It's amazing what some people will do to raise money for breast cancer. Every year, an organization called the Breast Cancer Charities of America throws a stiletto race. Women, even men, compete in high heels to raise millions for the charity.
The group also holds charity fashion shows attended by celebrities like Mena Suvari and Vivica A. Fox.
"That's the beautiful thing about being a celebrity," said Fox in a local news report. "Your voice can bring awareness."
Erica Tullis, the head of the Breast Cancer Charities of America, has appeared on TV boasting how her charity helps cancer sufferers in financial need.
In one TV spot she said, "Our main service, which is called the Help Now Fund, where we pay for the rent and utilities while they are going through breast cancer and it's an immediate need."
"We are the only charity which pays for the rent and utilities of women going through breast cancer and we keep a roof over their head as they go through breast cancer," she said in another interview.
It sure sounds impressive, but with millions raised, our investigation found that in 2012 only two cents of every dollar donated went to assist women from their "Help Now Fund,” and in 2011 it was less than a penny!
And when they did give aid, on average it amounted to less than $300 per cancer patient. Who could pay rent and utilities on that?
INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero spoke to the head of the charity at their annual high-heel fundraiser.
"Where does the money raised today go?" asked Guerrero.
"It will go to our Help Now Fund and any of our program services," said Tullis.
Then, we told her what we found out about the Help Now Fund.
"On every dollar contributed only two cents went to actually helping women with breast cancer in the United States and the year before it was less than one penny," said Guerrero.
Erica replied, "That's not true. We have an independent audit that takes place every year and that's why we disclose our full financials."
But according to their tax filings, which we reviewed, it is true.
"Isn't it true that the majority of the money goes to telemarketers?" asked Guerrero.
At that point Tullis walked away to get back to the charity fundraiser.
And when it comes to cancer charities it's all in the family for Erica Tullis. We saw her with her father. He runs a different cancer charity called the Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation. Last year it was called one of America's worst charities.
Daniel Borochoff heads the watchdog group Charity Watch. He said, "Charity Watch has given the father's and daughter’s charity an F grade."
One very important point here -- we're not in any way suggesting you stop donating to breast cancer charities. Just the opposite. But to make sure your money truly goes to the right charity, here are some tips:
- Check out the charity with watchdog groups like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Watch, and Charity Navigator. All that information is available online.
- Be wary of telemarketers. Often they keep most of the money.
- Go to Guidestar.org. Charities are required to report how they spend their money and you can see exactly where your money is going.
- Get information on charities and your state's charity office from The National Association of State Charity Offices.
"It's donor beware," said Borochoff.
Both Erica Tullis and her father say their cancer charities are legitimate and most of the donations go to program services including public education about cancer and providing medical supplies overseas. As for that “Help Now fund”, Erica Tullis’ charity’s website says payments are limited to $500 per person a year for emergency expenses, such as past due rent.