November 10, 2017

Remembering Veterans Organizations on Veterans Day

Veterans Day motivates many of us to contribute to organizations assisting veterans, active military service members, and/or their families. To help ensure that donors make wise giving decisions about these groups, we encourage readers to review the tips we issued last year that still hold true today: http://www.give.org/news-updates/news/2016/11/wise-giving-wednesday-45000-veterans-organizations/ 

  • Among other things, our previous advisory cautioned contributors not to assume what the organization does based solely on its name. Activities among veterans organizations can vary widely. Look at the appeal or visit the organization’s website for a description of their program service activities. 
  • Also, be wary of telemarketing appeals that exert excessive pressure to make an on-the-spot gift decision. This could be a red flag that the solicitor does not want you to find out more before you give. 
  • And of course, we encourage donors to always check with Give.org to verify if a charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability which address, among other things, charity governance, finances, results reporting, and appeal accuracy. 

While there are many well-run veterans and military service organizations that deserve our support now and throughout the year, this November we are also reminded about those that are poorly managed and engage in misleading practices. 

VietNow is long-known to the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (the current report can be found here). In recent years, the national headquarters did not disclose any of the information requested by BBB WGA despite repeated written requests, some sent via-certified-mail.  On November 6, 2017 the Illinois Attorney General announced a settlement led by Illinois, California, Michigan, and Ohio and joined by 20 other states to dissolve VietNow.  The announcement indicated that the organization misled donors as to who was soliciting them and how their donations would actually be used.  A similar announcement from the California Attorney General specified that “VietNow falsely told prospective donors that it has significant charitable programs. In reality, of the almost $4 million it raised in the last two years, nearly 90 percent of VietNow’s funds went directly to its for-profit professional fundraiser…Less than $10,000 was spent on charitable programs.” An order was made in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court against VietNow that removes all 14 board members and bans its 4 controlling officers from any future fundraising, charity management or oversight of any charitable assets.  Similar restrictions were made by the other states participating in the settlement. According to the Illinois Attorney General’s announcement, any remaining assets from VietNow will be distributed equally between two other national veterans’ charities, Fisher House Foundation and Operation Homefront. 

Back in 2003, VietNow was at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court Case, Madigan v. Telemarketing Associates (U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 01-1806) in which the Illinois attorney general charged a telemarketing firm that was raising money for VietNow with civil fraud. Under its contracts with VietNow over the years, the firm received 85-95% of the funds it raised. Much of the state’s allegations were based on the fact that since potential donors were not told that only an incidental amount of contributions would actually go to the veterans group, the telemarketing firm was misleading potential donors. In order to support the Illinois attorney general’s position on this matter, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance filed a friend of the court brief (amicus brief) noting, among other things, that this charity did not meet a number of our standards and spent only 3% of the amounts raised on its program service activities.  

To help donors find trustworthy charities, we offer the following list of 10 nationally-soliciting veterans organizations that are among the largest ones that are currently BBB Accredited Charites (i.e. meet all 20 BBB Charity Standards). 

  1. Marine Toys for Tots Foundation
  2. USO
  3. Disabled American Veterans
  4. Wounded Warrior Project
  5. Operation Homefront
  6. Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation
  7. Homes for Our Troops
  8. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
  9. Military Child Education Coalition
  10. Travis Manion Foundation