Consumer Investigation: A for-profit fundraiser that worked in Rochester keeps most of the money it raises for charity

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – On this, Giving Tuesday, it’s important to emphasize the importance of smart giving. I’ve been investigating professional fundraisers who solicited outside stores in the Rochester area this summer. Professional fundraising is legal, but some of their methods will shock you.

We all know fundraising is hard, and sometimes charities hire for-profit fundraisers to do the work for them. But some of these professionals take most of your donation and give the charity very little.  I’ve been investigating one charity’s fundraising methods for months and have been waiting for their most recent tax filing.

The charity has recently posted it on its website which provided information I’ve been looking for after my interaction with young adults who were soliciting for contributions outside TJ Max in Pittsford Plaza. It was a warm June day when we spotted them, and three young adults stood beside a table draped with a pink cloth. They were the same fundraisers who confronted Carrie Dailor in Rochester’s Park Avenue area, and she was immediately suspicious.

 “Just the way he was aggressively approaching people.  It just seemed like something was off,” Dailor recalled.

So I had a few questions. A young woman told me she was working for the United Breast Cancer Foundation.  She then pointed me to a co-worker who handed me a United Breast Cancer Foundation brochure.

“It’s just a sweepstakes for $20,000. It’s just a one-time donation, and the money goes toward a patient’s medical bills,” said the young worker.  I’m not revealing the worker’s identity because the solicitors were employees, not the leaders of the fundraising organization who were responsible for knowing state law and adhering to it.

”So how much of the donation actually goes toward the cause?” I asked the workers.

“Eighty-six percent goes to the families,” a young man answered. “It’s all on the website as well for sure.”

The United Breast Cancer Foundation is based in Huntington, New York, and its website says its mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of breast cancer patients.  It provides individual grants and other services.  In the spirit of transparency, the foundation posts its 990 forms, a tax the IRS requires non-profits to submit annually.  According the the 2021 990, the charity’s revenue was almost $33 million last year.

“So are you guys volunteers for the United Breast Cancer Foundation?” I asked the workers.

“We work full-time,” answered a male worker. “We’re in New York City, and we’re off for the week on a road trip.”

When asked repeatedly, he kept insisting he worked for the foundation.  Finally, after continued questioning, he admitted he didn’t actually work directly for the non-profit, instead he worked for a for-profit fundraising organization. When I asked him what percentage of donations were kept by the fundraising organization, he said he didn’t know those details and gave me the number of his supervisor.

I called the number repeatedly.  No one answered, and the voice mail wasn’t set up.  But I learned the for-profit fundraiser that employed those young people is called Personal Fundraising Services.  United Breast Cancer Foundation’s 2021 990 filing shows Personal Fundraising Services raised more than $5.7 million on behalf of United Breast Cancer Foundation, but only gave the non-profit $948,000. That’s only 16 percent of the money raised from donors. In other words, if a donor gave $20, only $3.20 actually went to the charity. In fact, the tax form shows the non-profit hired five professional fundraisers that raised more than $20,600.000 but United Breast Cancer Foundation only got $6.5 million, 31 percent of the money donors gave in the belief they were helping the non-profit.

And that angers Dailor, who is a breast cancer survivor.

“It really makes me mad if this is someone trying to profit off of this,” she said. “When I was diagnosed, people wanted to know how they can help, and they feel helpless.  But if you’re making a donation to a community support group that you know is staying local, that’s a way that you can help people in our community.”

I reached out to the United Breast Cancer Foundation and the Personal Fundraising Services. Neither organizations returned my calls or emails.

It’s important to note that the United Breast Cancer Foundation gets high ratings from charity watchdogs Guidestar and Charity Navigator because it does use most of the money that comes into the organization toward its mission. But when you give, it’s important for you to know whether a for-profit fundraiser is making the call and how much of your donation that fundraiser is going to take.

You can find that information through Guidestar and Charity Navigator, both of which give you access to the organizations 990 and rate the charity.

The New York Attorney general also releases a report called Pennies for Charity with a wealth of information about charities in New York including their fundraising practices and how the money is used.

And if you really want to help breast cancer patients in the Rochester area, give locally. The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, Embracing Your Sisters and The Cancer Support Community Rochester are just a few of the organizations provide direct support, and the money you give stays in the Rochester area.