Women's Health

How to Spot Breast Cancer Charity Scams

How to Spot Breast Cancer Charity Scams

October marks another year of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The event, which started as just a week-long endeavor in 1985, is a time for the public to come together to raise awareness and fundraise for the disease. When used properly, donated funds can go towards research organizations investigating the causes of breast cancer, improving treatment methods, bolstering support services for fighters and survivors of the disease, and more.

BCAM events include walks, galas, and other community gatherings. During these events and throughout October, many people may feel especially inclined to donate whatever they can to a breast cancer charity.

But, it’s important to realize that not all charities are created equal. Even more important is knowing what you can do to spot a scam and avoid it so that your donations end up in the right hands.

The Rise of Cause Marketing

There’s no doubt that the efforts to raise awareness and garner support for breast cancer patients, survivors, and research efforts started out with good intentions. Unfortunately, the pink movement has now been saturated by ingenuine cause marketing. When executed properly, cause marketing is an agreement between a company and a nonprofit or charity to work together to raise funds for that charitable cause. The first cause marketing campaign occurred in the early 1980s, when American Express partnered with a nonprofit working towards raising funds to restore the Statue of Liberty. The campaign was a huge success for both American Express and the nonprofit. Together, they raised over $1.7 million for the restoration fund, and use of American Express cards rose by 27%. While the large sum raised for the charity is a huge success, other companies have attempted to replicate the cause marketing tactic only with intentions to boost their own profits, and not genuinely donate to a charitable fund.

When businesses are honest and forthcoming about the charitable efforts they claim to be a part of, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Consumers can purchase products they want or need while giving back, companies can boost their sales, and charities increase their donations. The problem arises when companies make claims about donations or contributions to charities without actually following up on these promises.

Businesses have caught on to the public’s desire to contribute to breast cancer charity funds, especially in the month of October. This month more than any other, it’s crucial to be aware of false cause marketing claims to ensure your funds end up in the hands of honest charities who will actually use your donations for good. Exploitation of diseases for company profit is a problem for many conditions, but especially breast cancer. It’s all too easy to throw a pink ribbon on a product to try to rope consumers into purchasing it, thinking they’re making a contribution to a charity.


The problem is so widespread that Breast Cancer Action established an independent project, Think Before You Pink, solely to combat and raise awareness of these breast cancer charity scams. Think Before You Pink refers to the exploitation of breast cancer for business gain as “pinkwashing.” Along with companies making false claims about where the profits from their products are going, Think Before You Pink draws attention to the issue of environmental contributors of breast cancer development. Though there is not much definitive evidence linking environmental factors and breast cancer, there are certain chemicals and environmental agents that are known to be toxic in general. In some cases, companies try to market products as beneficial to breast cancer charities when these harmful chemicals are used in the final product or in its production. Be sure that any products you purchase with intentions of making a charitable impact do not contain any of these toxins or use them in their production. If a company is marketing a toxic product with claims of breast cancer charity donations, they probably do not have the best intentions.

Think Before You Pink points out that there’s much, much more to fighting breast cancer than just wearing a pink ribbon. This is certainly true, but that shouldn’t discourage anyone from doing what they can and taking small actions to benefit the cause such as wearing pink or purchasing products from companies that make a donation to breast cancer charities. The important thing is to make sure you’re supporting the right companies and charities.

Double Check Before You Buy

There’s multiple things you can do to make sure your funds end up in the right place. If you need to make a purchase this October, or anytime of the year, it makes sense to seek out products labeled with a pink ribbon or pledge to donate some of the proceeds to a breast cancer charity. But, be cautious about the specific claims the packaging makes. Always be on the lookout for the details about how much of the proceeds from your purchase will actually go to charity. Look for products with labels that specify a percentage or dollar amount rather than vague statements such as “a portion of the proceeds will be donated.” It’s also important to check if there is a donation cap and where the company is in regards to how much they’ve already donated. If they’ve already reached their donation cap, it’s better to spend your money elsewhere. And, don’t be afraid to do some investigating yourself before you make a purchase. If you cannot find detailed information about donations on the product packaging or company website, you can call the company to ask about their donations. You can also call a charity directly to make sure they’re actually receiving proceeds from this product or company.

Another way to reduce the risk of falling victim to a scam is to make a donation directly to a charity, rather than via purchase of a product. But even with direct donations, there are certain risks. The Better Business Bureau compiled its own list of tips to help consumers make good choices with their charity donations. One way to avoid this is to always make your donation with a check made out to the organization as a whole, not a specific person. And, try to avoid cash donations and be wary of anyone urgently asking for on-the-spot donations. These are signs that the person may be looking for personal gain rather than directing money to the charity.

There are over 1,000 charities with ties to breast cancer registered in the United States. To make sure the one you choose is legitimate, check websites such as Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator rates charities based on factors such as tax status, fundraising and administrative expenses, and more. The organization also emphasizes the importance of accountability and transparency of the charities that it ranks. Accountability and transparency of a charity will help ensure that your money is going towards the cause you intend to help with your donation. It’s always a good idea to check out Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau if you have any doubts about a charity being legitimate, or if you just want some extra reassurance before donating any money.

Pinkwashing is a very real issue, and companies that participate in pinkwashing wrongfully redirect funds away from charities that deserve them. Still, this shouldn’t scare you away from making “pink ribbon” purchases, showing your support by wearing pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or making donations to charity organizations. Just be cautious and do some background research to make sure that your money will actually end up helping survivors and people currently battling breast cancer. While financial contributions are certainly important, another goal of BCAM is to show support for the breast cancer community. So, keep in mind that every little bit helps, and even simply showing your support by wearing pink or attending a BCAM event can mean a lot in the fight against breast cancer.