Cancer charities, which receive federal grants for their work fighting cancer, are not always as charitable as they should be, according to a new study by Charity Watch, an advocacy group.
While charities are obligated to cover people with cancer, they sometimes don’t cover the entire spectrum of charities and are often focused on only one disease.
For instance, the Charities Aid Foundation, a charity that helps those in need and provides financial assistance to those living with cancer or other chronic illnesses, only pays for certain types of services, such as testing, counseling, and legal representation.
“Some charities simply don’t want to do a good job of protecting the lives of people with a disease,” Charity Watch President Peter B. Gleick said in a statement.
“We’ve been calling on them to improve their reporting and make their charities more transparent.”
This lack of transparency has led to a significant gap between charities and their public image.
Charity Watch’s study found that only 15% of charities have “the same level of coverage as a comparable, nonprofit,” meaning they are “generally more transparent, but not nearly as well.”
Charities also aren’t as forthcoming with data about how much money they get from donors.
“This means that charities don’t have complete information on how much they receive and how much it costs to operate,” Charity Navigator Director of Public Policy and Advocacy David Weintraub said.
The problem is especially bad for charities that don’t accept financial contributions, such and the American Cancer Society.
“The organization has a long history of not paying for their employees to do work that is in the public interest, even when the work is vital,” CharityWatch Executive Director Chris Gonsalves said.
That lack of disclosure can lead charities to underreport their costs, resulting in the charity not receiving federal funds.
A Charity Navigators analysis of federal grant data showed that while most of the money that charities get from the federal government is spent on things like medical care and education, “most of the time the money is spent by people who can’t afford to provide those services.”
This includes many charities that do not take on employees or staff.
“Charities have an obligation to be transparent and to report the total amount of money they spend on their programs, as well as the amount of their overhead costs,” Gonsaleves said, adding that charities must report these costs in the same manner that the government reports payroll and insurance.
In a report last year, Charity Navigators said charities could be making a “mistake” by not disclosing this information, as they are obligated by law to do.
“It would be more transparent to make the charity disclosure publicly available, and this may be more efficient than not disclosing it at all,” Gensalves told Business Insider.
Charity Navigating, the nonprofit advocacy group, conducted a similar study for the Charitable Aid Foundation in 2014, finding that many charities do not disclose how much of their total funding they receive from the government.
However, Charity Watch found that the charity is still a relatively high-profile charity.
The American Cancer Association, for instance, reported receiving $5.6 billion in federal grants from 2010 to 2014, a figure that includes $3.5 billion that came from the U.S. Treasury and $2.6 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“A lot of the public perception of the ACS is that it’s a very secretive organization, but we’re not really surprised,” Charitywatch President Gleick told Business Insiders.
“There’s a lot of people out there who want to make a lot more money off of the cancer community than the ACS does.”
It’s not only charities that lack transparency, but many other organizations also lack accountability, Gleick added.
For example, a 2016 study by the Tax Policy Center found that “only 23% of nonprofit organizations have annual or cumulative IRS reports on the financial performance of their employees.”
It is unclear how much the ACS reported on its finances in 2014 or in 2016.
CharityWatch has asked the IRS for its annual reports for the ACS and Charities Alliance, but the IRS has yet to respond.
“They don’t do a very good job,” Gleick, who has been an advocate for transparency and accountability in the charitable sector for decades, said.
“And when we do have data, it doesn’t show that the ACS or Charities Association is actually reporting to the public as much of what they’re spending.”
CharityWatch also asked the Internal Revenue Service for a list of all charities that received federal funds in 2016 and for their annual reports.
The IRS provided this list to Charity Watch: American Cancer Institute