It’s that time of year again … as the weather warms up, the charity walks (and runs and bike rides and climbs) kick off, hoping to raise money to “fight” or “cure” [insert popular disease here]. Advertisements for breast cancer walks seem to be among the most ubiquitous.
In addition to raising money, participation yields camaraderie and provides an opportunity to “do something” — which is understandably comforting and often necessary, particularly when you or a family member or friend have been affected by the disease.
But before you step off, it may be more empowering to step back and ask if the money you’re being asked to raise or donate is being put to the best use:
* Will your donation or the funds you raise directly support local community efforts to assist those in need or support the kinds of research you’d like to see done?
* How much of the money is allocated for marketing and related corporate costs?
* Have the sponsors historically been committed to women’s health, or do they produce products that have been linked to breast cancer and other health problems?
* Does the activity make it possible for all women, regardless of socioeconomic background, to participate, or only women who have the means to raise substantial amounts of money?
These are the types of questions groups like Breast Cancer Action have been asking for years. Though it was first published in 2001, Ellen Leopold wrote a good piece for BCA that covers the history of breast cancer fundraising campaigns, in which she notes:
The impressive sums raised and contributed by these corporate charities are, of course, not gifts in the usual sense (i.e., donations out of company profits). They are the contributions made by millions of volunteer athletes and their supporters, bundled together, repackaged, and released under the corporate logo of the organizing charity.
As facilitators of this transformation process, participating companies gain for themselves an immeasurable amount of public goodwill. And because they are dealing with unrestricted donations from volunteers rather than investments from shareholders, they are essentially unaccountable for how they distribute the funds.
Financial accountability has improved over the years, but many of those other questions still remain. So what’s a well-meaning health advocate to do?
Next time you are approached to participate, or to sponsor a participant, start by asking for more information about how the money will be used. If you’re not satisfied, find an event that better matches your priorities. In the case of sponsorship, consider responding, “Yes, but …” — as in, I support you and your reasons for participating, but I’m going to give my donation (or even half) to an organization that helps women with breast cancer in my community.
Or, split the donation with a trusted national organization, like BCA, which gets that instead of just “fighting” for an ever-elusive cure, the hard work to be done includes advocating for more effective, less toxic treatments; reducing health disparities based on race and income; and funding research that looks for environmental and other causes.