Fundraising for a Loved One With Breast Cancer

Tips for raising immediate and ongoing financial support

Beyond moral support and hands-on assistance, the one thing that people with breast cancer often need is help with the cost of breast cancer treatment. Even if a loved one is well-insured, the out-of-pocket expenses after deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance can quickly amount to thousands of dollars. For those without insurance, covering the costs can be next to impossible without help from others. Charitable fundraising is one such way to help.

According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, 25% of people undergoing breast cancer treatment had out-of-pocket expenses exceeding $8,000, while 10% paid in excess of $18,000, and for 5% of the study population, costs were upwards of $30,000. This doesn't take into account things like lost income, child care, travel, and other expenses commonly incurred during breast cancer treatment. Nor does it reflect the cost of ongoing care or the expense of treating advanced metastatic breast cancer.

If you decide to step forward to help by fundraising for a loved one's cancer treatment, there are a number of short- and long-term solutions that can raise money effectively and legally.

A Note About Privacy

While your heart is certainly in the right place if you want to help someone with breast cancer, raising funds on their behalf almost always involves making details of their diagnosis public. While they may appreciate the financial assistance, they may value their privacy more. Before you proceed, talk to your loved one about their comfort level with your plans.

Seek Financial Assistance

If your friend needs immediate help, start by learning which financial assistance programs are available to meet their needs.

While you may assume that assistance programs are only for underprivileged individuals, most are based on income thresholds accessible to many middle-income earners. Some programs limit eligibility to individuals or families who earn 200% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL). Others may set the threshold as high as 500% or more. Others still may have no income restrictions at all.

By way of example, the 2020 FPL set by the federal government was $12,760 for individuals, $17,240 for a couple, $21,720 for a family of three, and so on. What this means is that a family of three with an income of $100,000 can still qualify for many assistance programs.

Equipped with this information, you can begin searching local, state, and national assistance programs to assess the rules of eligibility. Many oncology practices and cancer treatment centers have navigators trained to assist with this. Even online searches can turn up programs that others may not know about.

Among some of the resources to consider:

  • State departments of social services offer a wide range of housing, family, dental, food, and counseling services.
  • Patient assistance programs (PAPs) offered by drug manufacturers can cover some or all of the costs of certain medications.
  • Breast cancer charities can offer direct and indirect assistance, including referrals and help with co-pays, transportation, home care, child care, and temporary housing when treatment is out of state.
  • Cash and counseling programs, available in some states through Medicaid or social services, provide cash stipends to family caregivers.
  • Workplace financial assistance is offered by some larger corporations.
  • Churches or civic organizations can often assist with transportation, home care, child care, shopping, and short-term mortgage or rent assistance.
  • National Patient Travel Center (NPTC) is a charitable initiative that coordinates free or discounted air travel when cancer treatment is delivered far from home.
  • Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC) is an online clearinghouse that connects people with the cancer assistance programs they need.

Organize a Fundraiser

In addition to seeking out assistance programs, you can defray out-of-pocket expenses by holding fundraisers, both online and off. You will want to do this ethically to ensure that no one questions where the money is going. You will also need to inform donors that you are doing this on your own and not as part of a non-profit organization, so there can be no tax deduction for their contribution.

Among some of the fundraising ideas you may want to consider:

  • Hold a yard sale: One of the fastest ways to raise funds is to have a yard sale of donated goods from friends and family. You can advertise the event on social media and organize the yard sale in whomever's neighborhood is the busiest.
  • Raise money online: Crowdsourcing is an excellent way to raise funds if you have a limited events budget. You can use GoFundMe or other crowdsourcing portals to get your message out to your community.
  • Work with event organizers: Some businesses have built-in community initiatives that actively seek charities to support. These include movie theaters, dance clubs, music venues, and other businesses that either split the door fee or share in the sales of goods.
  • Organize an auction: One way to limit event costs is to organize an auction of donated goods. Many companies will happily donate their products or services if they feel the fundraiser is worthy. These include restaurants, theaters, retailers, tour companies, hair salons, and artisans. Ask a local bar or lounge for use of their venue free of charge during quieter hours. They profit from bar sales; you profit from trimming costs.
  • Organize a sports challenge: A day-long golf tournament, a bowling competition, or a 5K fun run are all great ways to raise funds by tapping into a group of avid enthusiasts. Check to see what permits are needed if public facilities are used. Note, however, public permits are often only given to registered 501(c)(3) charities.
  • Start a virtual team challenge: Using a fundraising platform like MightyCause allows you to organize virtual challenges, like treadmill walking or bowling, without having to secure venues or coordinate larger groups of participants.
  • Start a matching fund campaign: If your loved one works with a medium- to large-size company, ask the company if they would provide matching funds to a certain dollar amount if you are able to raise the rest yourself. Doing so provides individual donors added incentive to chip in.

If you've never raised funds before, don't be overly ambitious. A mistake many people make is investing in a grand fundraiser with the aim of donating the profits to charity. If you don't make a profit, you will have wasted a whole lot of time and goodwill.

Women happily signing up at breast cancer awareness event
SDI Productions / Getty Images

Start a Nonprofit

If your fundraising goals are more ambitious, you may be well advised to start a non-profit charity. It not only provides you with a stamp of legitimacy, but it also shields you from personal liability while allowing you to reach larger donors who welcome the tax benefit.

It is unlikely you would want to start a non-profit to raise money for an individual given the time and expense required, but you may want to consider it if your aim is to help under-supported services or initiatives you truly believe in.

Establishing a nonprofit may seem like a complicated solution, but with a little effort, the return-on-investment can be remarkable. To begin a nonprofit group, the Washington, DC-based National Council of Nonprofits recommends the following steps:

  1. Choose a name and a group of people you trust to serve as a board of directors.
  2. File articles of incorporation with your state. (Contact your local Department of Labor for information about applications and fees.)
  3. Obtain an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS using Form SS-4.
  4. Apply for nonprofit status by following IRS Publication 557 and completing Form 1023. This exempts your charity from federal income tax.
  5. Return to your Department of Labor office to officially register your 501(c)(3) charity.
  6. File for state tax exemption; contact your state's taxpayer service or comptroller's office for more information.
  7. Check if there are any permits or licenses needed to raise funds in your city or county (referred to as charity solicitation registration).
  8. Apply for a bulk permit from your post office to help with nonprofit mailing costs. The U.S. Postal Service also grants eligible applicants special nonprofit prices; apply by filling out a PS Form 3624.
  9. Hire an attorney to review your paperwork and provide legal advice.

As complex as this process sounds, much of it can be done online or through third-party providers specializing in incorporation.

From start to finish, you should expect to wait at least six months and upwards of a year before you can engage in charitable fundraising.

Once you have obtained your 501(c)(3) status and registered your charity, you are free to hold events and fundraisers. But, you will also need to keep a strict accounting of expenses and contributions and to file an IRS Form 990 annually to avoid penalties and the loss of your tax-exempt status.

Market Your Event

Not even the most flawlessly executed event will succeed unless people know about it. Beyond flyers and word of mouth, there are ways to build buzz around an event, be it a neighborhood gathering or a major gala. Here are some tips to help guide you:

  • Build a website: Numerous online resources can help you build and name your website within hours. Include photos and a personal bio of your loved one (with their permission), your fundraising goals, and details of the event. Add a PayPal "Donate" button for people who are unable to attend the event but would still like to contribute. If you're setting up a website, ask local production companies to donate their services to create a more polished presentation, providing them a visible credit in exchange.
  • Use social media effectively: Set up accounts for yourself on Twitter and Facebook, and post bulletins about your upcoming events. Ask your online friends to re-post the events so that the message spreads quickly. You can also maintain an active "needs" board on Pinterest. Use analytics services to help identify your target donor, allowing you to focus on the appropriate social media channels (including YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn), rather than investing in channels that may not be as effective.
  • Contact local media: You can prepare a news release about your event, including the event details and a background story about your loved one. If you know of a reporter or columnist who specializes in human interest stories, reach out and explain what you have planned. A well-timed news story may be all the publicity you need.
  • Sell tickets online: Rather than selling tickets at the door, plug into an aggregated event website like Eventbrite. This allows you to sell tickets online while promoting the listing on Facebook to boost presales.
  • Search for ringers: Securing the participation of a local group or personality provides you the means to plug into followers, quickly building buzz around your event. Find prominent groups or individuals who have a personal stake in breast cancer. However, if they agree to support your event, do not advertise or promote their participation, or use their likeness, without their consent.
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Greenup RA, Rushing C, Fish L, et al. The costs of breast cancer care: Patient-reported experiences and preferences for transparencyJ of Clin Oncology. 2018;36(30_suppl):207-207. doi:10.1200/jco.2018.36.30_suppl.207

  2. Federal Povery Level (FPL).

  3. National Council of Nonprofits. How to start a nonprofit.

By Lia Tremblay
Lisa Tremblay is an award-winning writer and editor, writing for magazines, websites, brochures, annual reports, and more for over 15 years.