A purported charity called The Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation existed for six years, raising money through direct mailers and soliciting donors over the phone. It took in about $3 million per year, spinning heartwarming tales in its mailings of helping patients. This turned out to not actually be true, and those millions went to the professional fundraiser who ran the operation.
New York state’s attorney general investigated the background of this non-charity, and found an organization that looked pretty good on the surface, but barely benefited actual breast cancer patients [PDF]. The charity’s president and CEO was a doctor, and he teamed up with a family friend who was a professional fundraiser to set up a charity. Here’s the thing, though: The president isn’t an oncologist or really associated with treating breast cancer. He’s an internist.
The doctor’s partner in launching the charity was a professional fundraiser who been banned from that industry in New York state since 2004 after another investigation in New York State found that he ran another scheme that solicited donations for the Fraternal Order of New York State Troopers, keeping 85% of the funds that it raised.
Hiring outside fundraisers is a legitimate thing that charities do, but normally the fundraisers keep a share of the revenue and pass most of it on to the charity. The BCSF instead served as a sham charity, and the fundraiser kept almost all of the money that the charity raised. The state’s investigation of these charities is called, appropriately, Operation Bottomfeeder.
“There are few things more galling than pretending to help cancer patients, when you’re really just lining your own pockets,” New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “But that’s exactly what those behind the Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation did – siphoning millions in profits for themselves and sending less than four cents of every dollar raised to medical clinics.”
The charity’s profile on Nonprofit Explorer would have clued in prospective donors, though the figures it gives are rosier than what the Attorney General’s report shows. The site says that only 72% of the charity’s money went to its fundraisers.
As a settlement with the state, the BCSF has to end its fundraising operations across the country, not just in New York, and donate $350,000 to actual charities serving breast cancer patients.