The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 by 15 physicians in New York City. The first mission of the American Cancer Society was to educate the public about cancer as a disease and improve its diagnosis and prognosis. Today, the American Cancer Society is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. The current mission of the organization is to eliminate cancer through education and funding of cancer research. The organization’s website is a comprehensive educational resource for those diagnosed with cancer and their families.

 

Rank Chart
Total Income
Program Percentage
Our Score
#1
$888,650,367
99.2%
8.8
#2
$2,171,175,300
98%
7.8
#3
$912,451,190
95%
7.4
#32
american-cancer-society
$815,827,000
60-76%
3.4

The Good

  • Administrative expenses
  • Donor communication

Administrative Expenses

The American Cancer Society spends an average of 5 percent of its revenue on administrative expenses each year. Executive salaries are relatively high when compared to similar organizations, with the president and CEO of the American Cancer Society earning $1.4 million per year. However, this salary is less than the what the previous CEO of the American Cancer Society was earning.

Donor Communication

The American Cancer Society provides many ways for users to receive updates, including the organization’s journal for providers, A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and Cancer Cytopathology. Donors can also receive email updates, follow the organization on social media, and expect fundraising requests via email, postal mail, and phone.

The Bad

  • Total income
  • Fundraising expenses
  • Program percentage
  • Accessible financial information
  • Negative press
  • Awards

Total Income

The American Cancer Society has had varying levels of income over the last several years. Last year’s donations are down nearly $100 million from 2012. Revenues for the past five years are as follows:

  • 2015: $815,827,000
  • 2014: $812,525,892
  • 2013: $878,083,920
  • 2012: $904,294,009
  • 2011: $896,170,911

Fundraising Expenses

The American Cancer Society’s fundraising budget is significantly higher than that of most similar organizations, with between 20 and 35 percent of incoming funds being spent on fundraising activities each year.

Program Percentage

Most charity watchdog organizations consider a program delivery percentage of between 70 and 80 percent as a responsible allocation of funds. However, the American Cancer Society’s program percentage has varied for the last several years, ranging between 60 and 76 percent.

Accessible Financial Information

The American Cancer Society has published an infographic that provides basic financial information on its website. However, finding specific information about the total income, executive salaries, and administrative expenses of the organization is quite difficult. The last annual report which was published online by the American Cancer Society was for 2011. Additionally, the organization has published its IRS Form 990s for 2010 to 2014 on its website, but these forms are not easily accessible.

Negative Press

The American Cancer Society has been involved in a number of controversies, including the following:

Executive Salaries
The former president and CEO of the American Cancer Society earned a $2.4 million annual salary up until the time of his leaving the organization. In 2015, a new president and CEO, Gary M. Reedy, assumed the position. Mr. Reedy does not earn the same salary as the past president and CEO, but does receive a salary of over $1.4 million. The organization defends its high salaries, saying that the percentage of executive salaries is less than 1 percent of the annual revenue received by the organization and that caliber of leadership provided by Mr. Reedy justifies his salary.

Breast Cancer Screening Changes
In October 2015, the American Cancer Society announced new recommended screening practices for breast cancer detection, which brought swift criticism. Many leading physicians immediately went to the media to dispute the recommendations, stating that the organization, being influential, could change public opinion of the serious nature of breast cancer and lead women to refrain from early screenings. Past recommendations included annual screening mammograms beginning at age 40, while the new guidelines recommend beginning annual screenings at age 45. The American Cancer Society defended its new guidelines, stating that it was moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and that the new guidelines were set to encourage communication between a woman and her doctor about appropriate screening practices for her particular situation.

Refusing Entry to a National Team
The humanist group Foundation Beyond Belief contacted the American Cancer Society in 2011 about sponsoring a national team for the upcoming Relay for Life fundraising event, offering up to a $250,000 pledge match for all support pledged to the team. The American Cancer Society initially welcomed the team entry, but subsequently pulled its entry and refused to communicate with the organization. Some speculate that because Foundation Beyond Belief is purportedly atheist, that the refusal was based upon potentially damaging public relations.

Lack of Meaningful Research
Some have criticized the American Cancer Society for not spending more on researching a cure for childhood cancers. The American Cancer Society has responded to these complaints with surprising statements suggesting that childhood cancer is not its focus and that if donors want to support the fight against childhood cancer, they should donate to other organizations.

Planned Parenthood Grants
As late as 2007, the American Cancer Society was providing cancer screening and prevention grants to Planned Parenthood. In 2015, when Planned Parenthood was the focus of an investigation for selling the remains of aborted fetuses for profit, a list of organizations supporting or providing funding for Planned Parenthood was released. The American Cancer Society has not disclosed the amount of funding which was previously allocated to Planned Parenthood or when the funding was ceased. However, the American Cancer Society did release this statement about the matter:

“The American Cancer Society does not fund grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates. We have previously funded a very limited number of cancer control grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates to implement cancer control [smoking cessation] programs….These grants expired several years ago. The American Cancer Society does not fund—nor has it ever funded—abortion or contraceptive counseling.”

Awards

Our Review Team could not find evidence of the American Cancer Society receiving awards, which is a negative indicator of the outreach and impact of the charitable organization’s program efficacy.

The Bottom Line

The American Cancer Society’s income has been declining over the past several years. Additionally, the organization’s administration and fundraising expenses are relatively high and its program delivery percentage is low. The American Cancer Society has been involved in a number of controversies as well.

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