Thoughts on Donating to Cancer Charities and Research by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

December is here bringing with it multiple phone calls and direct mailings requesting donations to various causes. This isn’t the only time of year for the donation request, but it is the most intense as individuals and companies close their books for the year with tax breaks in mind. How do you decide who merits your donation dollar?

In the cancer market segment, the request is divided between a) money for research and b) money for services delivered directly to cancer patients. I would hazard a guess that the majority of requests are for organizations doing research. Some of these organizations also have a proportion of the funds raised going to services or equipment. There are not as many organizations that channel the raised money directly to activities and services that directly impact the quality of life of the cancer patient – or even extend to their family and caregivers.

What do you want your donation to achieve?

If you are intent on finding a cure or better treatment for cancer, then research might be your choice. These are the larger organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Alberta Cancer Foundation, Canadian Cancer Research Alliance etc and the appropriate organizations in your area.

If you feel that research is not doing enough or that healing will come from outside the medical model, then there are organizations that provide direct service to their members. These include organizations  such as Wellspring Calgary (note that I’m a co-founder), Wellspring Ontario, Breast Cancer Supportive Care, Children’s Wish Foundation, Kids Cancer Care, to name a few. Again, there are similar agencies in your area.

How much of the donation dollar goes towards administration?

I’ve always felt that a good benchmark for this question was to support those agencies where the overhead and administration costs were low in relation to the benefits for the member. However, I came across this interesting TED article and it has given me a new perspective. It talks about being aware of the effectiveness of the organization versus the dollar equation – what size are their dreams versus the cost of their overhead. What impact are they having on the world, their cause?

How to find the charity for you?

What cause speaks to you? What are you passionate about? Many people choose health agencies because of an illness or family history of a certain condition. Certainly in my case it is about cancer as not only have I had cancer, but my dad, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles have had cancer. The other side of the family have heart conditions and died of heart attacks or stroke.

If you have ‘x’ amount of money for charitable donations, then given your circumstance, it may be applicable to divide up the allowable donation to one, two or more charities or causes.

What if you don’t have the money?

This is a real issue for those who are on limited incomes. Right now, many people in the oil and gas industry and those industries that depend on them, are being laid off. Money is tight. Can $25.00 even make a dent in the cause if that is what you can give? I’d say yes. If we all gave $25.00, that would be a big amount. It’s the biblical parable of feeding the multitudes from a few fish.

If money is an issue, there is the gift of time – a much valued donation for any organization. So many non-profit organizations would not survive without their committed and passionate volunteers. This is one of the ways they keep overhead down to provide quality service to members. Volunteering is also a win-win situation for both the volunteer and the organization. For anyone who has given of their time, they will understand this statement. There is a huge sense of purpose and fulfillment in providing support and expertise to others in need.

If not time or money, what else can you do?

Many of us have more ‘stuff’ in our home than we will ever use. I’m aware of this as I’m in de-cluttering mode. Some of these items can be of use to organizations depending on their needs. For the items that are not needed, nowadays they can be sold online with the profits going to the organization of choice.

Do you undertake any research?

People spend a lot of time researching purchases they make – cars, homes, furniture, etc. How many of us actually take the time to research the organization to which we donate money? It’s good to know what each organization does, who runs the organization, their mission statement, their causes, services they deliver, etc. Maybe even take a tour to get a first-hand perspective. Talk to the people who use the service provided by the organization. What do they have to say? This will give you a feel and connection to the causes you care about.

Once you’ve done this, it will become apparent which organization is a good fit for your belief system, talents, available resources, etc. As mentioned above, not all organizations require your dollars. In fact, your talents and skills may be the most valuable asset to that organization.

Finally . . .

I know that cancer is top of mind for many who read this newsletter; however, in life, there are many causes that could use our help. We all need a hand now and again, even those who felt that being in need would never happen to them.

Life can turn on a dime. If you are the one in need, know that this is the reason people are there to help. When you are able, there is the option to give back and reach out to someone else in need. This is the motto I’ve followed as during my cancer treatment and recovery, I was the one in need. Now I am able to extend a hand to others until they are on their feet again. So can you.

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