Finding Stability

Choosing the Best Cancer Charities

Before choosing a cancer charity, identify your goals so you can donate to one of the best cancer charities.

When cancer touches your life, you might feel compelled to donate to a cancer charity. But with thousands of cancer charities in the United States, it can be difficult to know where to start. And you don’t want to get scammed.

Follow these steps to find the best cancer charities that align with your goals.

Determine Your Objective

“Donations go toward the fight against cancer.” That’s a typical phrase in cancer fundraising, and its meaning is open to interpretation. If you have a goal in mind, such as better cancer treatment, you’ll want to choose a charity focused on research. Ask yourself some questions to narrow down a charity. What would you like your donation to achieve? Do you want to focus on a specific cancer or a specific age group or segment of the population? Do you want to give to a local or national charity? Is there a program at your local cancer center that you can support?

Money raised by the best cancer charities can go toward a variety of programs, all of which play a role in helping those with cancer and future generations:

  • Prevention programs, such as free mammograms and other cancer screenings
  • Research for new treatments, including new drugs and therapies
  • Educational programs, such as awareness campaigns
  • Patient assistance, such as financial grants or programs to improve a cancer patient’s quality of life

Research the Charity

It’s not enough to browse a charity’s website or mail flyer. Scammers often produce slick promotional material or use names that sound similar to those of legitimate charities to lend them credibility.

Some scams are sham nonprofits registered with the IRS, where the money raised never goes toward any programming. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against four alleged sham charities (Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and Breast Cancer Society), arguing that they bilked donors of $187 million, most of which went to overhead costs and to the family and friends of the charities’ executives. Court settlements forced all four of those charities to close.

Do your own homework. Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch are three watchdog groups that rate charities. Each has its own method and criteria for rating, so not all charities are on each list. Use their online databases to see how a charity you’re considering spends its funds and whether there’s cause for concern. Search under “cancer” if you need ideas for charities outside the mainstream.

For charities not listed — they may be too small or too new to rate — do some deeper digging. Charity Navigator offers guidelines for evaluating charities based on their financial health, accountability, transparency and results. It also cautions against donating to any charity that isn’t a registered public 501(c)3 organization and doesn’t have an EIN (Employer Identification Number).

Donate Wisely

Once you’ve researched the charity, give to them directly. You’ll eliminate the fees paid to third-party fundraising companies. Never provide your financial information over the phone to a fundraiser calling you. You have no way of verifying if they’re legitimate. And never make a donation with gifts cards or a wire transfer. Scammers ask for donations this way because the money can’t be traced.

Paying it forward can be a part of the cancer experience. After all you’ve been through, you want to make sure the experience is a good one.

The UVA Cancer Center funds programs in research and patient care. To make a donation, contact the Development Office.

Learn More
Rita Colorito