Questions about Valley breast cancer charity, where donation money is really used

When you donate money to a charity, you expect most of your money to go to help the cause, but how do you know where your money is really going?

The ABC15 Investigators spent months breaking down the details of one Valley charity’s financial history -- and found significant questions about how it spends millions in money donated by generous people nationwide.


INSIDE THE BREAST CANCER SOCIETY

When Pat Elliot of Phoenix received what she called an "aggressive" call from a telemarketer representing The Breast Cancer Society, Inc ., she was concerned.

“It does not appear that patients with breast cancer are being served,” she said.

Elliot knows. She’s a 20-year breast cancer survivor-turned-patient advocate. She asked the ABC15 Investigators to help her find out if the charity is doing what it claims.

The ABC15 Investigators went with her for a tour of The Breast Cancer Society’s headquarters in Mesa.

We saw a warehouse that is supposed to contain items meant for breast cancer patients and their families. Patients can come to the warehouse and “shop,” according to BCS. They can take home as much as they want for free.

But, on the day we visited, Elliot was not impressed with the selection.

We saw some donated clothes, mattresses, used sheets, greeting cards and make-up. Even our guide pointed out some noticeably empty shelves.

“To be honest with you, right now, we don't have much in here,” the BCS representative said, “we're waiting on a shipment, I'm sure.”

But, Elliot says, “I would ask what relevance that has to a woman who is fighting for her life.”

Elliot is concerned the charity isn't truly helping Breast Cancer patients with their most important needs, including direct financial assistance.

“It deserves a closer look,” she said.

RATED ‘F’

Charities like BCS have to file tax returns every year detailing how the money they take in from donations is spent. It’s one way for you to make sure the charity is spending your money the way you intended.

Those filings, called 990s, are detailed listings of how much money comes in, how much goes out, and where it goes.

The ABC15 Investigators examined BCS's filings for 2010 and 2011.

“Very little money is going to anything charitable,” according to Daniel Borochoff, President and founder of CharityWatch , a non-profit that analyzes charities’ audits and tax filings and grades them for the benefit of donors.

CharityWatch tackled BCS’s numbers in 2010 and came up with an ‘F’ rating.

Their conclusion? “Only 10 percent of the dollars are actually going to programs,” Borochoff said.

“What you're really doing here is funding the fundraiser,” he said.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

According to their tax records, in 2010 and 2011, BCS received just over $100 million in contributions and grants.

And the charity claims 75.7 percent of that money went to program services.

In the charity world, that makes it appear as if BCS meets the gold standard. Most charity watchdog groups would say donors don’t want to fund the charity, they want to fund the cause, and the less a charity spends on administrative costs, the better.

But take a closer look at BCS.

Out of the $100 million, BCS spent more than $25 million on professional fundraisers.

Records show employees were paid $1.7 million in salaries and compensation. That includes more than $600,000 going to the charity’s founder and executive director, James T. Reynolds II in 2010 and 2011.

But, by far, the largest chunk of contributions comes from nearly $70 million BCS says it gave away in non-cash items over those two years.

And it's one reason CharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau have warned against giving to the charity.

TRACKING NON-CASH CONTRIBUTIONS

Borochoff says non-cash items like the ones BCS claimed in their tax returns are hard to track.

In the case of BCS, they are medicines and other items donated to the charity, and then sent to help people out of the country. The charity puts a value on them for tax purposes.

But Borochoff says they can be valued much higher than they are actually worth, making the charity appear to be more charitable than it really is.

“It's very convenient for the charities because they can hide not only what the goods are but who specifically receives them,” Borochoff said.

And BCS is not the only charity claiming millions in non-cash donations. The Internal Revenue Service recently fined a different charity for claiming it had given away $75 million in non-cash contributions that the IRS said were actually worth just $93,000.

The IRS doesn't require much information about non-cash items on tax forms. And Breast Cancer Society doesn't give it.

Their tax filings state, among other things, the money is used for "medicines, medical supplies,

When you donate money to a charity, you expect most of your money to go to help the cause, but how do you know where your money is really going?

The ABC15 Investigators spent months breaking down the details of one Valley charity’s financial history -- and found significant questions about how it spends millions in money donated by generous people nationwide.


INSIDE THE BREAST CANCER SOCIETY

When Pat Elliot of Phoenix received what she called an "aggressive" call from a telemarketer representing The Breast Cancer Society, Inc ., she was concerned.

“It does not appear that patients with breast cancer are being served,” she said.

Elliot knows. She’s a 20-year breast cancer survivor-turned-patient advocate. She asked the ABC15 Investigators to help her find out if the charity is doing what it claims.

The ABC15 Investigators went with her for a tour of The Breast Cancer Society’s headquarters in Mesa.

We saw a warehouse that is supposed to contain items meant for breast cancer patients and their families. Patients can come to the warehouse and “shop,” according to BCS. They can take home as much as they want for free.

But, on the day we visited, Elliot was not impressed with the selection.

We saw some donated clothes, mattresses, used sheets, greeting cards and make-up. Even our guide pointed out some noticeably empty shelves.

“To be honest with you, right now, we don't have much in here,” the BCS representative said, “we're waiting on a shipment, I'm sure.”

But, Elliot says, “I would ask what relevance that has to a woman who is fighting for her life.”

Elliot is concerned the charity isn't truly helping Breast Cancer patients with their most important needs, including direct financial assistance.

“It deserves a closer look,” she said.

RATED ‘F’

Charities like BCS have to file tax returns every year detailing how the money they take in from donations is spent. It’s one way for you to make sure the charity is spending your money the way you intended.

Those filings, called 990s, are detailed listings of how much money comes in, how much goes out, and where it goes.

The ABC15 Investigators examined BCS's filings for 2010 and 2011.

“Very little money is going to anything charitable,” according to Daniel Borochoff, President and founder of CharityWatch , a non-profit that analyzes charities’ audits and tax filings and grades them for the benefit of donors.

CharityWatch tackled BCS’s numbers in 2010 and came up with an ‘F’ rating.

Their conclusion? “Only 10 percent of the dollars are actually going to programs,” Borochoff said.

“What you're really doing here is funding the fundraiser,” he said.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

According to their tax records, in 2010 and 2011, BCS received just over $100 million in contributions and grants.

And the charity claims 75.7 percent of that money went to program services.

In the charity world, that makes it appear as if BCS meets the gold standard. Most charity watchdog groups would say donors don’t want to fund the charity, they want to fund the cause, and the less a charity spends on administrative costs, the better.

But take a closer look at BCS.

Out of the $100 million, BCS spent more than $25 million on professional fundraisers.

Records show employees were paid $1.7 million in salaries and compensation. That includes more than $600,000 going to the charity’s founder and executive director, James T. Reynolds II in 2010 and 2011.

But, by far, the largest chunk of contributions comes from nearly $70 million BCS says it gave away in non-cash items over those two years.

And it's one reason CharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau have warned against giving to the charity.

TRACKING NON-CASH CONTRIBUTIONS

Borochoff says non-cash items like the ones BCS claimed in their tax returns are hard to track.

In the case of BCS, they are medicines and other items donated to the charity, and then sent to help people out of the country. The charity puts a value on them for tax purposes.

But Borochoff says they can be valued much higher than they are actually worth, making the charity appear to be more charitable than it really is.

“It's very convenient for the charities because they can hide not only what the goods are but who specifically receives them,” Borochoff said.

And BCS is not the only charity claiming millions in non-cash donations. The Internal Revenue Service recently fined a different charity for claiming it had given away $75 million in non-cash contributions that the IRS said were actually worth just $93,000.

The IRS doesn't require much information about non-cash items on tax forms. And Breast Cancer Society doesn't give it.

Their tax filings state, among other things, the money is used for "medicines, medical supplies,

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