Koster issues warning about breast cancer charity targeting Mo.

ST. LOUIS - People throughout St. Louis and Missouri are receiving pink letter inside a pink envelopes with a pink ribbon sticker, that urges people to fight breast cancer.

At first glance, you might think it's a solicitation for the Susan G. Komen organization, but it's actually from the National Breast Cancer Research Center.

Helen Chesnut is the executive director of the Komen St. Louis affiliate. She says her father received one of the solicitations and wanted to donate, but he called her first to check.

"He really did think it was legit. He loves his daughter. He's willing to give me his last dime if he thinks it will make me well. Which, I told you, I'm doing fine," said Chesnut.

Chesnut, a breast cancer survivor, said it's important to dig deeper before donating to any organization. It's not that this organization is a scam but we found dozens of reasons to raise a red flag.

The National Breast Cancer Research Center is a charity within a charity. It is part of the Walker Cancer Research Institute in Aberdeen Maryland. There is no phone number listed on the Walker website but using federal filings, we tracked down a number. When we called, we got a recorded message.

Next, we tracked down the address and phone number of the Walker Institute's president. Helen Walker also had an answering machine. We left a message inquiring about what type of cancer research they were doing. but we never heard back.

Charity Navigator, a charity ratings site, gives the Walker Cancer Research Institute zero out of four possible stars.

Perhaps a pie chart explains everything. In fiscal year 12/2011, 93 percent of the $11 million raised did not go to cancer research. It went right back in to fundraising. Only 2.6 percent reportedly went to research. Other expenses included salaries and other purchases.

According to its IRS 990, Helen Walker and her number two in charge each took in a six figure salary. The 990 also shows the organization spent nearly $25,000 on artwork.

So, if you do decide to give to this organization, know that a whopping $0.03 of your $1 will go toward cancer research. In comparison, Komen St. Louis donates $0.87 per $1 back to local research and programs.

Your charitable dollars are too precious to waste on organizations that do not spend your money wisely. Chesnut worries that with legitimate charities scrambling for donations, those trying to capitalize on the business of pink, will steer critical dollars away from those who actually fund research.

"We have loved ones affected by cancer and when something pink comes in the mail we think we want to give, we want to help, because I want to help save their lives," said Chesnut.

5 on your Side told Attorney General Chris Koster about the pink letters. He is issuing the following warning: "Consumers should be highly suspicious of any charity that uses only a small percentage of its collections for charitable purposes. Consumers should call our Consumer Hotline at 800-392-8222 to check a charity's record."

Other resources you can use to check out your favorite charity include



Charity Watch

, which does require a fee.


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