Confused About Donating to Breast Cancer Causes? Here's How to Pink Straight

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, companies offering pink-themed products abound. But where does the money go?

Breast cancer donations may go to fund research and support services or administration and more fundraising.  (Photo: Ana Abejon/Getty Images)

Oct 4, 2012· 2 MIN READ

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, chances are your inbox is overflowing with pleas to contribute and ''make a difference."

Navigating them all can make your head spin, too, with all the pink ribbons and shop-for-the-cause promotions. You've seen them—those "Buy a T-shirt (keychain, scarf) and we'll donate to a breast cancer organization" campaigns.

You're willing and able to contribute, but perhaps confused as to which charity deserves your dough. It's understandable. The number of breast cancer charities has boomed in the past two decades, with some observers estimating there may be more than 1,000 of them.

However, not all of them may spend your money as you'd like it to be spent.

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"All too often, donors assume organizations are funding research," says Sandra Miniutti, a spokesperson for Charity Navigator, a watchdog group that rates charities. However, some organizations may funnel money to other missions, such as preventive care, she says.

While that's certainly a valid area to fund, some people might prefer to donate to research and only research. To ensure the endpoint, Miniutti says, you need to do your homework.

Then there's also the problem of ''pinkwashing," defined as a company or organization that says it cares about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but also produces or sells products that may actually increase the risk of breast cancer.

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In other cases, an organization simply isn't allocating funds correctly, says Sarah Aubry, speaking on behalf of Charity Watch. This online site, run by the American Institute of Philanthropy, also bills itself as a watchdog for charities of all types.

"The bulk of the money should go to charitable programs," Aubrey says, rather than to fundraising or administrative costs. Charitable programs could include research, prevention, direct health care or education.

"While there are many highly efficient groups that are putting most of donors' contributions into the cause donors want to support, there are similarly named groups that are putting most of their contributions back into fundraising," Aubrey says.

Watchdog and rating groups offer consumers help in deciding where to send their money. Charity Watch, for instance, evaluates organizations' annual reports, audited financial statements and information given to the IRS.

While many other organizations are reputable, of course, three organizations devoted to breast cancer currently earn top marks from Charity Watch:

Breast Cancer Research Foundation (A+)

National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund (A)

Breast Cancer Fund (B+)

Charity Navigator recently evaluated more than 20 breast cancer organizations. Their evaluations take into account financial health and how much organizations spend on programs and services versus fundraising and administrative costs. They awarded eight of the more than 20 a four-star rating, their highest:

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

The Rose

Breast Cancer Connections

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation

You can also do your own sleuthing. Besides looking up your potential charity on the watchdog sites, you can ask an orgnanization how much of the donation will go to support breast cancer programs, and what type of programs are they? Also will the money go to a store, or an outside organization?

At the end of the day, everybody wins when people—and money—do the right thing.

How do you decide what groups to support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Let us know in the comments.