Relay for Life has raised over $84,000 for American Cancer Society in ‘17

Chuck Wickenhofer
Participants in this year's Relay for Life at Roosevelt Park show their spirit. Despite reported inefficiencies in how the American Cancer Society, which sponsors the Relay for Life, allocates the money it raises, local donors have given about $2.6 million to the ACS since 1997.

The Lake Region’s Relay for Life charity has raised over $84,000 of its $107,550 goal this year.

The Relay for Life is a national fundraising drive sponsored by the American Cancer Society, established in 1913 in New York City. While the organization is well-established, having existed for over a century, some criticize the charity, citing a large portion of donations that go to fundraising instead of services related to cancer research and treatment.

Charity Navigator, which rates charities of various sizes around the country, gave the American Cancer Society two out of four stars in June of last year. While the ACS got high marks for accountability and transparency, Charity Navigator’s research indicates that the charity spends a lot of money on overhead. Charity Navigator estimates that it costs $.36 for every dollar the ACS collects.

However, Jan Kurtz, a breast cancer survivor and local volunteer that has been with Relay for Life in the Lake Region since its inception in 1997, said that the American Cancer Society was a big help to her when she was going through her ordeal.

“I feel that I had a lot of support from the American Cancer Society when I got my diagnosis,” Kurtz said. “When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the first thing I did was go to their website. I had places I could for patient services, go to do my research, get education.”

Compared to the American Cancer Society, Livestrong, also a charity that specializes in fundraising for cancer research, spent $.21 for every dollar collected based on a report filed by Charity Navigator this year. The charity watchdog’s report also showed that 84.7 percent of Livestrong’s total expenses were spent on the programs and services it delivers, compared to the American Cancer Society’s 59.9 percent.

Kurtz says that despite some of those findings, the American Cancer Society has proven itself during its century-plus of raising money for cancer research and those dealing with the disease.

“I feel that the American Society has proved that they’re a reputable organization and have had a lot of positive things that have come out of the money that they’ve earned,” Kurtz said. “When I first started volunteering with the American Cancer Society, a staff partner who works with the American Cancer Society said that you have to spend money to make money.”

The ACS has shown itself to be a fundraising force despite its reported inefficiencies, sitting on over $1.2 billion in assets, according to Charity Navigator’s report.

Another charity watchdog organization, Charity Watch, most recently awarded the American Cancer Society a C-, citing similar fundraising inefficiencies.

Other cancer research charities outperform the American Cancer Society by Charity Navigator’s metrics. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Kidney Cancer Association and Leukemia Research Foundation all score four out of four stars, as does the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Despite those findings, Kurtz has seen the organization help a lot of local cancer patients deal with the many pitfalls the disease brings. She says that they help patients with boarding, transportation to treatment, and helping women undergoing treatment deal with their changing appearances.

“I had a mastectomy, 12 rounds of chemotherapy and I had radiation. I went through a full year of treatment,” Kurtz said. “They gave me a wig, some scarves - because hair is a big issue. I didn’t realize how much of an issue hair would be, of all the things that a person goes through - I think that’s the most traumatic thing about it!”

She also mentioned the ACS’s “Feel Better” program, which helps women going through treatment to apply makeup and generally keep up appearances in the face of the deadly and debilitating disease.

Kurtz also laid out where the money the ACS raises goes after it’s raised in the Lake Region.

“That money goes towards research,” Kurtz said. “North Dakota is a small state without much for research as far as universities, so maybe a lot of that money doesn’t stay in North Dakota, however that research money does go throughout the United States to different researchers.”

She also said that more than 31 researchers funded by the American Cancer Society have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, though that has yet to be confirmed.

Though the American Cancer Society has faced criticism as a large charitable organization that sometimes struggles with fundraising efficiency, the charity has reportedly raised about $2.6 million since its inception in the Lake Region in 1997.