(KMOV.com) -- It has been a tough year for Barb Aldrich of St. Charles County. She says the loss of her sister was devastating.
“My sister died of breast cancer one year ago” she said.
So when she got a call from The Breast Cancer Society, she wanted to donate. That is until she asked the caller if they were a telemarketing company and how much of each donation went to fundraising.
“They said they keep 80 percent and 20 percent goes to the cancer fund” said Aldrich.
On paper The Breast Cancer Society looks impressive with total revenue listed at more than $52 million, according to IRS records.
The charity’s website touts their direct financial assistance provided to patients who need help now. But when News 4 took a closer look, of that $52 million in revenue, only $312,000 went to patients in the form of cash assistance--that’s way less than one percent.
Bill Smith of the St. Louis Better Business Bureau said the devil is in the details, at least when it comes to this charity's tricky math. “Most of that money goes to overhead, like fundraising management costs and salaries” said Smith.
They use eight different fundraisers, including Associated Community Services, which the Iowa Attorney General cracked down on for misleading practices.
In 2011, professional fund raisers collected more than $13.5 million from people just like Barb Aldrich.
The telemarketers kept more than $8.3 million of those donations, leaving $5.2 million to The Breast Cancer Society. The charity paid more than $3.2 million in mail processing fees and more than a half-million dollars in salaries including compensation totaling $300,000 to the charity’s president, James Reynolds II.
Reynolds did not return any of News 4's calls. Neither did his Public Relations Representative. So News 4's Chris Nagus flew to Phoenix to track them down for answers.
Reynolds never showed up, but Nagus did speak with a woman named Lori. She says she has breast cancer and the charity was giving her donated toiletries, but not cash. Lori told News 4, “They said the cash grants are very minimal here there’s not as much money in Arizona.”
The charity accepts non-cash donations to the tune of $36 million. That includes medicine and all kinds of stuff you might not consider, according to this woman who works at the charity. Items like camcorders, iPods and household tools.
The companies that donate the items get a tax write-off and the charity acts as a middle man. The majority of those supplies end up in foreign countries in Africa, Asia, and Central America. All those donations inflate the value of the charity and make the administrative costs look lower.
After Chris Nagus’ trip to Arizona, Reynolds contacted him via email.
Reynolds admitted the high fundraising costs are a concern, but he expects them to decrease in the future. He also said cash asssistance is only a small part of what they do.
The next time you get a call from a telemarketer for a charity, ask them about percentage of the donation.