April 15 is an important date on the calendar. In the United States, it’s the deadline for people to file their federal tax return. It’s also when one charity will hold its eighth annual “Let Them Eat Cake” fundraising event.
The charity promotes the event as “Philadelphia’s Wedding Cake Design competition for professionals, students and those who love to bake to create.” Originally conceived by the charity to attract brides-to-be, the occasion now attracts over 1,000 foodies who pay a minimum of $40 each to taste the creations.
This sounds like a great idea for a fundraising event, right?
The event benefits City of Hope, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center that conducts independent biomedical research, treatment and education in the fight to conquer cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases.
As is well-known, consuming sugar can be a life-threatening issue for those suffering from diabetes. Over consumption of sugar can help lead to Type II-Diabetes. Compelling research demonstrates that over consumption of sugar contributes to the growth of cancer. This is why organizations like the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education advocate a low-sugar, low-fat diet.
My wife is an Ovarian Cancer survivor. So, it stunned me when I saw an anti-cancer charity promoting the eating of processed sugar and fat. Indeed, City of Hope has placed the consumption of fat and sugar at the very heart of its upcoming fundraising event without any disclaimers or caveats.
I had to understand the thought process behind the event. I had to know if I was missing something. Therefore, I called and spoke with Christopher Fanelli, Event Coordinator at the Philadelphia Development Office of City of Hope and the event’s organizer.
I asked Fanelli to explain how his anti-cancer, anti-diabetes charity reconciled its event theme with its organizational mission. He indicated that there was no issue to reconcile. He stated, “Everything in moderation.” He said that the event successfully raises money and builds awareness for City of Hope “in a fun way.”
When pressed on the idea that the event stands in opposition to the organization’s mission, Fanelli said, “I don’t believe it does it at all. It points people to what our mission is.”
Ok, the event “points people” to the organization’s mission. I probed that point.
“Will the event feature any healthier dessert choices?,” I asked.
“No,” responded Fanelli.
“Will any healthy-eating leaflets or information be available at the event?”
“Will any information be available at the event that explains the dangers associated with eating too much sugar or fat?”
Fanelli then went on to explain once again how this fun event raises money and awareness for City of Hope.
I then asked, “So, are you really suggesting that the ends justify the means?”
“Yes, you can say that,” he replied confidently.
In other words, all City of Hope cares about is itself. It wants our money. It wants us to be aware of the organization so we’ll give it our money. It wants to stage a fun event to get our money. Unlike the organization’s medical and research staff, the public’s health is of no concern to the development professionals. As Fanelli agreed, “The ends justify the means.”
I’ll freely admit that I enjoy a nice slice of cake from time-to-time. I even like the “Let Them Eat Cake” fundraising event concept. I just object to the event being hosted by a charity that supposedly exists to fight cancer and diabetes. If the local animal shelter hosted the event, I’d have no problem with it. My problem here is that the event runs counter to at least a significant portion of the mission of the organization.
The event is so at odds with the City of Hope mission that I wonder if it rises to the level of being unethical. What do you think? Please take moment to respond to the poll at the end of this post. I invite you to also leave a comment below.
Nonprofit organizations must carefully craft their brand identities. Then, they need to protect those brands. Charities need to live their missions. They must fulfill their missions in all, not just some, of their actions. They also need to be donor centered, showing sincere concern for the well-being of donors.
Above all, when it comes to ethics, we need to remember that history teaches us that the ends seldom justify the means. It’s often just a line that people use to cover-up their mistakes, laziness, lack of creativity, etc.
In the case of City of Hope, it’s time for the organization to bring its events into alignment with the organization’s mission. Maybe then, my wife and I will attend.
Meantime, City of Hope can mitigate the damage of the “Let Them Eat Cake” event by distributing to all attendees a healthy-eating leaflet and information about the dangers of excess sugar and fat consumption.
If City of Hope better educates its event attendees, those individuals will be more likely to make a donation beyond the event, will be better positioned to serve as advocates for the organization, and will be better able to live a healthier lifestyle.
City of Hope is certainly not alone when it comes to acting counter to its mission. Other charities make the same mistake. For example, Susan G. Komen For the Cure has had a partnership with cookie and cake maker Pepperidge Farm and fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. But, as a leader in the fight against cancer and diabetes, City of Hope should lead by example.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?
[Publisher’s Note: The legendary quote, often attributed to Marie Antoinette, has been translated as: “Let them eat cake.” However, a more accurate translation would be: “Let them eat brioche.” In any case, the wife of King Louis XVI never uttered the line. Historians attribute the quote to Marie-Therese, the wife of King Louis XIV, a hundred years earlier. I just thought you should know.]