millions of dollars in medicine it's sending to unnamed groups overseas.

"Breast Cancer Charities of America appear to look more successful because they flow through their books about $13 to $14 million worth of in-kind goods, medicines to Central America. The only problem is we don't know what these medicines are or where they're going, other than they're going to Central America and that they're medicines," Borochoff said.

And it appears the majority of money spent by the charity to put on its fundraisers is raising very little for the fight against cancer. The charity has spent over $355,000 since 2009 to hold these fun runs and galas, but only raised less than $30,000 after expenses.

Again, critics say the group is not being efficient in its fundraising or transparent enough in how it spends your donations.

"I think it's a shame. It's a disgrace that this group is so prominent as it is," Borochoff said.

Now there is a bit of a mystery man involved in the Breast Cancer Charities of America. Here's a hint: He's related to the woman who heads the charity and he has his own cancer charity, which has been called by several major news organizations, as one of the worst in the country.

That's coming up Sunday night as we wrap up our investigation into The Woodlands charity.

Find Brian on Facebook at ABC13BrianCollister or on Twitter at @BrianCollister

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