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Fundraising Chain Letter Embarrasses HospitalLast June, Carol Farkas, a longtime volunteer at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, sent a chain letter to 24 couples, most of them in her Upper East Side social circle, asking each to contribute $10 to Sloan-Kettering's Home Care program. "I didn't ask permission," Farkas said. "I just did it." In a relatively short period of time, Farkas's letter was received by a number of well-known celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, and Gregory Peck, and raised more than $251,000 for Sloan-Kettering. Although Sloan-Kettering will keep the money, embarrassed hospital officials have asked Farkas, wife of former Alexander's department store chairman L. Farkas, not to speak to the press and have distanced themselves from her letter, which many felt sullied the hospital's reputation and was inconsistent with its extensive and highly successful direct-mail campaign. "This is not a letter that was started by or sanctioned by the institution," said hospital spokesperson Avice A. Meehan. "I think chain letters in general raise questions on the part of the U.S. Postal Service." According to John Brugger of the Postal Inspection Service, Farkas's fundraising effort did not require a fee, promise a jackpot, or rely on an "element of chance," and therefore was legal under the regulations governing chain letters. Nevertheless, an official of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York said that such letters are not considered ethical in terms of business practice and "could damage the reputation of the charity because most chain letters are scams."
Bumiller, Elisabeth. "Pushing the Envelope of Fund-Raising; Volunteer's Chain Letter Embarrasses a Hospital." New York Times 4/3/97, p. B1.
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