Knoxville CEO responds to 'worst charity' allegations

12:42 AM, Jun 15, 2013   |    comments
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A long-standing Knoxville charity is once again in the spotlight for being "one of America's worst."

An article published this week by the Tampa Bay Times in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting identified Knoxville's 'Cancer Fund of America' as number two on their list of 'America's Worst Charities' amid allegations of wasteful spending and deceptive fundraising techniques.

Cancer Fund of America CEO and President James Reynolds Sr. says it's not the first time his organization has come under fire.

In its 30-year history, Reynolds rattled off at least three times reporters have come knocking, asking him to account for the organization's practices.

Friday he sat down with 10News to explain his side of the story. 10News has not independently verified his claims. We asked him about specific allegations from the Times article.

"In the past three years alone, Cancer Fund and its associated charities raised $110 million. The charities paid more than $75 million of that to solicitors."- Tampa Bay Times

Reynolds was unable to verify if the dollar figure was accurate, but did confirm that CFA uses for-profit companies to do much of their fundraising. He says for every dollar they raise through solicitations, only about 20 cents go toward directly benefiting cancer patients. The company they contract with keeps the rest. He says  the employees who call on behalf of CFA are instructed to inform people of the fundraising costs only if directly asked.

He says they've tried to cut costs in the past but believe the 'for-profit' fundraising model is the best for them.

"The most that we have ever been able to raise is about 2% more than our best fundraiser gives to us. Plus we had all the headaches," said Reynolds.

Not all of their donations come from solicitors. If a person donates directly to CFA, Reynolds says 100% of that money directly benefits patients.

"Less than two cents of every dollar raised has gone to direct cash aid for patients or families, records show."- Tampa Bay Times

Reynolds says this is true because CFA's mission does not include providing cash to patients battling cancer.

On Friday, 10News visited CFA's warehouse off Clinton Highway where Reynolds showed us the pallets of goods waiting to be packaged and sent out. He says clients sometimes contact CFA directly and then get a physician's referral to corroborate their cancer diagnosis. Reynolds says CFA then ships the patient a box with items that they've selected, such as toiletries, nutritional supplements, bed pans, vitamins, and treats like MoonPies.

"I never stopped liking Little Debbies and MoonPies and candies," said Reynolds."When a person gets cancer we don't need to put them over here in a category where they're so much different now."

Reynolds was not sure how much of CFA's stock is donated versus purchased. He says personal hygiene items are typically given to them while medical and nutritional supplies are purchased at a discounted price.

He says they don't typically give out cash to clients for a reason.

"Sometimes when we have cash in our pocket, we don't use it for what we should or what we need, we use it for other things," said Reynolds.

"The network's programs are overstated at best. Some have been fabricated. 'Urgent pain medication' supposedly provided to critically ill cancer patients amounted to nothing more than over-the-counter ibuprofen, regulators determined. A program to drive patients to chemotherapy, touted by the charity in mailings, didn't even exist." - Tampa Bay Times

Reynolds says CFA's only mission is to ship items to cancer patients that will help relieve financial burdens.

"Our goal is to lift the financial burden off of them. Provide things for them that they would normally go to the grocery store and buy," said Reynolds.

He says they do not offer rides to chemotherapy or subsidize the cost of pain medications and again reaffirmed that CFA is the only charity he is responsible for.

"Several groups that Cancer Fund reported as recipients say they got nothing."-Tampa Bay Times

Reynolds says he followed up with the recipients and believes the people responsible for dealing with CFA have left the organizations, so their contribution was overlooked. 10News has not independently verified this.

Cameras were present Friday when a hospice worker from the University of Tennessee came to pick up 10 boxes of adult diapers and bedpans for her clients. She declined to be interviewed on camera but told 10News she picks up from CFA once a month and her clients are excited and grateful to receive the boxes.

"After spending nearly 20 years building Cancer Fund, the family began spinning off new cancer charities, each with a similar mission and a relative or close associate in control."- Tampa Bay Times

Reynolds told 10News that Cancer Fund of America is not associated with any other charity. He says both his son and ex-wife run separate cancer-related charities, but that he does not benefit from them. They both made the 'worst charities' list as well: the

Reynolds says his board approves his $217,000 annual salary. He is the president and CEO of the non-profit but does not vote on his own pay, according to him.

10News asked Reynolds why people should still consider giving to CFA when other charities spend more money taking care of patients.

Reynolds says he believes many charities with better ratios benefit from accounting practices.

"I would like to hear that 95% of a dollar goes to the charity. But realistically, and course being in the work I'm in now, I know that's not real," said Reynolds.

For example, Reynolds says some charities used informative literature to solicit donations. They then write off that cost as "education" rather than "fundraising" which makes their fundraising costs appear lower.

Reynolds says he believes his organization has been a target for years because some accuse them of being 'a look-alike' foundation that mimics the American Cancer Society's name to siphon off donations.

"No one has a monopoly on the word 'cancer'," said Reynolds.

10News attempted to contact three other locally based charities listed in the Tampa Bay Times article.

The report claims Children's Cancer Fund of America (run by Reynold's ex-wife), and Heart Support of America also send most of the money they raise back to the companies that solicit the donations.

10News tried to contact the charities after Mr. Reynolds agreed to an interview, but because it was after business hours we were unable to reach them.

We did get in touch with the man who runs the fourth local charity listed in the report, Youth Development Fund.

He says he's done nothing wrong and claims he has helped tens of thousands of families by donating supplies to countries, like Haiti.

The Times article says it did not consider donated items when deciding who to put on the list. It only counted money given directly to individuals or passed on to independent charities.

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