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Is Milwaukie charity really the worst?

Breast cancer nonprofit questions its place on attorney general's annual list

Milwaukie's Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation was the only Oregon charity included last week on the state attorney general's annual '20 Worst Charities' list, something that did not sit well with the charity's leaders.

Making Memories, with offices on International Way, devoted to charitable program activities only 11.8 percent of its average annual $1,159,654 in expenditures during the past three years, according to the attorney general's office. Guidelines issued by the Better Business Bureau suggest that charitable organizations should spend at least 65 percent of their funds on charitable programs.

'Most charities in Oregon do important work, helping the needy and supporting worthy causes,' said Attorney General John Kroger. 'But generous Oregon donors should be aware that some nonprofits are little more than scams that provide little if any help to the causes they claim to support.'

Karlene McCabe, interim executive director of Making Memories, said the reason the group spends so much on staff and administrative costs is its effort to provide clean wedding gowns for brides. The group has to clean and inventory used wedding gowns for resale. Former brides, dressmakers and retail stores donate the dresses that Making Memories sells across the country, with proceeds used to grant wishes of women with advanced cases of breast cancer.

'We maintain a warehouse, and we have to send staff out to the shows so that we have someone who's handling the money,' McCabe said. 'One of the things that the board is looking at when they hired me 15 months ago was making the traveling shows more efficient.'

The 13-year-old organization is also considering folding itself into another nonprofit that already has infrastructure set up to handle such sales.

According to federal tax records, in 2008, the charity spent $71,388 to grant the wishes of 44 people. In 2009, the charity spent $69,412 granting wishes for 49 people. That same year, it paid an outside contractor $108,722 to operate the charity. None of the other board members or staff took a salary that year.

Topping the list

Kroger recommends that, in order to avoid being duped by unscrupulous nonprofits, potential donors should review the Department of Justice Tips for Charitable Giving, making sure the organization is registered by calling the attorney general's office, 971-673-1880, or by visiting guidestar.org, a national clearinghouse of information on charities and their performance.

State law requires charities to file periodic financial reports with the Oregon Department of Justice disclosing how much money the organization raised and how the funds were spent. The Department's Charitable Activities Section has identified 20 organizations that spent more than 70 percent of the donations they collected on administrative costs and professional fundraising.

For the second year in a row, topping the list was Shiloh International Ministries, which claims to solicit money to provide medical necessities and moral support for needy children and to provide assistance to the homeless. According to its most recent financial filings in Oregon, the California-based nonprofit spent an average of $846,340 per year, 96.8 percent of which went toward management and fundraising.