Skeptics and atheists and freethinking folk are supposed to be smart, and they are supposed to be inquiring and, well, skeptical and freethinking and stuff. But they very very often are not. Between skeptics being politically conservative (mainly with respect to social issues) and often not as inquiring and smart as they are fond of telling the rest of us they are, I am sufficiently annoyed by the movement(s) as a whole to reserve calling myself, for instance, a skeptic. If anything, I’m a skeptical skeptic. A godless freethinking skeptical meta-skeptic. That’s me.
The latest example of skeptical sorts being less smart than they claim they are has to do with the American Cancer Society. It is pretty well known that the American Cancer society uses far less than 100% of the money that is donated to them for actual research, treatment, or support, and that much of the money goes to internal costs and high executive salaries. You may recall that my friend Jaf recently wrote about her experience with one of their foot race fundraisers, where most of the money went to running the run, and not to cancer research. Jaf discovered that nearly 100% of the funds raised by runners went to managing the race. The Charity Navigator gives the ACS only three stars with a mere 48 percent financial rating, and document that program, administrative, and fundraising expenses add up to a high percentage of their take, often more than their take. In the fiscal year ending in 2009, the national organization took in $930 million, and spent 71.6 percent on “program expenses.” Keep in mind that the local races raised money that was mostly used to run the race, then passed this money on to the national organization, which significantly cuts into the percentage of money used for cancer related purposes. In that year they have a running deficit of 73 million borrowed from their 1.3 billion dollar bank account. The CEO gets just under one million, which is less than some others on their payroll get.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the Cancer Support Community, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation, and about 29 other societies or foundations have four star ratings from the Charity Navigator. Damon Runyon netted over 4 million in the same fiscal year referenced above, adding to it’s net assets of over 76 million. Small change compared to the ACS, but if you give money to them, it goes to something. Damon Runyon’s highest paid executive makes a third of the highest paid exec for the American Cancer Society. In other words, all these charities mostly spend the money you give them or raise for them on themselves, but among all those involved in cancer, the American Cancer society is behind dozens of others in efficiency.
So, here’s the thing. According to a recent article by Greta Christina,
…Todd Stiefel — philanthropist and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which provides financial support to atheist and other nonprofit and charitable organizations — approached the American Cancer Society with an offer. He wanted local atheist groups around the world to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program, as a national team, under the banner of the humanist charitable organization Foundation Beyond Belief. In order to make this happen, he made a generous offer: a $250,000 matching offer from the Todd Stiefel Foundation, which, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a half million dollars to the American Cancer Society.
I have to ask myself if Todd Stiefel, the SFF, and the FBF are on the ball here. A small amount of research would likely have steered them away from the choice of ACS to raise funds for cancer research, treatment, or support. If these people and organizations were able to raise a half a million bucks, and I have no doubt they can, it would be more effective to randomly chose a major University research lab or two, have lunch with the lab directors to verify that they really are doing interesting cancer research … the lunch should be at a modest restaurant, of course … and just hand the damn money over to them. Hey, if they want to do it at the University of Minnesota, I would volunteer to personally oversee the expenditure to make sure it is not used on frivolities, and I’d provide an excellent report of what the money was used for and how it helped cancer research.
But the situation is much worse that the ACS being inefficient. It turns out, as Greta discusses in her excellent article, that the American Cancer Society did everything they could do to NOT take this half million dollars from the above mentioned individuals and organizations. It appears, though the parties involved were cagey enough to have avoided full incrimination, that the American Cancer Society is not interested in getting money from atheists. At all.
Well, if the atheists and skeptics and freethinkers were a little smarter than they are, they wouldn’t be interested in giving it. So this wouldn’t be a problem.
The lesson here is simple: Don’t give money to the American Cancer Society. For two reasons.