Magazine article Insight on the News

Charities Ignore the Needy in Reversal of Robin Hood

Magazine article Insight on the News

Charities Ignore the Needy in Reversal of Robin Hood

Article excerpt

Americans are the most charitable people on Earth. Each year they contribute more than $100 billion to philanthropic causes; health charities alone collect more than $10 billion from the public. But donors are likely to be surprised by how their contributions are spent by the "Big Three" health charities -- the American Cancer Society, or ACS; the American Heart Association, or AHA; and the American Lung Association, or ALA.

While the Big Three raise funds relentlessly to provide "urgently needed" support for medical programs, they are accumulating immense wealth in the form of cash, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, land, buildings and automobiles. The ACS is so fat that if it paid all of its bills it would have $500 million left--enough to operate for 16 months without asking the public for a dime. Critics wonder whether its Texas Division, which has 56 autos, is a car dealership. Or maybe, with its 14 parcels of land and 17 office buildings, it is really a real-estate holding company.

Since 1978, the net worth of the AHA has risen from $18 million to $245.4 million -- an increase of 1,263 percent. This wealth benefits the executives and staffs, but does little or nothing to help disease victims.

The Big Three also benefit members of the medical profession by practicing what has been called "Robin Hood in reverse." Each year the ACS and AHA spend more than $30 million to subsidize "continuing education" for doctors, dentists, nurses and clinicians -- people who can afford to pay their own way like other professionals who must stay abreast of developments in their fields. Critics say it is inappropriate to provide service subsidies to those with high incomes.

Health-charity executives and staffs do very well financially claiming to be "doing good." At state divisions of the ACS, where most programs are conducted, about half of every dollar spent goes for salaries, fringe benefits and payroll taxes. In larger states, six-figure salaries are not uncommon -- more than twice the annual pay of the head of the Salvation Army, a much larger and more complex organization which does a great deal to assist the needy. Add to this the generous perks, including travel, club memberships and expense accounts, and little is left to aid victims of heart disease, cancer and lung disease.

Helping the sick is not a high priority for the Big Three -- despite fundraising rhetoric to the contrary. The AHA spends nothing on poor people afflicted with heart disease; the ALA spends less than half of 1 percent of its revenues on direct assistance to lung-disease sufferers; and comparable figures for the ACS show that only 2 percent of its spending is targeted to individual cancer victims. …

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