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One Breast Cancer Advocate On Why She Hates Fundraising Walks09:42

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Participants attend the 2011 Avon Walk For Breast Cancer New York on October 16, 2011 in New York City.  (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Avon)closemore
Participants attend the 2011 Avon Walk For Breast Cancer New York on October 16, 2011 in New York City. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Avon)

Fundraising walks, like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the AVON Walk to End Breast Cancer, attract millions of participants and raise tens of millions of dollars. But this week, Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an education and advocacy organization, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, expressing concern about what breast cancer walks have become. Here & Now's Robin Young talks to Jaggar and Doug White, an author and adviser to philanthropic and non-profit organizations, about the drawbacks and the benefits of fundraising walks.

Here & Now reached out to AVON for a comment. The organization also provided a link to their financial reports

Interview Highlights: Karuna Jagger and Doug White

Karuna Jagger

On the money, both raised by and spent on breast cancer fundraising walks

“It’s very hard to peel back the numbers and get answers to where the money is going. These walks are major productions, they cost a lot of money. We know, for example, from Komen’s most recent financials that they spent $43.7 million producing the walks and they only gave $41.5 million to research, and what programs, if any are being funded? Is it more awareness and do we need more awareness, or is it promised research for a cure? Which kind of research is being funded? Is it research to the root causes of disease? Is it research into metastatic disease, and these are important decisions because these two areas of research are particularly underfunded. I believe that people who donate to and participate in these walks deserve answers to where their money is going.”

Isn’t the sense of community and celebration present at the events an important aspect of these walks?

“Oh sure, and I want to be really clear that nothing that I am writing is intended to is intended to criticize or judge the walkers themselves. There is nothing wrong with a person choosing a physical challenge, enjoying spending time together remembering a loved one, or creating a sense of community and connecting with other people who have had a similar experience. But if these walkers and runners, and their donors, are intending to have a meaningful impact on the breast cancer epidemic, then I’d believe we’d need to see more from these large breast cancer events.”

Why are you and your organization suspicious of corporate investments?

“This is a great question, and I’m often asked, ‘isn’t any money for breast cancer good?’ Where we take issue is with those funds that can influence an organization’s take on the issue. These corporations are making large amounts of money, far more than they are giving away, but they’re also generating good PR and I believe that if these companies who claim to care about breast cancer really want to show that they care about breast cancer, then they will take the steps to make sure that their products and their services do not contribute to increased risk of the disease.”

Doug White

On the numerous critiques of cancer walks, their high cost, and where the money goes.

“The costs are high, that does not equal that it is too much. Those costs tend to be 50 to 60 to 70 percent, but that isn’t the only barometer by which we should measure the success of that event because a lot of these organizations, especially the breast cancer research organizations, use them as platforms for marketing their message and to involve more people with their cause.”

Is too much money going towards awareness (that may not be as necessary) rather than towards actual research?

“That’s going to be an organizational question. The public can have an effect by saying, ‘you’re putting too much money into awareness and we think that enough people already know about breast cancer.’ I don’t think that’s actually true. I think keeping the awareness up is very important. You don’t turn off the engines at 30,000 feet just because you’re at 30,000 feet. You keep going.”

Statement From AVON 39 The Walk To End Breast Cancer:

We are tremendously proud of our AVON 39ers and appreciate their dedication to the cause, our event and their hard work fundraising and training year after year.

We know that it is important for our donors, participants and other supporters to understand how the funds raised are distributed. Our walk press releases highlight only the money raised and grants awarded through the walk weekend. Throughout the year, additional grants are given to organizations both locally and nationally. For a full listing of grantees, visit this section of our website.

To demonstrate our fiscal accountability, the Avon Foundation is independently audited every year by a firm that specializes in not-for-profits. Our 2014 Audited Financial Results, as well as our IRS 990 Form can be found on our website, including the amount spent on grants and on mission related programs, as well as on fundraising and administration. You can see that 69% of our 2014 expenses were for mission programs, which is well within the rating agency guidelines for non-profit organizations. We also post our full grant list with descriptions of how the funds are used.

Our breast cancer grants support programs that span the continuum of needs – from culturally competent education and outreach; linking people to screening and risk reduction strategies; accessing diagnostics to follow up on abnormal findings, and high quality and timely treatment and support services if a diagnosis is made; patient navigation; nutrition support; palliative care; transportation assistance; complementary integrative medicine; survivorships programs; programs that address the unique needs of metastatic patients; and research into cause, prevention, and finding better options for patients with advanced breast cancer. And that is just a portion of the programs we supported in 2015. Avon also funded access to care programs; provided patients with nearly 840,000 educational contacts; enabled access to 260,000 mammograms; and provided more than 115,000 patient navigation services to medically underserved women and men diagnosed with breast cancer. Avon funding also supported 23 organizations to improve the services and care they are able to offer to metastatic patients, and research projects looking to advance our collective knowledge on how to prevent and better treat this same population.

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This segment aired on May 5, 2016.

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