Relay for Life not the most worthwhile charity


On April 20, a crowd of 1,732 students, staff, and cancer survivors gathered on Multi-Sport Field to celebrate Georgetown’s 2012 Relay for Life, the primary fundraising arm for the American Cancer Society. For this year’s festivities, Georgetown students raised $205,093 for cancer research. That number, along with the overall turnout at the event, is a disappointment for a program that earned a peak donation of $402,000 in 2009 and attracted over 3,000 participants in 2011. Despite the drop, Relay for Life is still one of the most enthusiastic and widely attended charity events on campus. While such strong turnout for a charity event is laudable, it is disappointing that students dedicate such a small amount of time to causes that are equally pressing, though less visible in our community of privilege.

Cancer kills over half a million Americans each year; it certainly warrants our attention, and its survivors our respect. But Relay for Life is a woefully inefficient charity. Upon examining the American CancerS ociety’s financial records, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that the funds raised by Relay for Life are not utilized to their full potential. According to Charity Navigator, an Internet watchdog for charitable organizations, in 2009—the the most recent year available—the ACS spent a middling 71.6 percent of its revenue on cancer research, wasting away 6.1 percent on staff salaries and another 22.2 percent on fundraising expenses. Such percentages are mediocre; many charitable organizations with far fewer resources are better stewards of donations. In 2009, CEO John Seffrin earned a chilling annual salary of $914,906. For an organization dedicated to funding research, these statistics are inexcusable.

Relay for Life spends an egregious amount of funds promoting its own brand. Relay might try to justify these expenditures by claiming that its efforts boost cancer awareness, but among the most statistically prevalent diseases, cancer is one of the most well-known.

In fact, the key to Relay for Life’s popularity is undoubtedly the ubiquity of cancer. Cancer sees no sex, class, race or sexual orientation. It takes lives indiscriminately, affecting people of every socioeconomic status. Meanwhile, diseases that predominately impact lower socioeconomic classes receive minimal attention. Take HIV/AIDS, which has reached epidemic levels in the District’s poorest wards. Given the available prevention and, albeit expensive, treatment methods available, AIDS ought to be a central focus of fundraising efforts on campus. Unfortunately, it is not.

It is no surprise that at a university whose student body is overwhelmingly upper-class, white and privileged, cancer is better able to mobilize students on an enormous scale. Of course cancer is a serious killer, but it is a shame that a disease has to hit students close to home for them to care.

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14 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Relay for Life not the most worthwhile charity”

  1. James Li says:

    The opinions expressed in this editorial are not new, but they are very misguided. By traditional standards, the percentage breakdown on spending sounds ridiculous, but this kind of mindset is exactly what chokes the non-profit industry. If the CEO and staff are not paid a high salary, how can one of the biggest and most innovative charities in America attract top business talent? In addition, since the ACS’ mission is not only to fund research but to also provide advocacy, a 22.2 percent portion on fundraising makes a great amount of sense.

    • That has been the reply for crazy salaries of CEO and CFOs for years, James Li. But there is something called charity mindset where one takes a job for the love of the cause or the purpose! Look at most teachers, clergy, nurses ….even many shop clerks and for that matter the lowest person on the totem pole. If/when their salaries are lifted up as too low then you hear these “hard to find CEOs and CFOs” saying our mission will be hurt if we pay them more….our bottom line will be destroyed if we….We will have to move our operations overseas if…. So what you are lifting up is indeed a false argument.

  2. Bruce Muldoon says:

    Hey Voice Editorial Board, how about this:

    Good job Relay on your hard work and altruism. Now let’s all get together and do something similar for HIV/AIDS.

  3. DJ Wise says:

    As one of the co-chairs for Relay For Life 2012, let me first begin by saying that this year was by no means, \a disappointment\. While it may be convenient for the Voice to look at our numbers compared to previous years, I don’t only concentrate on the numbers as a gauge for our success.

    I am proud of what we achieved this year. Our event was by far the best we’ve ever seen, with a completely new look compared with previous years. Our survivors were so pleased with the work we had done, and appreciated all that we did to make this event happen. More people stayed later this year. The list could go on of what I’m proud of with this event.

    I am not dissapointed by what we did this year. I hold my head proud with my fellow co-chairs, my executive board, and our committee. We poured blood sweat and tears into this event and for the Voice Editorial Board to call it a failure, is unbelievably hurtful.

    At Georgetown, we are told to be men and women for others. That is exactly what Relay For Life embodies. We are men and women for others, trying to find the cure for cancer before it takes another mother, father, brother, sister, husband or wife. The immense amount of support on campus comes from that fact. We have all lost someone to cancer, and we know how terrible this disease can be.

    I lost my father to cancer. When I came to Georgetown, my father wasn’t there to drop me off for school. He wasn’t there to teach my how to drive. I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral when I was 15. So am I going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else? Hell yes I am.

    While it would be nice for the Voice to appreciate our success, all the matters to me is making my father proud. I know how proud he would be of what I helped to achieve. Since 2006, Georgetown Relay For Life has raised over $2 Million in the fight against cancer. This year we broke that milestone, and I was apart of that. I was the co-chair that helped Georgetown pass $2 Million.

    But it is disheartening to know that the Voice is willing to undermine that success. Even willing to undermine the fight against cancer. Our dollars are making a difference. The money we raise goes to life saving research. Some of that research is happening here at Georgetown at the Lombardi Cancer Center. Millions of dollars from the ACS have gone towards research at our Lombardi Cancer Center. Why don’t you ask them what our fundraising efforts mean to them? Why don’t you ask the people battling cancer and our survivors what our dollars mean to them?

    To them, these dollars aren’t just a nice headline. To them, these dollars are about staying alive.

    With Hope,
    DJ Wise

  4. Alum says:

    I have a hunch that whoever wrote this has not lost a loved one to cancer. A lot of my experience with the RFL committee here is that it is a bunch of motivated individuals who have felt the crushing sting of losing someone they loved to cancer, or have been diagnosed with cancer themselves. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to volunteer with a cause that they are personally affected by?

    The paragraph about cancer’s ubiquity is precisely why RFL gets a large turnout every year: because everybody is affected by it. It is human nature to want to join something that has touched you personally. It is extremely disappointing to see the reason why so many people come out to volunteer is the reason this editorial board (disgustingly) thinks Georgetown should not.

    Though I suppose the editorial board spends its spare time volunteering for HIV/AIDS research? That must be the reason why they feel the need to condescend so many people who volunteer for a cause that has personally affected them. Otherwise, it’d just come off as hypocritical to sit back and say \This cause is more worthwhile,\ but to do nothing at all.

  5. Alum II says:

    Obviously the Voice editorial board didn’t do its fact checking. Relay For Life (note the capital F), not Relay for Life is correct.

  6. Danielle Davidson says:

    I was doing some internet surfing for some Relay For Life statistics and came across this grossly incorrect article. I am very disappointed that the publisher can bash college students that are wanting to make the world a better place.

    The older generation is always saying that the younger generation doesn’t care for anyone but themselves. Here is a group of individuals that have taken time out of their full college life to make an impact in the world. Whether it be $200,000 or $400,000 it is still more than doing nothing! I believe that in this economy where the unemployment is at peak levels and student loans are at a gross high, $200,000 is a grand accomplishment.

    22% of administrative costs. Does this include all of the patient programs that serve any income level person? How about the patient navigator that helps the patient find monetary, emotional and educational resources? THe American Cancer Society isn’t just about research it is about healing/helping the patient also! How about all those free nights of stay at the Hope Lodges all over the nation? Besides the Ronald McDonald house (which is only for children), what other Non profit does that for their 22%.

    THe American Cancer Society is the largest contributor to cancer research in the entire country including our own government.

    Last I checked, AIDS is preventable. Cancer is nondiscriminatory. Cancer also affects the lower class also as they can’t afford to be screen like the elitist that you are talking about. So in the long run, we are helping them too.

    Shame on you for this report, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  7. Maggie says:

    Has the editorial board actually compared the percentage used by the ACS for adminstrative costs to what other non-profit organizations are using? Because for a non-profit, the ACS is among the top organizations who allocate their costs correctly and appropriately.

    Additionally, it takes months and months to run a Relay For Life event, and the volunteers who give their time and money to organize it, do so for free. Why would you write an article that undermines the success and heartfelt efforts of volunteers who have felt the struggle that comes with a cancer diagnosis-whether it be themselves or their loved ones?

    Please, do your research, and check your conscience.

  8. Michael says:

    This is one of the worst articles I have ever come upon. Both the authors and Georgetown should be ashamed of this. In addition to being factually errant (funds raised for the American Cancer Society go towards its ‘unrestricted funds’ which means that it’s used for research, patient programs and services, cancer awareness and education and advocacy efforts), inadequately researched (from something simple like the actual name of the event, Relay For Life, to an apparent lack of even a rudimentary understanding of nonprofit expenses), insensitively and hurtfully opinionated (as someone who has been personally impacted by the lose of loved ones from cancer AND HIV/AIDs, I think it’s dosgustinf that someone would have the audacity to suggest that there is one absolute, correct cause to champion) the article is just horrifically written. I’m assuming that the students wrote this were studying journalists, which does not speak very highly of Georgetown’s Journalism program.

    For those of you out there that are still reading, I pose these questions to you. Given the fact that the American Cancer Society is the largest and most comprehensive health organization in the United States, is 6.1% on staff salaries wasteful? Should these thousands of employees be paid wages that would require them to have government assistance just to live?

    Additionally, Relay For Life events are volunteer driven. The staff being paid by ACS are not running individual fundraising events. While staff are involved in volunteer support, Relay For Life events are completely executed by volunteers. While there are expenseses associated with putting on a Relay event (and usually 9 months of volunteer planning), it is incredibly rare for a Relay to any money much less ‘an egregious amount of funds promoting its own brand’. Almost all events receive promotion either through grassroots volunteer mobilization or through in-kind media sponsorship. Speaking of sponsorship, almost all Relay events secure more than enough general, or cash, sponsorship to cover direct expenses for putting the event on, ensuring that donor dollars go directly to ACS mission funding.

    Additionally, I have to pick part the exceedingly ignorant mindset that ‘cancer awareness is irrelevant because people already know about cancer’ bit that was proported in this pitiful little piece. Cancer awareness does not mean telling people cancer exists or that it’s bad. Cancer awareness means educating the masses on ways to prevent cancer, the real lifestyle factors that configure to cancer and fighting against them (like smoking, inactivity and tanning). Awareness means educating people on what cancer screenings they should be getting and at what ages to catch cancer early when it is most preventable. An example of this is colon cancer. The American Cancer Society has committed to promoting awareness of colon cancer prevention to see an increase in screening rates to 80% of at rosy individuals (people 50 and up or 40 and up with a family history of colon cancer). Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cnacers if caught while still in the polyp stage bt still only 53% of at risk individuals are getting screened. This rate is even lower amoung lower socioeconomic classes and minorities, making cancer awareness and education even more important in these communities.

    The awareness beig promoted through Relay (which this article misleads its readers into believing the the American Cancer Society forks over billions for ad space, a blatant falsehood) are the patient programs and services the Amerivan Cnacer Society provides. Relay educates people to where they can turn when a cancer diagnoses changes your life. Need a ride to and from your treatment site? Call ACS and you can arrange that for free. Need a place to stay while getting treatment further away? ACS Hope Lodges and hotel partners can provide that! Need a support group, online education on yours or a loved ones particular cancer diagnose or a person nearby that can help you navigate your cancer treatment options? ACS can do that for you. But I suppose that the author would argue that this awareness, the programs themselves and the research being funded can all be shelved because not all the money that comes in goes towards cancer research and HIV/AIDs is more important, right?

    • @Michael says:

      Fair points and all, but really, this was published over two years ago…calm yourself.

      “Both the authors and Georgetown should be ashamed of this.” “I’m assuming that the students wrote this were studying journalists, which does not speak very highly of Georgetown’s Journalism program.”

      Wrong assumption since Georgetown doesn’t have a journalism major, but seriously, isn’t it enough to make your factual point and not make ad hominem attacks against an entire student body? The students who wrote this way back when were a small handful and don’t represent all the 1,600 undergrads here.

      • Michael says:

        Fair enough regarding my lack of research on Georgetown’s programs. To be fair though, given the authors of the above article clearly spent what appears to be little to no time researching the American Cancer Society or Relay For Life before pushing their agenda that ‘this clearly isn’t the charity for Georgetown to back’ I figured I would spend about the same amount of effort researching Georgetown and instead focus my response on the Cancer Society/Relay For Life perspective since that is my area of expertise as a former Event Chair.

        Good criticism of my criticism of the article though! Still doesn’t refute my rebuttal in anyway but fair points :) I also want to clarify that I don’t mean to attack the entire Georgetown student body for what these authors wrote a year ago. I’m sure there are many fine students enrolled in excellent programs offered. At the same time, this article is shameful rubbish.

  9. carlie brand says:

    Who picks up the money at an event?

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