GREAT INTENTIONS - DISAPPOINTING OUTCOMES

We all want to think about Veterans having “good days” and having fun.  But if - as a donor - you have an opportunity to either cure a Vet of PTSD or help their “Bowling Scores”... which would you choose?

This article in NonProfit Quarterly speaks to the problems that seem to be pervasive among Veterans Charities.  Among the issues raised:

  • Help the Vets gifted $770,000 in Mexican Vacation vouchers to unnamed Vets, and used one Telemarketing firm that raised $1.3M, but kept $1.16M of that in fees.
  • VietNow, a Rockford IL charity, that raised $1.4M but only distributed 7% of the donations to Veterans and/or their families (about $100,000).  VietNow had been sued by the IL Attorney General on charges that their fundraising fees were excessive to the point of being fraudulent.
  • Another IL charity raised $20M between 2003 and 2013, but gave only $1M to Vets

Web searches will also turn up

  • another Florida Veterans NonProfit – Allied Veterans of the World – which generated $300M in online gaming revenues “for Charity”, yet gave only $6M to Veterans over those years, and
  • the US Navy Veterans Association who raised $100M - with almost nothing being given to Vets.

and a recent Smart Asset article named The National Veterans Service Fund, Vietnow National Headquarters, The Veterans Fund, Veterans Assistance Foundation and Our American Veterans among the worst charities in the U.S.

Source:  https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2015/09/24/the-problem-of-more-and-more-dubious-veterans-charities/

Good Intentions can still yield relatively poor outcomes.  Years ago over $1.4 million was used to create a “PTSD Peace Garden”.  How many Vets can actually travel to that garden? For those few who can… how likely is it that their day-to-day struggle with PTSD will truly be helped by those few hours in that garden?  The INTENTION was honorable, the outcome is sub-optimal at best, and a waste of scarce resources at worst.

Charitable donations are finite resources - they need to be directed to where they can have the greatest impact.  Ideally they “spark” new methods and means to help Vets have better lives EVERY day going forward.  Ideally they create opportunities for people to get training and support to help others who otherwise would not be helped, or to make an impact where they could not before.  These donations are too precious to be wasted.

THINK CAREFULLY about where you intend to donate your money.  We won’t attempt to guess who is outright dishonest versus simply inept.  The REAL question is simply… ARE THE FUNDS THAT YOU ARE DONATING TO VETERANS’ CAUSES BEING USED TO THE BEST POSSIBLE BENEFIT OF VETERANS?

Wounded Warriors Project:
WWP did a better job PERCENTAGE wise than the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, but they wasted far more money.  Some excerpts of their 2014 financials:

> top 2 executives took home combined salaries exceeding $842,000

> largest donor to a lobbying organization whose mission was to increase overhead allowances for non-profits (including raising the ceiling on Executive Compensation).

> spent $7.5 million on Travel, and over $26 million on Conferences, Conventions and meetings (including $3 million on just one Employee Conference alone at a high end resort in Colorado).  > spent a sizable sum suing other Veterans groups who use “wounded warrior’ in their name.

Of the $342 million that they raised in 2013, less than half actually went to Veterans.  WWP originally claimed Marketing Expenses as a “Veterans Benefit” – stated that by advertising to raise money they were “raising awareness of Veterans’ issues”.   NO other charity tries to claim marketing expenses as a Veteran benefit.  

Of the legitimate benefits provided some seem to offer no real long term benefit to Veterans.  Consider this briefing given by a WWP executive explaining some of their programs:

The donors who entrusted their monies to this organization clearly had higher expectations.

In a December 2015 conference call with staff, a transcript of which was provided to The Daily Beast, National Alumni Director Ryan Kules explained in detail the sorts of programs that were underway.

  • “In Minnesota this week family members will enjoy a haircut and relaxation-based spa service of their choice…
  • In Anchorage, 25 alumni and their families will attend a local Fairbanks presentation of the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.  
  • Thirty-five warriors and guests will spend the evening working on their bowling scores… in Colorado Springs. They’ll enjoy a meal during the game and have time afterwards for laser tag and arcade games…”
  • “Twenty warriors and their families will take part in a special winter holiday Lego club night...
  • The Honolulu team will host 12 alumni on a mindfulness hike. They will enjoy hiking and practicing yoga amongst the peaks and valleys, waterfalls, and bamboo forests...
  • “The San Diego alumni team will host 100 warriors and guests at Petco Park, which will be transformed into a winter wonderland...
  • In Utah, warriors and their family members are invited to a healthy holiday cooking class, where they will learn recipes… that are fun and taste great...

Many Americans truly want to help our Veterans.  Unfortunately some Veterans’ charities leverage that desire to benefit their executives, but do much less than they should to actually help Veterans.  In just the past few months major news organizations have reported on issues with at least two Veterans Charities:

National Vietnam Veterans Foundation  

Veterans Charity run by VA Attorney raises $8.7 million, gives just $122,000 to Vets
Those monies were given by people who truly intended to help Veterans.  While this might result in criminal charges for fraud - that money has been wasted.  The fact that this charity was lead by an attorney for the Veterans Administration - someone who should know better than most the difficulties that Veterans face - makes it all the more appalling.

  • Raised > $29M between 2010 and 2014.
  • Raised $8,657,816 in 2014 donations
  • … paid out only $122,000, about 1.4%
  • Of the $122,000  $11,000 is given to the charity president’s brother.
  • The charity defends its actions, saying that “it donated to food banks and gave blankets to homeless shelters”