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Pinktober and 6-tips for Informed Giving

Along with the pumpkin spice latte, crisp mornings, ripe apples, and luscious scarves... fall also brings the odd festival of Pinktober. Now I won't speak for anyone but myself... and I can tell you for me... Pinktober is pretty synonymous with PTSD. Suddenly, I feel bludgeoned with awareness efforts popping out at me from every corner like Pennywise the clown. I can't escape it.

Admittedly, my view was different before I was diagnosed with breast cancer and endured the many treatments and the associated bills. 😬 In those more simple times, I would contribute to raising awareness without the level of scrutiny I give it today. How do I mean, you may be asking?

Right now shelves are being lined with mugs, with pink ribbons, bracelets with ribbons... t-shirts, bras, and hats... heck, even shoes. All these claiming to raise awareness (which I suppose they do just by virtue of us wearing them), but the transaction itself may not actually have the impact you are hoping to make. Wait... what!? I know... stick with me here.

With over 25 years in sales and marketing, and many a tchotchke selected and purchased at my direction, I can also tell you that every year I get recommendations in all levels of pink that do not raise money for research. Do not raise money to help pay bills. Do not raise money to provide free or subsidized screening. No. These products provide a sense of goodwill toward the company selling them, or even giving them away in a promotion - but are they reaching the cause meaningfully?

Here are some ways you can make certain that your awareness, and fundraising efforts, are reaching the cancer cause areas that are important to you:

  1. Ask the important question: "Does any money from this purchase go directly to support breast cancer charities or programs? If yes, how much?" Some product labels make this very clear, others not so much. I have seen labels indicating the exact percent of the purchase. I have seen labels indicating that the company's efforts and donations are not tied to the purchase, but instead it is part of their goodwill campaign. My recommendation, if in doubt, give directly to the charity of your choice.

  2. Ask which organization will receive the donation, and what will they do with it? Ok, so you found an item you wish to purchase, and the label says a percentage of each sale goes to breast cancer programs. Next question... which organizations and which programs?

  3. Is the organization a good steward of the funds they are trusted with? It is heartbreaking that we need to ask this, but frankly... we need to ask. One of the more simple ways to verify a charity is legitimate and to get some information on how they spend their donations, is to use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar. These easy to use websites will give you insights and an easy to understand rating. It will also link you to their most recent tax filings. You can also check the Better Business Bureau's Giving Alliance to check for BBB reports on the charity. And the IRS has a searchable database of charities. Another great tool for evaluating where program funds go is the charity's own website, and by pulling up their annual report. The annual report should break down program investments, outcomes, and give you an idea of what is spent on organizational overhead.

  4. Is there a cap on the amount the company will donate? Some companies indicate that a portion of the proceeds will go to support breast cancer programs, but they also may put an arbitrary cap on their maximum donation - meaning they will still sell the product with the pink ribbon, but they may not alert you that no additional funds will be donated, but instead will go to the company bottom line, as any other product.

  5. Are the funds reaching your desired action or cause area? Would you prefer to designate your donation to a specific area? Ok, so you are thinking about dropping $25 on the item... you see that the organization is legit, and a 3-percent (75 cents) goes to breast cancer programs. Cool! But... you have a real passion for helping low-income women obtain mammograms, or help someone going through breast cancer treatment pay medical bills, or maybe you have a passion for a specific type of research - such as male breast cancer, or metastatic research. When you choose to give directly to an organization, you have the opportunity to designate where you would like your donated funds to be applied. If you want to keep it local, most local hospitals have foundations that help patients cover their bills. Cool, right?

  6. Does this pink purchase create risk or exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer? This takes a little more research, and reality is, prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, this is a step I would skip. One of my favorite websites for this is EWG, they even have a handy Healthy Living App which rates more than 120,000 food and personal care products. also has an extensive list of Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.

Ok, I just totally buzz-killed your excitement over that pink ribbon baseball cap... but here is the deal, wearing that cap does bring a level of awareness that may not have been there before. Last year, someone shared with me that an awareness ink pen at her bank reminded her to get the mammogram that saved her life. So yes, awareness does have an impact. The question really is one of, are you making the impact you want to make?

It is also important to mention that lost in the sea of pink each October, are our breast cancer brothers. Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week is October 18-24 in 2020, and their ribbon is pink and blue - because men have breasts too. Be sure to visit The Male Breast Cancer Coalition to learn more about the advocacy and awareness work they do.

Oh, and can we step away from the "save second base" and "save the ta-tas" items. Honestly, many of us who have had breast cancer, men and women, could care less about the ta-tas, it's truly all about saving lives. What are your thoughts on Pinktober and informed giving? Join the conversation below. In love and good health,

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