American Cancer Society ‘Thwarted’ Atheists’ Fundraising Attempt, Says Religion News Service

The first mainstream media article is now up regarding how the American Cancer Society rejected a potential $500,000 from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation because it would have involved atheists doing the fundraising. You can read background on the story here, here, and here.

The American Cancer Society has rejected an atheist group’s bid to field a national team to raise money for cancer research, and organizers suspect it’s because of the volunteers’ godless beliefs.

The American Cancer Society said a relay team sponsored by the Foundation Beyond Belief didn’t fit its new policy that organizes national teams only from corporations, not nonprofit groups.

Devoting staff to a noncorporate national team program was “sapping some energy and time” and not delivering the desired revenue to justify the support, said Reuel Johnson, national vice president for the ACS’ Relay for Life.

Stiefel appealed the rejection, arguing that the foundation is a corporation, but was denied. An idea to start a youth affiliate program was also rejected, he said.

“I know we’re being treated differently than other nonprofits, but I don’t know why,” Stiefel said. “My beef is if they eliminated the noncorporate program, why would they not find any alternative way to establish a national team or something that was equivalent, considering the huge matching challenge?”

Yeah… why bother putting in a little bit of effort on your end when it would *only* raise half a million dollars?

It doesn’t sound like the ACS staff knows what’s going on either:

Greg Donaldson, national vice president of communications for the ACS, said it is simply “not true” that the ACS would not help calculate the fundraising tallies for the local teams, and said he’s unsure what the “real agenda is here.”

“We’re anxious and excited and willing to work with Mr. Stiefel and any organization. … Every conceivable organization type has worked with us on Relay. That’s why it’s been so successful. It would be suicide to conduct differentiated treatment with any organization.”

If that’s the case, go right ahead and fix the situation now. I can’t wait to see Mr. Johnson’s apology.

Hopefully, other media sources will pick up on this story from the Religion News Service. It has the potential to be a big issue, but only if other journalists care to look deeper into it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • b00ger

    I’m guess what you’ll get is called a “not-pology.”

    Based on all the data I’ve seen posted here about how inefficient the ACS is, I think you guys should just find another organization to donate the time and money to.

  • Anonymous

    Look, screw-em.

    Whether or not this is a case of discrimination, there is more than enough evidence to show that the ACS is clearly not deserving of such generosity.

    The run-arounds, constant delays, changing of the story and general lack of a cooperative attitude when faced with a donor willing to shell out potentially half a million dollars is criminally negligent for a supposed charitable organization. They have shown that they lack the skill and agility required to properly handle their task, which supposedly is fighting cancer.

    There are other, smaller, organizations that would be more than thrilled to get that amount of money. Organizations fighting malaria, cholera, tuberculosis that can only dream of the power of the ACS and hopefully will be more receptive and competent.

    • http://twitter.com/aynsavoy Anne Sauer

      I agree that we shouldn’t be concerned anymore about getting ACS to accept the funds, but I think that any publicity this incident receives can only help: by demonstrating that atheists are compassionate and philanthropic and by revealing that ACS has priorities other than its stated mission.

    • http://fred5.myopenid.com/ fred5

      I agree with you except I would classify it as a failure of the board of director’s fiduciary responsibility to the charity. Especially since this shows that primary revenue growth has fallen into the negative region (-2.4%) even while program expenses have increased by 3.7%

  • Sulris Campbell

    the ACS has discriminated against athiests but we need to be careful how we handle it and make sure we have the correct reponse.   we dont want it to seem that the only reason we give or care is so we can be seen giving publicly and that we dont really care about charity.   i have heard people say that this situation is wrong becuase it robs us of our deserved exposure.  (and it does)  but that’s not why it is wrong, that is a byproduct of it being wrong.  the true wrong, the thing we should be focusing on, is the discrimination itself.

    we can’t focus on the fact that they wouldn’t give us national attention and how that hurts our cause to show people we arn’t monsters….  while true; argueing from that angle shows off an enlightened self interest but not a moral highground and hurts our image that we do good for the sake of doing good as athiests (remeber when people ask if churches would do good deeds if it wasnt for the advertisement value for their religion?  lets not invite that same criticism of athiesm by focusing on how it harms us instead lets focus on how ACS is harming society and cancer victims.)  who is the bigger victim?  athiests that couldnt give money they wanted to give to this particular charity and cry over some lost publicity?  or cancer patients that will die becuase ACS is 500k poorer due to their anti-athiest bigotry?

    now that we have put that into perspective we need to focus on how the ACS treated us differently from other organizations, that the only difference between us and those orginazations was our athiesm, and that this is unaccaptable behavior by anyone direceted toward any minority.   do not mention the recognition we feel we deserve, that is irrelevant and makes us look bad.  stick to the fact that ACS is a jerk and we are trying to help cancer patients.  the fact that ACS wont allow us to use their organization to get our athiest brand out there in a positive light is not the issue, it is a an unfortunate by-product of the real issue.  The more we focus on the non-issue the more it seems we dont care about the real issue.

    ACS would rather let people with cancer die than except money from an orginazation with non-mainstream religous beliefs.  lets make some noise.  lets get mad.  but lets not forget that while we are the victims of discrimination we are not the real victims of this tragedy.  lets focus on the ACS, on cancer patients, on discriminatory policies, and lets forget the potential advertisement that we lost.

    greg donaldson already got the ball rolling trying to accuse us of shamless self advertisement when he hinted that he didnt know what the “real agenda is here.” lets not give him a leg to stand on by making sure our response is well thought out and well delivered and sticks to the issues.

  • Annie

    All true… and now they are implying FBB and the Stiefel Foundation have an “agenda”?  There are so many places that need help, I hope FBB and the SF find one!

  • Annaigaw

    time to move on to better managed charities. It should be about the impact that donations can have toward people’s lives and well-being, not about our hurt feelings. Enough said, move on and do some good.

  • Lyra

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to keep talking about this. I think getting the ACS to think twice about discriminating against atheists is doing good.

  • FishyFred

    One of my friends who has organized for Relay at my alma mater AND was active in my campus atheist group responded to Hemant’s original post with this explanation:

    The national teams are ALL businesses and its an actual program, it’s not as simple as adding their name to the list. There is a small list of 52 corporate teams in the entire NATION that have raised $21 million collectively with more than 7,800 teams nationwide. It’s a partnership program — commitment to do a lot more than just raise money — you have to maintain regular communication with your ACS manager, have 50 teams in two or more states, and participate in a variety of other things (including reporting & tracking). It’s a program, not just as simple as adding them to the drop down. Also, as a side note, he has CLEARLY never used Convio’s teamraiser program (the technology platform behind Relay), or he’d know that even adding a name to the drop down isn’t simple because the program is incredibly frustrating.

    Not to say, of course, that ACS shouldn’t have explained/found/created another way that they could do what they were looking to do and encouraged their continued involvement. Or gotten back to them faster. $500,000 is still a lot of
    money. But that’s just a symptom of a problem nonprofits have in general, it has nothing to do with the group being a group of atheists.

    I’ve been following the posts on this issue and I’m not convinced that
    there’s discrimination going on here. I see a non-profit that has set an
    extremely high bar for a specific type of partnership and had a dust-up
    or a misunderstanding with Stiefel’s foundation. Their worst mistake
    here was falling behind the story.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IP7P63JG5F2GNK3QYWW74LSXLE Todd Stiefel

      For the record, their national partners are not all businesses.  That is false.  Here is a link to several non-profit groups that they have as youth national team partners.  Most are student groups, just like the 400 student groups in FBB’s alliance for this project, except we had more groups and a matching challenge to back us up:  http://relay.acsevents.org/site/PageNavigator/RFL_FY11_NationalYouth.html

    • TheBlackCat

      “There is a small list of 52 corporate teams in the entire NATION that have raised $21 million collectively”

      That is about $404,000 apiece, so less than the single offer from the FBB.  

      ” you have to maintain regular communication with your ACS manager”

      Kind of hard to do when he won’t return emails or phone calls.  

      “ave 50 teams in two or more states”

      What makes you think the FBB doesn’t have that?

      “and participate in a variety of other things (including reporting & tracking)”

      Uh, yeah, reporting and tracking was one of the big reasons they wanted the status in the first place.  What makes you think that they wouldn’t have met any of the criteria set?

      “Also, as a side note, he has CLEARLY never used Convio’s teamraiser program (the technology platform behind Relay), or he’d know that even adding a name to the drop down isn’t simple because the program is incredibly frustrating.”

      We are talking about a half a million dollars here!  If you the program is so frustrating you would rather spit at an offer of half a million dollars than add a team then you have a really, really serious problem.  Have them give me the $500,000 and I will write them a new program from scratch.  Did your friend seriously use frustrating software as an excuse to turn down $500,000?

      ” But that’s just a symptom of a problem nonprofits have in general, it has nothing to do with the group being a group of atheists”

      That would be more convincing if they didn’t accept other non-profit groups, but they do.

  • Jenea

    Let us assume for a moment that their lame excuses

  • Jenea

    Dammit, got posted before I was done writing. Apologies.

    Let us assume for a moment that their lame excuses are true, and there is some legitimate reason why they can’t allow FBB to be a national team. Why then have they never simply said, “this has nothing to do with FBB being an organization for non-believers.”

    The absence of a statement like that is telling.


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