When reading the article “Skip Relay For Life, Help Cancer Patients” in last week’s Catalyst, I was shocked by the claims stating that by supporting the American Cancer Society (ACS) you are in fact inhibiting progress in the war against cancer.
The article stated that the ACS is financially irresponsible according to websites like Charity Navigator, which give the ACS poor ratings. Unfortunately, according to the Wall Street Journal, these rating systems are designed to be for businesses and therefore qualitatively focus on how a business would responsibly use their money. Non-profit organizations, however, have motives other than simply profits or positive returns; the ACS’s main goal is to cure cancer.
While there are faults within the ACS, like any organization, I believe last week’s article misrepresented these faults.
The article refused to account for the size of the ACS and the role has played in cancer research, emphasizing the few scandals that have been reported but ignoring the consequences for those who stole, and using flawed statistics to attempt to label the organization with a low letter grade. Simultaneously, it ignored Relay For Life’s important role as a support network.
The Better Business Bureau offers an alternative system based on 20 criteria to try to move past simple qualitative measures and instead focus on a non-profits effectiveness in reaching its goals.
“Financial ratios alone [that] can end up giving an organization a false positive” said Bennett Weiner, Chief Operating Officer of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
The ACS passed all 20 requirements while some charities that received an A+ rating from charity watch, like the National Council on Aging, could not verify that they met even 12 of the BBB’s criteria.
Over 70 percent of money goes directly to ACS programs with another 22 percent going to fundraising.
This is the money that has helped the ACS fund 46 Nobel laureates, pay for 2 regional cancer support centers in the Colorado Springs area, and provide 985 research grants nationwide this past year.
Furthermore, Relay For Life is the largest fundraiser worldwide.
The money raised at events like CC Relay has helped make all these things possible. Also, the ACS is the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research.
“Having spent more than $3.8 billion on cancer research since 1946, we’ve played a role in nearly every cancer breakthrough,” the ACS website claimed.
Some organizations, like Cancer Prevention Coalition, which was mentioned in last weeks article, believe the ACS should focus more money on prevention.
The American Cancer Society is currently funding the largest study ever conducted on linking lifestyle choices other than smoking to lung cancer. They also hold events like the Great American Smoke Out to encourage smokers to quit.
Conversely, the Better Business Bureau and Charity Watch do not recognize the Cancer Prevention Coalition, the charity that last week’s article promoted.
The only way to find the revenue and salaries of the Cancer Prevention Coalition is to look within the charities 990, a tax document that, legally, must be disclosed to the public. The American Cancer Society, conversely, is easily accessible through a simple search from their homepage.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition exposed that its annual revenue is about $150,000 less than 1.5 percent of ACS’s annual revenue. The two organizations have different mission statements, target audiences, and work on different scales; they are not comparable and donating to them should not be mutually exclusive.
Last week’s article also attempted to paint the American Cancer Society as an organization filled with thieves, and stated, “The list of scandals is endless”.
In fact, the Wikipedia page for the ACS lists only three so-called “scandals,” which happen to be the three discussed in the Catalyst article.
Dan Wiant of an ACS Ohio branch embezzled seven million from the charity before being caught. It was then determined that he forged credentials to get the job, is now in prison for 13 years, and the ACS received all the money back, in addition to restitution.
Another scandal mentioned was the one involving a New York branch employee who illegally used the ACS tax ID number to help multiple people fraudulently avoid almost four million dollars in taxes.
While these crimes are unfortunate, they are hardly representative of the American Cancer Society, and both men were caught, and all money was returned.
Furthermore, the ACS centralized their financial management to avoid any issues in the future.
The final “scandal” is the high overhead costs at a specific branch in Arizona where nearly 95 percent of revenue was going to salaries. Nationwide, only seven percent of ACS money goes to salaries. While the ACS is often criticized for the high salaries of its CEO, this is an organization that brings in over a billion dollars a year.
The organization has determined that an efficient CEO can help them fundraise more money, spend it more efficiently, and move closer to their goals. With the amount of money that the ACS brings in, it is not absurd for their CEO to be paid accordingly.
Most importantly, however, Relay For Life is not just a fundraiser; it is an event that unites communities under a single cause to mourn those who have lost the battle with cancer, support those who are fighting the disease, and celebrate those who have won their battles.
I will never forget Relay For Life my sophomore year of high school.
During the opening ceremony, one of my friend’s mothers walked up to the microphone and started talking. I had no idea that she had suffered from, and then defeated, cancer. This was the moment she removed her wig to expose her completely bald head.
The chemotherapy had taken her hair and much of her strength, but she had won the war.
She had never taken her wig off in public before – she was too embarrassed – but being at the event surrounded by people of all ages fighting for a common cause gave her the courage to share her experiences, both through the physical changes it had made to her body and through her stories of how support from family, friends, and the ACS had helped her go on.
A few “scandals” that have been corrected and ratings from imperfect websites are not grounds for accusing those who do Relay For Life of making things worse. The American Cancer Society has supported millions of Americans whether they benefiting from the drugs the ACS has funded or simply getting rides to treatment from an ACS volunteer.
Relay For Life, furthermore, is the epitome of the ACS. It is an event that makes those with cancer feel safe and supported. The American Cancer Society has been fighting to find a cure for cancer since 1913 and has funded some of the most effective treatments, programs to help cancer patients, and information campaigns on how to prevent cancer.
We must support this event so we can do more than just encourage prevention; we need to find a cure.