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Breast cancer charities: Where to give and where to avoid

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But not all do-gooders do the most good. We talk to watchdogs to see which charities spend your donations wisely.
Credit: Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images
Women, men and children affected by breast cancer stand in the 'Field of Women' in support of Breast Cancer Network Australia on August 12, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the issue is once again on the hearts and minds of many.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One way to help fight this devastating disease is to contribute to charities that focus on the research, prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

But with the large number of organizations with similar names devoted to the cause, how do you know which ones are the best?

The first thing you should do when considering donating is to check with charity watchdog groups that evaluate how well each organization spends the money it receives from contributors.

Two of the biggest charity watchdogs are Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. Both groups evaluate thousands of charities and non-profit organizations by looking at financial statements, tax reports, program expenses and fundraising costs.

When giving to a charity it is important to consider three things, according to Charity Navigator CEO Michael Thatcher: Be clear on your motivation for giving and focus on where you want to make an impact, check the financial health and accountability of the organization, and check for signs of results.

In terms of breast cancer, consider whether you want your money to go for research and finding a cure, support services for cancer patients, helping support families or education and public awareness, Thatcher said.

Charity Watch: Top breast cancer charities

The American Institute of Philanthropy's Charity Watch cites 12 organizations as the top-rated cancer charities and of those there are three on the list that focus specifically on breast cancer prevention and research:

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

  • Mission: To prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world's most promising research.
  • Rating: A+
  • Program percentage (percentage of its cash budget it spends on programs relative to overhead): 90%
  • Cost to raise $100 (How many dollars a charity spends on fundraising to raise each $100 of contributions): $7

National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund

  • Mission: To end breast cancer; has set a deadline to know how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020.
  • Rating: A
  • Program percentage: 83%
  • Cost to raise $100: $13

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (formerly Breast Cancer Fund)

  • Mission: Working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.
  • Rating: A-
  • Program percentage: 77%
  • Cost to raise $100: $13

Charity Watch also gives top ratings to these broader cancer organizations on the list that are also involved in breast cancer research, treatment and education: Cancer Research Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Prevent Cancer Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Stand Up To Cancer.

Charity Navigator: Top breast cancer charities

Charity Navigator uses a star rating system when evaluating how efficiently a charity uses your donations.

Of the three charities highly recommended by Charity Watch, the Breast Cancer Foundation three out of four stars from Charity Navigator. The National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund and the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners also received three stars.

Other national charities devoted to breast cancer research and medical services that received four stars from Charity Navigator:

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

  • Mission: To achieve a future without breast cancer and improve the lives of people impacted by it now through education and advocacy.
  • Score: 93.08
  • Program expenses: 81.7%

Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation

Charity Navigator also gave four stars to these charities that provide breast cancer support services and education: Bay Area Cancer Connections, It's the Journey, Casting for Recovery, Sharsheret, Prevent Cancer Foundation, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and American Italian Cancer Foundation.

Susan G. Komen

One of the largest and most well-known charities devoted to the cause is the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization. The charity was founded in 1982 and was one of the first to devote itself to the cause of breast cancer research and has raised millions.

The organization’s reputation was damaged slightly after a decision in 2012 to cut its grants that funded breast cancer screening and outreach programs at Planned Parenthood erupted into controversy. The group quickly reversed its decision.

The organization also has received criticism for what some deemed excessive executive compensation and for "pinkwashing," cause marketing with pink ribbons that allow companies to exploit the disease for profit.

The charity received mixed scores from the watchdogs. Charity Navigator gives Susan G. Komen for the Cure a 3-star rating (out of four) and lists the percent of its expenses spent on programs and services at 78.9%.

Don't give: Low-rated charities

Charity Navigator also cites these organizations as being low-rated and states: “We caution you to look carefully before supporting one of these charities."

A high concern advisory was issued for the defunct charities Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation Inc. and the Breast Cancer Outreach Foundation.

Other organizations rate lower because they scored lower on financial support and are spending more on fundraising than devoting funds to the issues, Thatcher said. "The money is going to spending money to make money."

These organizations received zero or one star:

This article was originally published in October 2017 and was updated on October 3, 2018.

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