By Max Maddison
January 27, 2024 — 5.00am
A charitable foundation that claims “100% of all donations” go towards supporting children with cancer and their families passed on just 23 per cent of the $56 million in contributions over the past nine years, with financial records stating just 9 per cent was disbursed in 2021.
An investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald reveals the Kids with Cancer Foundation (KwCF) has directly paid families and hospitals $12.8 million of the $55.8 million it has collected in donations since 2015.
Analysis of the Castle Hill-based foundation’s financial documents show the charity spent less than 10 per cent of donations directly on families and hospitals in 2021, 14 per cent in 2017 and 16 per cent in 2020.
More than $10.9 million has been spent on a commercial telemarketer, while $8.6 million has been spent on employee wages. Another $8.6 million has been spent on other and administrative expenses over this period.
With 10 staff – five full-time and five part-time, information disclosed with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission shows – the average full-time employee wage is about $120,000 per year, a slight fall on the $134,000 recorded in 2021, the Herald’s analysis reveals.
Kids with Cancer Foundation’s impact statement CREDIT:KIDS WITH CANCER FOUNDATION
Since 2015, $4.3 million has been paid to families, and $8.5 million to hospitals.
The American-based Charity Watch uses a standard of 75-plus cents in the dollar going to programs and not holding “excessive assets in reserve” as measures of excellence. World Vision, for example, spends 80 per cent of its donations on field programs and advocacy work, with 9.3 per cent spent on “admin and accountability”, its website says.
Queensland University of Technology associate professor Dr Craig Furneaux, a member of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, says an “excellent” charity would spend about 10 to 15 per cent on administration.
The Kids with Cancer Foundation was established in 1998 by founder, chairman and executive director Peter Bodman. Its website says it has helped more than 2750 families and provided hospitals with $27 million, funding 186 clinical positions.
But this figure is not even half of the $55.8 million the foundation has made through various charitable revenue streams in the last nine years.
While it may be expected that a portion of donations will go towards operational costs, this figure falls short of expectations set by the foundation’s claim on its website that all donations go towards “supporting children with cancer and their families”.
“100% of all donations go towards supporting children with cancer and their families,” the KwCF impact statement says.
Only 23 per cent of the foundation’s income from donations since 2015 has been directed towards payments to families or payments to hospitals. In 2021, the charity’s financial report stated donations to hospitals and direct assistance to children and their families represented only 9 per cent of the foundation’s outlays.
Kids with Cancer Foundation 2021 expenses as stated in the charity’s financial report. CREDIT:KIDS WITH CANCER FOUNDATION
But analysis undertaken by this masthead reveals the figure was even less: only 5.8 per cent of revenue from donations was spent on the foundation’s charitable mission in 2021. It was the worst year on record, less than half the 13.9 per cent recorded in 2017.
The foundation’s chief executive Todd Prees said all funds went towards the charitable purpose of the foundation, and said low direct payments to families and hospitals in particular years were not in context and “don’t reflect our program and service delivery impact”.
“How such funds are spent or disbursed in any particular year varies depending on the strategic and operational needs of the Foundation and those that it supports,” he said.
“We have maintained our promise for 26 years that all direct donations, fundraising, and bequests are used for our charitable purpose. Our charity operating costs are funded via our lottery program which has strict profitability and oversight conditions based on state lottery laws.”
However, Prees said the foundation had adopted a “conservative stance” during COVID due to the high uncertainty and the “inability to deliver some our programs and services”.
Kids with Cancer Foundation founder Peter Bodman (centre) and representatives of the hospital.
Prees did not respond to questions asking how the figures had been taken out of context.
The organisation’s 2023 annual report also details how Key Management Personnel – the senior decision makers in the charity – were paid $731,292 over the preceding two years. It is more than the $665,036 in direct payments to support families during the same period.
Bodman’s wife, Vittoria, sits on the board of directors. The foundation’s website says she was employed as the office manager for 22 years, as well as serving as secretary to the board.
Prees declined to disclose how much Peter Bodman had been paid throughout his tenure as chairman, his own yearly salary, or the aggregate executives had been paid since 2015. Board members were not remunerated for their service, he said.
The pledge to pass on 100% of donations on the foundation’s homepage was removed during the week.
On Monday, the foundation announced Peter Bodman would retire as executive director after 26 years. Prees said Bodman had officially ceased his employment in December last year, but would continue to serve as chair and director in a voluntary capacity.
Bodman was contacted for comment.
The charity’s latest financial report, released on January 16, shows payments to families and hospitals were almost double the preceding year, reaching $2.7 million, or 38 per cent of donation income.
The charity holds $10.9 million in current assets: $5 million in cash and cash equivalent; and $5.3 million in term deposits.
The 2023 financial statement which showed a near doubling in direct payments to hospitals and families came three months after this masthead revealed the Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA), a not-for-profit charitable organisation supposed to support the state’s volunteer firefighters, spent $12 million of $69 million raised directly on RFS members.
More than half of the RFSA’s gross revenue was spent on commercial telemarketer 4Mile.
KwCF’s charitable revenue comes from various sources: $27.6 million from art union sales (agents who sell raffle tickets as a means of collecting donations); $6.8 million from donations; $7.3 million from raffles; and about $7.2 million from other fundraising, events and bequests.
KwCF says it is not “associated with third-party donor collection organisations such as ‘Appco’” – the marketing firm that was exposed in 2017 for forcing staff to engage in disturbing hazing rituals if they missed their sales targets.
However, the charity uses commercial telemarketer 4Mile as a means of soliciting donations. As previously revealed by this masthead, 4Mile – which takes about 60 per cent of money raised through its call centres – has faced allegations from staff it “encouraged” staff to exploit customers, particularly the elderly.
A host of reviews left by former staff on Google and Glassdoor, a website where employees can review their employer, accuse 4Mile of engaging in unethical sales tactics. One former sales representative said: “Legitimately, the worst place I’ve worked. Exploiting the elderly for $20 is not charity work and for a good cause. I lasted a week and said never again. Just cowboys.”
In October, 4Mile chief executive Peter Thomson denied the allegations that the company engaged in predatory sales practices.
Prees said the claim that the charity didn’t use third-party donor collection organisations on the website had remained “in error” and would be corrected. The “adverse news in relation to 4Mile” had been noted, and the foundation continued to “exercise due diligence” over the commercial telemarketer, he said.
The Kids with Cancer Foundation was established by Bodman after he began work at an art union kiosk in the Oasis Shopping Centre in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, according to a profile of the KwCF on the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation (SCHF) website.
Bodman was “broke and unemployed” when he migrated north, but his move into charitable sales proved a boon and he found a talent for art union sales.
“I may have started out life as a shy redhead, but I reinvented myself and found I had a gift for the gab,” he told the SCHF in 2022.
After losing his parents and sister to cancer, Bodman started the KwCF, temporarily living out of a caravan in Rouse Hill as he waited for a fundraising permit and an art union permit.
Applying the sales strategies he learnt – “success was swift in those early times” the profile recounted – he provided three hospitals with a $150,000 donation each within 12 months of the foundation’s establishment.