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Types of Health Charities

By Anne Sanders
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Health-related charities make up about 81,000 of the more than 1 million public charities, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. If you are interested in donating to a health-based charity, having such a dizzying selection can make it difficult to decide. From hospital foundations to international health and relief organizations, health charities do many different things -- advocacy, support of patients and families, outreach, patient care, research -- so how do you know where your money is going?

Each medical charity has an overriding mission that guides it. If that mission coincides with your desire to help, you have found the best charity for your donation.  To help you find the right type of charity for you, here are some of the different kinds of institutions to which you can make medical donations.

Hospital Charitable Foundations

Hospital charitable foundations sound like what they are -- not-for-profit fundraising institutions for hospitals. With today’s high cost of providing medical care, hospitals often do not have enough funds for services, programs, and equipment even after insurance and patient payments. The charitable foundations "are able to contribute to providing for care, equipment, and treatment that otherwise might not be at the same level or breadth of service if it weren’t for them,” says William C. McGinly, president and chief executive officer ofthe Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. While the hospital itself may also do research, its central role is caring for patients.

According to McGinly, about $7.6 billion in hospital donations went into hospitals through medical foundations in 2009. About 3/4 of its members work in hospital foundations.

Examples: American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the fundraising arm of St. Jude’s. ALSAC raised $692 million in 2010 for the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital as well as its 20 partners in 15 countries around the world. St. Joseph’s Foundation in Phoenix, Ariz., is another well-known hospital charitable foundation.

Medical Research Organizations

Many medical research organizations do not see any patients but concentrate on biomedical research into things like the disease process, immune response, and development of medications to fight disease. Although not-for-profit hospitals may conduct clinical trials or other research,  their major focus is dealing with patients who are actively combating disease. 

Examples: The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center is one of the world's largest private research centers dedicated to fighting (HIV). Its researchers are pursuing the molecular and cellular biology of HIV, development of both drug therapies and vaccines, and new ways to block HIV infection. The Autism Research Institute has conducted and supported autism research since 1967. It maintains the world's largest databank of detailed case histories of autistic children, over 40,000 from over 60 countries. ARI also publishes the Autism Research Review International, a quarterly newsletter covering biomedical and educational advances in autism research.

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