Canadians donated $27 million to this year's annual Run for the Cure, but an expert on non-profits says there may be more efficient ways to give.
The annual nation-wide event for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in 2013 can be expected to account for as much as half of the charity's annual revenue. In Nanaimo, the event raised $118,000.
Of the CBCF's total revenue last year - more than $53 million - as much as 37 per cent was spent on raising additional money. Paying the charity's 168 full-time staff and part-timers accounted for a further $14.2 million.
According to Canada Revenue Agency figures, CBCF staff collected an average of $81,743 last year. CBCF reported almost $70 million in reserve for 2012, enough to cover two years' worth of programming.
"If you're a donor and you care passionately about breast cancer research, this probably isn't the most cost-efficient way to donate to support research," said Bri Trypuc, head of donor advisory with non-profit watchdogs Charity Intelligence. "It might make more sense to give directly to breast cancer research -the dilution of your dollar might be less."
CBCF has received high marks for transparency from Charity Intelligence for its choice to make financial documents readily accessible. Groups like CBCF that are among the top-100 charities in Canada take in close to $8.9 billion annually - or about 40 per cent of donations in this country.
"One per cent of charities in Canada are actually taking in about 60 per cent of our annual giving," said Trypuc.
She recommended that people considering a donation to charity take a look at the program costs of the non-profits that interest them, what needs the group has for money, as well as administration costs.
The CRA performs regular audits of charities and non-profits with an eye for illegal fundraising activities. A charity whose primary purpose is to raise money would be an immediate red flag, for example. While most charities do not spend 70 cents or more to raise a dollar, the experts say donors should track how much of their money is being used to generate additional funds.
Janet Mitchell, the spokeswoman for CBCF's British Columbia and Yukon region, said donors can expect 25 per cent of the foundation's revenue to find its way directly to charitable breast cancer programming.
Like other major charities, a proportion of the revenue - in this case, around 32 per cent - may be handed off to other foundations or non-profits in the form of grants. Those groups will have their own set of financial particulars. Mitchell said the advantage of donating to an organization like CBCF is the knowledge of where the money goes.
"If you want specifically to make sure your money goes towards breast cancer research, education and so on, that's all that we fund," she said. "If you were just giving your money to the B.C. Cancer Foundation, it would be spread out between research, treatment, all those areas - but all cancers."
While a Charity Intelligence examination of the CBCF pegged fundraising at 37 per cent, the group's own statements put the number closer to 31 per cent.
The group's fundraising activities - especially the Run for the Cure - serve to raise awareness about the disease, not just money.
"From the big to the small, we carefully scrutinize before spending pennies," she said.
Nanaimo accountant Meryl Chahley, a business advisor with MNP LLP in Nanaimo, said charity donors should look at more than just the numbers when they give.
While 35 per cent is a number "kicked around" as an ideal upper limit for fundraising costs, Chahley said it's important to look at how effective the charity is at delivering programs.
"I don't care if they're only spending 10 cents of my dollar if they're not doing anything," she said. "Ultimately, if possible, I would just go volunteer with that organization and see what it's all about, how it's run."
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