Hey Jude: You made it bad

                                                        A revered nonprofit is an insatiable corporation in disguise

Marlo Thomas and some of St. Jude's young cancer patients.
        (Jan. 1, 2014) Maybe you've noticed the recent flood of heart-tugging (and very costly) national TV ads seeking your "desperately needed" funds for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. These slick appeals have buttressed  the "nonprofit's" constant campaign to enrich its nearly $3 billion nest egg.
    I always liked the late Danny Thomas, who undoubtedly founded this organization with the purest of intents. His daughter, Marlo, has fought aggressively to "keep the dream" (and her dad's memory) alive.  
     But donors who have done their homework about how this "charity" raises money, and how it spends those hard-earned dollars of yours, are scathing in their assessment of St. Jude's priorities and integrity.
"It's our modest but deeply felt effort to ease the suffering of children."
        The charity-rating sites are filled with disgusted and dismayed comments from donors, many of whom have been sending $20 a month to St. Jude for decades, and finally decided to do some due diligence. They rage on about the palatial St. Jude "campus," the exorbitant salaries of high- and mid-level staff, the dramatic decline in quality research, the abysmal treatment of front-line medical staffers, and the unconscionable amount of money that is spent to raise even more money.
    These generous donors -- who thought their funds were being used to help children -- are furious to learn that the CEO of the hospital, William Evans, is paid almost a million dollars a year, and has a benefits package that is akin to those on Wall Street.
How can anyone divert funds from her life-and-death battle?
    Richard Shadyak, CEO of ALSAC, Inc. (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities), which was founded in 1957 and "exists for the sole purpose of raising funds to support the operating and maintenance of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital," takes $650,000 a year for himself. (It is not clear what byzantine financial machinations went into St. Jude's decision to incorporate a separate fund-raising apparatus, unlike other "nonprofit" hospitals.)
    A few other examples of compensation at this "children's charity" provide a sense of how the funds are spent. Every dollar that is paid out to some fat-cat is implicitly taken away from research and patient care:


EVP James Downing  $800,000
EVP Joseph Laver $668,000
Larry Run, faculty $700,000
Thomas Merchant, faculty $700,000
They are hauled out to serve as fund-raising bait. It's disgraceful.

     The data I have provided on executive compensation were not available on the Charity Navigator site. In fact, the sections on the "compensation of officers, directors, key employees (and) highest paid employees"  WERE LEFT BLANK on St. Jude's (ALSAC) IRS filings for 2011. The 2011 return does acknowledge paying about $8 million to its top five external contractors for call-service and media consulting, which a responsibly run charity would find flatly unacceptable, but there is no information on ALSAC or St. Jude salaries. The entire section is, as I said -- and I know it's hard to believe -- BLANK.
    Although there is a link to what purports to be the 2012 IRS filing on Charity Navigator's site, it actually links to the 2011 return. Sorry to be so confusing, but it is confusing. It's almost impossible to get a clear picture of what goes on at St. Jude, but the numbers that have been made public by the IRS tell the story well enough that the "plot" is quite clear.
    I had to do a Google search to locate the real 2012 IRS form 990 tax filing, and that is how I was able to discover the list of salaries I enumerated above that has disillusioned those few people who have taken the initiative to find it. 
    Charity Navigator apparently sought out the 2012 filing as well, because it accurately lists two salaries from that document, but the returns to which it provides links on its site are incorrectly labeled. 

.......and making quite a few people rich in the process. That's called symbiosis!

     St. Jude spent $182 million on fundraising in 2012 -- which was 20 percent of the budget -- and paid over $4.5 million for "professional" fundraising fees on top of that. This is quadruple or quintuple what many successful nonprofits spend to garner the support they need -- and they don't have the advantage of being able to drag out poignantly brave, hopeful, emaciated children as props in their ad campaigns.
    Among the tax returns, there is a clear pattern of extravagant spending internally on functions that are also "outsourced" for huge amounts of money, creating either massive redundancy or keeping alive a very amiable buddy system.

    To those who wonder why I am not raving about all the wonderful work that St. Jude does to help suffering children, my response is this: That story is being told, ad nauseam, by St. Jude's own mammoth, well-oiled public-relations machine, with its expertly calibrated emotional appeals for your donation. The hospital, and all its ancillary enterprises, are very good at tooting their own horn. They have virtually nominated themselves for sainthood. I am providing the other side of the story.

    Here is a small sampling of comments that have been left on charity-rating sites about St. Jude. My estimate is that 90 percent of the commenters are express either anger or a sense of betrayal. (The others are people who have had a loved one treated with compassion and affection at the hospital.):

    "I worked at St. Jude on staff for 17 yr. I saw it change from an institution focused on the children to an institution that derided its clinical staff and placed its priorities elsewhere though they still used the children as the means to raise money. Professionally, St. Jude has not made a major contribution to the outcome of children with cancer in over 20 yr - others have done that including the key areas of leukemia, brain tumors and non-Hodgkin lymphoma despite their claims on TV and elsewhere. Danny Thomas was great - and truly loved the children and supported staff. When he died - that died. When Don Pinkel (first medical director) left , the achievements in cancer therapy left. Give to your local cancer hospital - they give the same or better care. St. Jude is bloated with money."

"I saw a commercial about St. Jude that really touched my heart about 4 years ago and called their number to donate $20 for their research. Since then, they've probably spent over $20 in all the letters asking for more donations, address stickers, and notebooks they've sent to me since then. I've also moved three times since then and gotten married/changed my last name and they've somehow always stayed up to date with my current address and last name which must cost more money. I mean this sounds like a great organization but why would I spend money on them unless I know that they'll deal with my donation wisely? They should spend more money on the kids directly and less on measly gifts to donors that they didn't ask for. And--not to sound bitter--but I called them this morning to ask them about where the money goes. I talked to several people and they were all extremely snotty to me in tone and word and none cared to hear my genuine concern. I think that there a lot more charitable organizations out there more worthy of your support."


"I am disgusted by the size of the executive salaries. I urge the board of this otherwise worthy charity to trim the bloated executive salaries back to the five-figure range, which is an amount that is more in line with the philosophy of a charitable organization. The word is GIVING, not GREED..." 
"As an ex staff member (16 yr), I feel compelled to make a comment. St. Jude has not been in a leadership position (for decades). In the 60's, 70's and early 80's, internationally acknowledged clinicians were numerous on staff; today, very few on staff have significant stature in the world of oncology. Others in the field have made the contributions that have led to better survival.The clinical care and those who actually give patient care has been increasingly looked down upon by those in the laboratory (despite any substantive contribution to outcomes on their part)." 

"Check out the charity that you are donating to. Find out how your donations are being spent. I used to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Not any more! The top 2 people in this charity earn almost 1.6 million in salaries!! They spend over 20% of donations on fundraising!! Check out your favorite charity at charitynavigator.org. I'll be looking for new charities to donate to this Christmas and throughout the year." 


"You definitely need to reduce your expenses for upper salaries and fundraising. We give our hard earned money in hopes of helping sick children and you squander 30% of it. Shame on you."




    Of course, St. Jude uses celebrities, as most major charities do, to attract attention and bestow an aura of big-time credibility upon its "cause."


Glamorous stars help -- and are helped by -- their advocacy.

      Mariah Carey is attempting to help raise $250,000 for St. Jude via crowd-funding site Prizeo this holiday season. One donor will receive a private concert at her home in New York City on Valentine’s Day. For $5,000, Mariah will telephone you on Valentine's and sing your favorite song. (Mine would be "Bye Bye," dedicated to you-know-who.)
    Isn't this all terribly sweet? And when you combine Mariah's  gleaming, leonine tresses and ample bosom with the sweetness and innocence and stark baldness of the tiny patients featured in St. Jude's ads, you've got quite a recipe for marketing success -- one that would appeal to pretty much any demographic.


Ellen deGeneres, Betty White, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Aniston have also been enlisted to attract funding.

    "Because of supporters like you and Jennifer Aniston, our families can focus on what matters most," St. Jude's promotional literature declares. (You AND Jennifer Aniston. That's exciting!)

     "Jen is joined by Jon Hamm, Robin Williams, Michael Jordan, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, and Michael Strahan...to name a few."
     It seems fitting to conclude with a little bit of the Beatles' "Hey Jude":
 For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah
Hey Jude, don't let me down

    But, as the spunky, sassy country star Tanya Tucker once put it, "It's a Little Too Late to Do the Right Thing Now."
    (Maybe if Marlo would step into some trousers and kick some ass, it wouldn't be too late after all. I think she is letting down her public, and exploiting the good will that so many of us have felt for her and her father over the years.)
    (Or maybe Marlo is too "nice" to do the job. I wish her husband, legendary talk-show host Phil Donahue, would step in. Over the years, he proved himself to be brilliant, complex, versatile, humane, collaborative, and aggressively dedicated to truth and fairness. I loved him. He was the smartest person, by far, whom I'd ever seen on television. I bet he'd run the hospital for one dollar a year, and run it better than it's ever been run before. Go for it, Phil!)

Saddle up your white horse, and save the day, Mr. Donahue!
THE MAYO CLINIC is also eating up billions in "nonprofit" funds. Mayo CEO and president John Noseworthy was paid more than $1.7 million in salary and other compensation. Treasurer Harry Hoffman received over a million dollars, and six assistant treasurers received between a quarter million and six hundred thousand dollars. The Form 990 IRS filing lists 63 of the highest-paid trustees, officers and key employees, most of whom hauled in between a half-million and a million dollars. Isn't that special? Meanwhile, patient care and research are suffering. Here's the proof: http://kronstantinople.blogspot.com/2014/06/mayo-isnt-just-for-eating-its-also-for.html