Examining Breast Cancer Charities

Not all pink is created equal.

Breast cancer awareness month is a wonderful opportunity for charities benefiting breast cancer patients and research to gain traction and land extra donations. Before purchasing a pink or ribbon-bedecked product, read the product label to ensure dollars spent are going where promised.

Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, was quoted in a recent Time magazine article about breast cancer charities. King suggests consumers avoid getting lured into the pink-ribbon marketing campaigns of companies.

“If you want to give, give directly to the breast cancer organization,” King advises consumers.

An added bonus for giving directly to a charitable organization is that the consumer will get the tax deduction and not the corporation selling pink products.

If donors are not sure which organization to support, a quick internet search can help guide them to a charity they feel comfortable supporting. I used Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the Better Business Bureau to compile this brief list of the current top breast cancer charities in America.

All tax-exempt organizations, including charities, in the United States must fill out and file a version of a 990 form. This form is often used by charity-rating organizations as one standard of measurement to find out if a charity is actually doing what it claims. Financial records, including amounts spent on fundraising and compensation of executives, is another factor used to determine the health of these organizations. Having an “open-book” policy on disclosure of financials and other data is often used in scoring these organizations as well.


Some of the top-ranking charities listed on both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator were not on both organization’s lists, and some were missing from the BBB’s site altogether. This made it difficult to impartially narrow down the charities to the absolute top-ranking ones appearing on all three sites, so I have compiled a short list of the best performers from each site.

One charity that made it to the top of all three lists is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which was incorporated in New York in 1993. This organization’s mission is “to achieve prevention and a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime by providing critical funding for innovative clinical and translational research at leading medical centers worldwide, as well as to increase public awareness about good breast health.”

In 2013, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation spent $5 to raise $100, reported a mere 9 percent in overhead costs, which includes administrative and operational costs, and received no more than 24 percent of its revenue from governmental sources, such as grants. In 2014, the group’s reported overhead was just 8 percent of its revenue.

In comparison, in 2014, the easily recognizable and nationwide charity Susan G. Komen for a Cure had overhead costs of nearly 20 percent.  Lower administrative and operating costs result in more donated dollars being used by charitable organizations for their intended purposes, which means they give donors more bang for every donated dollar.


Another organization that had high marks on all three sites is the Cancer Research Institute, which was incorporated in 1953 in New York and whose stated purpose is “transforming cancer patient care by advancing scientific efforts to develop new and effective immune system-based strategies to diagnose, treat and cure cancer.” This organization’s reach is not just to breast cancer patients as it focuses on cancer in general.

In 2014, the Cancer Research Institute reported overhead costs of 13.3 percent. In fiscal year 2012, the group spent $11 to raise $100 and reported less than 24 percent of its revenue came from governmental sources.


One organization is taking an interesting approach to helping breast cancer patients. The mission of Casting for Recovery®, incorporated in 1996 in Ohio and now using a Vermont mailing address, “is to enhance the quality of life of women with breast cancer through a unique program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly fishing.” The organization was given high marks by both Charity Navigator and the BBB, but is not listed on Charity Watch’s site.

In fiscal year 2013, Casting for Recovery® spent 4 cents to earn one dollar and had close to 20 percent in overhead costs. The budget of this charity is much smaller than the first two charities listed, which could account for its higher overhead.


Sharsheret, incorporated in 2001 in New York and currently using a New Jersey mailing address, is another high-ranking charity at Charity Navigator and the BBB that is not listed on the Charity Watch site. The purpose of Sharsheret, which means “chain” in Hebrew, is “to offer a community of support to women, of all Jewish backgrounds, diagnosed with breast cancer or at an increased genetic risk, by fostering culturally-relevant individualized connections with networks of peers, health professionals and related resources.”

In fiscal year 2013, Sharsheret spent 5 cents to raise one dollar, had overhead costs of 18 percent and received 13.1 percent of its revenue from government grants. In addition, since its’ founding, Sharsheret has responded to over 25,000 breast cancer inquiries and has presented over 250 educational programs nationwide.


However, or even if, a person chooses to support breast cancer non-profits or any other charitable mission is up to the individual. Before donating money it is a good idea to make sure the organization is a registered 501(c), which means a donor can use the donation as a deduction on his or her taxes for the year in which the donation is made.

Depositing in a person’s own karma bank, in which a person gives for the joy of giving and without wanting anything in return, is a great way to build upon the good in our world and to keep that good alive and well, even in bleak times. This method of giving involves the perk of not having to keep proof of donations.

We use condoms to keep us safe during sexual encounters. We should all use a little bit of research to keep us financially safe and to avoid becoming “pink washed” by companies out to make a quick profit during charitable drive months. We should support those charities with high performance marks who can and do make a wonderful difference for others, including breast cancer patients and their families, without the use of glitzy marketing campaigns.


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