At the back of my mind were the articles I looked at in my last blog and the comments which were made on the Stuff website about the sheer number of cancer charities. “Ah. Well, let’s find out more shall we?”
The mufti day was for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer NZ. They are also the ones which do the Shave for the Cure, which seems to very popular as a fundraiser. I thought it might be interesting to put this charity through the GiveWell criteria – or rather, a more concise and desk top version thereof. It’s a tricky one: our hearts tell us to do what we can, but what should our heads say? I believe all information should be easily accessible, transparent and publicly available – and found this one a bit lacking on information.
What does the charity do?
According to their website, they are “the leading organisation in New Zealand dedicated to supporting patients and their families living with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related blood conditions.”
This sounds encouraging – although I would have thought the local DHB would be the leading organisation to achieve the above vision. I have looked at their latest 2016 accounts on the Charities office website to see where their costs lie to get an understanding of what they actually do.
- All up they generate some $6.5m in revenues, coming from various sources such as fundraising, bequests, grants and income from the Bone Marrow registry. Expenses total some $5.6m, and net assets of $5.3m.
- The biggest cost (at just over $2.1m in 2016) relates to the Bone Marrow Donor registry, the national register for bone marrow.This lists around 8,000 people who are willing to donate cells to patients worldwide. The costs seem largely covered by income (I’m assuming) from the DHBs, so stands alone.
- The second largest cost is Patient Support, which comes in at $1.3m in 2016 ($1.4m in 2015).These I am guessing will be largely staff related costs, who support patients and their families.
- The third biggest lump of costs is Administration, made up (I think) of 7 FTEs, one CE and six senior managers. The total cost of the 7 senior managers (as noted on page 14 of the accounts) looks to be just over $700k.
- The fourth biggest cost is Awareness and Advocacy, at $580k. This is measured by hits and views on various social media platforms. Part of the purpose of the advocacy is global best practice, working with other cancer NGOs and lobbying.
- The fifth biggest expense is the costs related to the special events that they conduct to raise funds.
- The sixth is grants and research, coming in at $139k.In 2015 the number was $184k, which they allocated to 21 recipients for research, travel and summer studentships.
- The Bone Marrow Donor registry has around 8,000 people on it who have registered as donors. There is no data on how many donations are made per year – at least that I could find. That is a cost of around $260 / donor, which seems ok, but without the data on how many matches are made, well, it’s hard to say this is cost effective.
- Patient Support. Their Winter 2016 magazine has some metrics around what they did in 2015: 9 staff, 133 education and support groups, 38 family emergency assistance vouchers, ad daily contact with 130 patients or family members. So that’s quantitatively what they do: there is no reporting back on the website as to the quality of those services.
- Salary costs of senior management are tagged that the roles have been independently sized and remunerated accordingly. Although I’m not sure how this compares with other organisations sector: would a business with revenues of $6m have such a salary bill for senior management?
- Awareness and Advocacy. No comment
- Event costs. If we assume that the money tagged as “fundraising” income relates to events, then every dollar spent on an event raises $4.87.That’s pretty good – although may not include internal staff costs.
- The average grant is $8,761 per grant. I assume that the costs of making those grants is boxed into the administration expenses.Given what I have previously looked at with cost of grants (around $4k per grant administratively) this seems not cost effective.
No evidence provided. They are part of a cross industry group, and do participate in international forums.
How well is each programme implemented?
No evidence provided.
Does the charity need additional funds?
Probably not. The balance sheet is pretty strong, although both the investments of $1m and term deposit of $264k reflect only about 4 months of operational funding (taking out the operations of the Bone Marrow registry).
How does this group compare to others doing a similar thing?
Unable to tell as have not looked at any other cancer non profits.
The diagnosis of cancer is dreadful, and one where all affected by that diagnosis, be they family, friends, colleagues or neighbours, want to do something to help. It’s likely that every family is affected by this scourge. Indeed, bowel cancer killed my mother, and pancreatic almost got my dad. But thanks to some great surgeons and world class research, he is still here, a modern medical miracle. However, rather than shave off my hair, or give money to high profile charities, I think we should think more with our heads: if we want to cure cancer, then perhaps a direct donation to a cancer researcher, such as the Malaghan Centre will provide greater benefit. Globally, billions and billions of dollars are spent on research every year by governments, pharmaceutical companies and NGOs. And while we can’t discount those breakthroughs happening locally, we can perhaps afford to be realistic in what we can achieve.
Furthermore, a charity should show that it is a learning organisation. I do hope that the new Charities reporting standards will help with this, but given both the tax free status and the high regard society has for many not for profits, I believe it’s incumbent on them to show the good, the bad and the ugly. That means showing not just that they are busy, but that they are efficient, effective, and look to meet their charitable purposes.
But back to the charity. I have broken down the expenses in the 2016 accounts. We can see that the bone marrow registry looks after itself, so I have not included that expense. If I wanted to give my kid $100 for mufti day to cure cancer, only $4 of that money would go to grants and research. If I wanted it to fund advocacy and awareness, then $16 goes into that, while admin would get $40. If I wanted it to support those with the cancer, that line of business gets $38. But there is no evidence about the effectiveness of those programmes: there are plenty of stories, but as a very brainy man once said to me, “the plural of anecdotes is not data”.
So my poor kid had to raid her own money box for mufti money. We work hard for our money, and as such, want to make sure that we can achieve the most good we can out of that spend. And with this organisation, there is not really enough information for me to make that call.
Would love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting.