Infographic Compares Donations to Disease and Finds Big Disparities

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August 25, 2014;Vox and The Mendoza Line

Are you ready for another article about the ice bucket challenge? Almost everyone in the nonprofit world and beyond is aware of the phenomenon. It has been analyzed from many angles: why it works, when it works, what nonprofits can learn, etc. Now, it appears the world of health and science is analyzing its other angles—as are statisticians.

Using statistics from the Center for Disease Control, Julia Belluz’s article in Vox features an infographic comparing “Where we Donate vs. Diseases that Kill Us.” The very colorful bubble chart shows that the diseases that impact the most people and those that net the most money and attention are not the same. For example, heart disease kills far more people than does breast cancer or prostate cancer, yet the Jump Rope for Heart receives far less than the Komen Race for the Cure or Movember do.

The article proposes, as summarized by self-described “data journalist” David Mendoza, that “people inefficiently donate money to charity. Rather than directing donations towards fighting the diseases that ravage the most people, we give money for less pragmatic reasons.”

In his blog post, Mendoza, more concerned with the accuracy of how data is displayed, argues that a scatter diagram is a better way to depict the data than the above-cited bubble chart. His diagram compares money raised with total deaths for several illnesses.


Donate vs. Disease


The science blogs, the health blogs, the data visualization blogs, and the philanthropy blogs are all talking about the same topic. It’s been quite interesting reading all the analysis of this viral fundraiser.—Jeanne Allen


  • Patrick Taylor

    I think this chart is a little misleading. For one thing, it doesn’t compare total money spent on research for these diseases – I suspect that much more money is spent on heart disease than on some of the other “lesser” diseases, for example. Also, the top three killers are also heavily dependent on lifestyles. Not that money shouldn’t be spent on those, but diseases like breast cancer which seem much harder to predict and prevent might logically receive more donations than heart disease and diabetes, which have clearer paths of both prevention and treatment. The flip side of this is that there are value judgements and class issues. Diabetes effects more poor people and is seen as connected to lifestyle choices, and thus gets less funding, vs. HIV, prostate cancer, or breast cancer, which impact a wealthier demographic.

  • Simone Joyaux


    Quit criticizing donors for giving to their own interests. Neuroscience proves that all human decisions, including giving, are triggered by emotions. That’s okay. That’s fine. That’s good. That’s life.

    My father died of cancer. I don’t give to cancer organizations. I don’t want anyone to die of cancer. I’m sorry my dad died of cancer (at the age I am right now). But diseases are not my interest. I am pleased others give there. But I don’t. My interest is mostly social justice. And I wish more money was given to social justice. But I respect the donor’s right to choose.

    I am appalled at the writing and talking about how donors need to give more effectively. That donors need to research and decide where money is most needed. That is insulting and absurd. Giving is a personal decision. People give through organizations to fulfill their own personal aspirations.

    How dare anyone tell anyone else how to give. This disrespect for donors and their interests is appalling. Eric Friedman’s book REINVENTING PHILANTHROPY and this article talking about “ineffective giving” and everyone else who is criticizing donors….. APPALLING!

    Insulting donors for their choices… Criticizing donors for where they give and don’t give… How dare we?

  • Laura S

    This is not a complete picture of fundraising by limiting to one event per disease. American Heart Association raises a lot of money in traditional direct mail fundraising and has good corporate sponsors. The Jump Rope for Heart is one fundraising strategy geared towards school age children. You’d have to compare it to St. Jude’s trike a thon or math a thon and even then how many resources/staff are put to each event?

    Also, what was the death rate for breast cancer 15 years ago? Are you looking at cumulative giving to Komen race? From my understanding the research dollars have made huge strides in current treatments so it is not the killer that it once was. This chart makes it look like all those fundraising dollars are a bad thing, but they actually may be part of the cause on why breast cancer deaths are lower.