Part III in a series regarding my investigation into the American Cancer Society and interview with the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Otis Brawley
This post focuses on Relay for Life. Does it surprise you that NOWHERE on the Relay for Life website does it tell you where your donations are going? Also, do YOU know where your dollars are going? Many people don’t. This post is for you.
A brief bit of background.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my interview didn’t go as expected and some insanely crazy things have happened since, such as:
- My comment on ACS’s Facebook Page “disappears.” ACS’s “responds.”
- ACS does NOT respond to all of my follow-up email questions, but posts this blog post: “Tough Choices in Research Funding” on Facebook and Twitter, apparently in response to my questions.
- ACS does NOT respond to my questions regarding this blog post on Facebook and Twitter, but rather a mutual friend of ACS’s and mine seemingly tries to run interference. I appreciate the help, but really, this is ACS’s job.
Seriously, it’s no wonder many people question the American Cancer Society. Communications skills are critical.
If you can’t communicate clearly, you can bet I am really wondering what you’re doing with millions of dollars.
Another very simple question: Why all the dodging? Why all the dodging when you even purport to have the answers summed up in a blog post? Why not give those answers directly to the person who was asking you these questions?
Well, here ARE some answers from ACS regarding Relay for Life. I have found that some people are confused where their dollars are going when they participate in a Relay event. Many think their donations are going directly to their specific cancer – their specific cause. That’s not the case. And, it’s no wonder many people ARE confused.
It’s of huge concern to me when the largest cancer nonprofit does not bother to tell you where your donations are going when you participate in a Relay for Life event. ALL nonprofits know the critical importance of spelling out this kind of information. It’s nonprofit 101 and the info should be first page, front and center! You’ll see ACS’s response below regarding this particular issue.
But, first, a few additional questions about Relay for Life I emailed to ACS and the organization’s responses:
Jen: When someone participates in a Relay for Life event, can they designate their donation dollars to a specific cancer? If not, where, specifically, do these event dollars go?
(Why does ACS even offer the option to donate to a specific cancer? This seems to be very confusing to cancer advocates and isn’t the model under which ACS primarily operates, in my opinion.)
ACS: Currently, all donations made to the American Cancer Society through our Relay For Life events go into our general fund to be allocated where the need is greatest and where we have the most critical opportunities to make a difference in the fight against cancer and help people and families facing the disease. People donating on our main web site (cancer.org) can designate that their donation be restricted to cancer research, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, or lung cancer. We are continuing to explore opportunities through Relay For Life and all our programs to enhance satisfaction and provide our supporters with the most fulfilling and meaningful donation and participation experiences.
Jen: I have received feedback from several Relay for Life participants who are disheartened to think ACS has been less than upfront with them regarding where exactly their charitable contributions are going. What is your response to this?
ACS: We are very aware of the importance and the challenge of communicating to the public and Relay participants all the ways donor dollars are making a difference given the breadth and depth of our mission. We work to ensure that Relay supporters understand how their contributions are being used throughout their Relay experience with regular coaching and event emails, with communications at the events themselves, and throughout the year in continuing communications. Despite those efforts, we do understand we’re not always successful.
Jen: Is there anything ACS can or plans to do to make the message more clear to participants about where their donations go — what they are used for?
ACS: The American Cancer Society publishes an Annual Report and makes our financial statements available every year on cancer.org: http://bit.ly/l8WMS7. Our strategic plan and annual progress report also show the lifesaving work that our donors’ dollars make possible. And of course, we strive to ensure that Relay supporters understand how their contributions are being used throughout their Relay experience. We’re always looking for better ways to offer donors more clarity about how their dollars are used to carry out our mission and make an impact in the fight against cancer.
Jen: I can’t find information on the Relay for Life website that says where the funding goes. Can you please tell me where I can locate? There’s nothing on relayforlife.org that points you directly to how the funds raised are used?
ACS: You’re right, and thank you for bringing this to our attention. There is not one clear place that tells visitors to the site all the many ways their dollars are making a difference. Although there are links back to cancer.org that provide a lot of details on this, we should have a clear section as on our other event Web sites that clearly shows this. We are in the process of a complete site refresh for RelayForLife.org and will make this a top priority — both in the short-term and long-term for the site.
Seriously? How could something like this merely be an oversight? I honestly do not get it. No one shouldn’t have to try to “get it.”
Some time has passed since I received this response and had a chance to write this post. I thought I would see if this “top priority” has been addressed.
Here what you find when you click on a tab that says “Where the Dollars Go:”
Yep, an error page.
Honestly, I don’t even remember that tab being there before, so maybe that a smidge of progress. Maybe.
Bottom line: If you participate in a Relay for Life event, know that your donations go into ACS’s “general” cancer fund, not to a specific cancer.
Secondly, demand clear answers from the American Cancer Society, and all organizations. Ask questions. If you don’t get answers, keep asking. You shouldn’t have to run a relay to get them.