Giving to Cancer Charities: As Simple as ABC

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • This morning my mailbox was flooded with appeals from charities wanting me to participate in Giving Tuesday.  It doesn’t seem right that we arrive at Giving Tuesday after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.  Shouldn’t we be giving to good causes before we start spending on ourselves and our families?


    Despite the publicity around this made-up holiday, many people give generously to charities during December without a designated day.  For some, it is a way to get a tax deduction, but for more, the impulse to give to others wells up from gratitude for one’s own blessings and a desire to share with others.

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    Cancer survivors, especially, overflow with gratitude for life during the holidays.  We owe our lives to the generosity of those who helped fund research, build and staff hospitals, and provide services for cancer patients.  When we can, we want to give back.


    It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all those solicitations for your funds and to wonder if your gift can make a difference.  You may feel cynical about how your dollars will be used, especially if another one of those news stories about a Christmas charity scam has been in the news.  Here are some ways to feel good about your gift.


    Always start with your passion.  Each person sees need differently.  I have heard people decry money wasted on basic science research that won’t yield practical applications for years, if ever.  I know other people who think that every dollar not funneled into breast cancer prevention research is misspent.  The truth is that both research and services are important.  However, unless you have unlimited funds, you will want to put your dollars where your heart is.  When you were in treatment, did you have unmet needs for financial support?    I recently met a woman who used her experience in that situation to start a foundation that provides income for women who can’t work while in breast cancer treatment.  You have been there; you know the needs you care about most.


    Generally speaking cancer organizations provide money for scientific research into prevention and treatment, education about how to recognize cancer and access the proper medical care, and/or supportive services for patients and families.  Try to narrow the area of focus that matters the most to you.  


    Build with what you know best.  Many people like to give to an organization that helped them.  Your local hospital has a foundation set up to take charitable contributions, and this foundation probably allows you to designate gifts for specific areas of need.  I just checked the donation page for a major cancer research hospital.  Its drop down menu offers more than twenty choices including basic research, specific types of cancer, patient support and survivorship services.  You may have received information and emotional support from a breast cancer organization that focuses on a specific type of breast cancer or on patients of a certain age or ethnic background.  When you have attended a conference, retreat, or workshop provided by one of these organizations, you have a sense of how well-organized it is, and how carefully it will spend your money.


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    Check out the charity.  I have received calls asking for money for organizations that sound wonderful, but later found out they are either outright frauds or poorly managed. Anyone can string together some words that sound worthwhile and ask for money.  Some people have good intentions when they start a foundation, but may not have the management skills to make it work efficiently.  It took me less than a minute to find a specific breast cancer charity on Charity Navigator, a website that provides information about how financially responsible charities are.  Charity Watch is another website that provides similar information.  If you can’t find your organization listed on Charity Navigator or Charity Watch, it may be listed on Guide Star, which includes many smaller charities.


    When you look at the information available, you want to look at the percentage of income spent fund-raising and at how much the group spends on fulfilling its mission.  I receive all kinds of little gifts in the mail such as greeting cards and address labels from organizations asking me for money.  While it’s nice to have pretty address labels, I would rather my money go to the cause the charity champions.  


    You will also want to check the percentage spent on administrative expenses.  Sometimes people think the CEO of a charity is over-compensated, but keep in mind that a person with the management skills to run a large charity can probably make even more managing a corporation.  That website that helped you learn about your type of cancer needs a server and highly-trained computer experts to make it work.  Those cost money.  Nevertheless, the percentage of administrative costs should be reasonable in relation to the other expenses.


    Your donation does not have to be huge to be effective.  Many small donations add up.  Give what you can.  You may want to make a memorial gift to remember someone you lost this year to breast cancer.  Perhaps you can pay forward the gifts you have received with a donation honoring someone who helped you.  Giving Tuesday is a clever gimmick to remind you to donate, but any day is a great day to give.

Published On: December 02, 2014