The Breast Cancer Charity ‘Industry.’

One of the great joys of running this site is that we have wonderful friends around the world. This really enriches our knowledge and experiences. My conclusion is that most issues we have in the UK are common everywhere. One that has been coming up frequently in recent times is charities. Cancer is an area where everywhere you turn, you find a charity. Is this a positive thing? Personally not for me. I see too much waste and duplication across the sector and I don’t believe that the current way of working is sustainable or impactful. ( Where does your cancer cash go?)

However one of the most frequented and lucrative areas is Breast Cancer. Traditionally represented by the colour pink. I watch with utter amazement as billions of products get sold annually, all with tenuous links, purporting to support breast cancer charities. With so many outrageous claims being made and the income trail very hard to follow, transparency becomes difficult.

Of course we need charities but our world is changing rapidly now. Do we still need so many corporate giants? I am seeing a fresh view from ‘grass roots,’ more based on community work. Including much more collaboration on the ground and very increased impact pro-rata from funds raised. Run by people who understand the issues that exist in that area. So I was interested to receive this guest piece from the incredible Mr Rod Ritchie, (@malefitness) a male breast cancer patient from Australia. To hear his perspective of the breast cancer ‘industry’ is very enlightening.

Rod Ritchie

“I’ve been watching breast cancer charities for seven years now, and I have to say that many of them are doing a great job supporting female breast cancer patients. And, in recent years most have taken in the fact that men get this disease too. The pink charities manage forums, run telephone support services, offer workplace support, and advocate for patients at a variety of government and business levels.

But are they being fair to donors who expect to see more progress with treatments and less emphasis on spreading the awareness message? With very little transparency, claims that are often false, and worse still, messaging based on hope, many pink charities need to improve their operations, open up their organisations to more scrutiny for the benefit of both patients and donors, and expend more time and resources on helping Stage IV patients.

When you donate funds to a breast cancer charity, how much of your dollar goes to administration and marketing for awareness, and how much ends up helping patients and directed to research projects that might help discover new treatments? A glance at the annual financial reports of a few charities is revealing. NBCF Australia, a charity that is solely about raising funds for research, spent almost two-thirds of its revenue on administration, staff, and marketing, and only distributed one-third to research institutions in 2018.

And Stand Up 2 Cancer, the huge U.S. Entertainment Industry charity, claims to put 100% of its funds into research. But there is a cost in producing those t-shirts, funding those phone banks, keeping its website functional, and running events. It’s not even possible from their website to get the latest financial report. In 2017-2018, the U.K. charity Breast Cancer Now spent £9.225m raising £22.866m, which left £14.967 m for research. That’s 40% in fundraising costs.

The Pink Hoopla

A great example of the corporate greed happening in the name of cancer.

Every year, often in the months of May and October, the pink charities hit the streets with their pink campaigns aimed at raising funds for breast cancer. Fun runs, awareness campaigns, pink merchandise, the works. Because breast cancer groups are mostly fixated on using pink to denote breast cancer, the community is generally not aware that males get the disease as well.

Next time you support one of these pink events, ask the charity organisers where your donations are going. Will, like with some charities, two-thirds of your dollar or pound go towards administration costs, and will only a third of it reach researchers or patients in need. If you want to make certain that your donations make a real difference, then you must ask the charity if you can restrict your donation. If you want to help researchers, ask that it be directed towards research.

Funding Where Funding is Needed

Your donation must be effectively used, and the people needing it most are those with a terminal diagnosis. For instance, Stage IV cancer is the cancer that kills. Why aren’t the majority of donations collected going towards better treatments for these patients? Why can’t research projects pitched at a cure for certain cancers be pushed to the top of the priority list?

And how about a website where research institutions pitch their research projects direct to donors. Let them collect the funds without a middleman. Have the projects rated and explained by impartial experts in the various fields and let institutions explain successes they’ve had in the past. Or failures for that matter, with explanations of why they believe more research funds will help. Of course, it takes money to administer a charity, as it does to raise funds. But the lower the administration costs the more money ends up being spent an effective way.”

Rod is a Sydney-born writer, internet publisher,(malebc.org) and breast cancer patient activist. Diagnosed in March 2014 with Stage IIIB Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Currently he’s NED for both cancers. You can follow him on Twitter @malefitness

A massive thanks to Rod for sharing his experiences and opinions. As always please feel free to share your own below.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks Chris, as always for the great insight. There I was thinking about repurposing my community group for childhood cancer awareness and fundraising, without any real thought or knowledge of how to go about it. This has been thought provoking.

    • Hi Tochi,

      Fundraising is important in the cancer sector and not all charities have these issues, I must clarify that. They all work in different ways, some more effective than others.

      From a personal fundraising issue it is important to understand what you want to achieve. For example is it research or support? Is it national or local? Is it a specific area. Then, do you want to do it yourself or collaborate with another organisation.

      Initially I raised funds for my hospital but kept the money in it’s own account to be spent in collaboration with the blood cancer ward. A lot to think about prior to setting out. Importantly I found fundraising a great positive focus during my difficult times. That’s important too. Big love to you all, Chris

  2. A compelling insight in the nuts and bolts of the breast cancer charity industry, It’s making me rethink the promotion I give it.

    Great work as always Chris and excellent work by Rod.

    • Thanks so much John. Of course not every charity works this way, but there is a massive variation across the sector. There is so much that needs doing particularly in this area. However, like many things around cancer it is not always about the money. Much could be so much better on the same income. It’s about working smarter and in a timely fashion.

      We appreciate the incredible work you do too!

  3. Firstly let me say I agree there is far too much duplication across the charity sector, not just the cancer community. We need to do more to collaborate and work collectively to just so we’re more cost effective but also so we amplify what we do. However, where I disagree with the blog is the crude measurement of % cost of administration as a reflection of how cost effective a charity is. You can have a charity that only spends 20% on so called admin, therefore 80% on delivery but that 80% makes very little impact. We absolutely must get away from pence in the pound measures as it’s a red herring. My charity actually invest in enablement teams as they enable the services team to create more impact, plus I know we’re a well run charity who has good governance and compliance. It has to be about impact and you only know you’re creating impact if you have insight that can evaluate it. That data and insight discovery would be classified as admin in our ARA. We’re also 100% voluntary funded, that means every day we start with £0 and have to fundraise. Fundraising costs money, it’s complicated and some forms of fundraising have a better return than others but well run charities have mixed portfolios which are sustainable so if a pandemic comes along you will be able to weather the drop in income. The most recent charity who publicly failed was kids company who if you looked at their published accounts spent a massively high percentage on delivery but due to their financial negligence left communities without support.
    What we all do have is a responsibility to go back to core purpose and reflect whether our decisions support it and drive it forward, constantly looking at impact not output, thinking about collaborating and taking the brand ego out of it.

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks so much for joining this discussion with your very insightful views and experiences. I couldn’t agree with you more about the way %s are used. Also of course the old chestnut about CEO salaries. Charities are not all about people working for nothing of course, which can sometimes be the public perception. It certainly is all about impact, whatever your income is.

      I know first hand the incredible work you guys do and how it is run, it’s great to see. But as we both know our world has changed dramatically since covid. The sector as a whole has needed a shake up for many years, but from what I am seeing there are many larger organisations that don’t feel able to change. Their silence during such challenging times for people affected by cancer has been well noted by the public.

      The point you make about core purpose is absolutely vital, but I do question how many in the sector will look closely in the mirror. Us micro-charities do it daily, we must to stay relevant. Time will tell of course and the pattern of income will inevitably dictate the direction of these organisations.

      Of course there is a lot of generalising Rachel, but I can see that the ‘trust’ there was for the sector is waning and we all need to do better. Personally I believe that this is the opportunity we have been looking forward to and using innovation to it’s full potential. As with all these things, time will tell.

      Thank you for all the incredible work that you and your teams do in the sector, Chris

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