Helping Americans Get a Tax Deduction Without Actually Having to Help Other Americans
I got a call from the American Veterans Coalition tonight, and I pledged a conditional $15. I told the guy on the phone that if his organization was what he made it out to be, I would definitely send the $15.
With Walter Reed and the wider VA scandal fresh in the news raising awareness and empathy for veterans more than normal, the time is ripe for scam artists to play on sympathies and con unsuspecting people out of well-intentioned cash. I don't like to be conned, and usually hang up as soon as I realize it's a solicitation for a "charity." But how could even I turn down the veterans at a time like this?
Of course I looked up the AVC. It was set up by Robert Friend, who simultaneously has three other charities. For three years prior to starting the AVC, Friend ran a charity called Tomorrow's Abundance, a charity for veterans, kids with cancer, and the blind.
According to a 2005 article by Matthew Kauffman in the Hartford Courant, the AVC, along with the three other charities, raised nearly $1 million in 2003 and spent exactly zero on veterans (though the AVC website shares the statistics on the percentages and numbers of veterans who need help, there's no financial information). In 2004, they had managed to streamline the operation and, out of $1.1 million raised, spent $15,000 on veterans. Of that, $14,500 was sent to established veterans groups.
Why wouldn't I just give my money to an established veterans group? You know, cut out the middle man with the million dollar mansion.
As a comparison, Charity Navigator says Fisher House Foundation -- "There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment" -- raised over $16 million in 2005, spending only about $380,000 on administrative and fundraising expenses, with a carried-over excess of $7.3 million. That's 95.6% spent on the program.
And the American Institute of Philanthropy suggests two other established veterans groups, as well: Armed Services YMCA of the USA and Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which gets four stars just for the name.
In fact, the AVC provides a handy list of links to letters from the recipients of those paltry laundered charitable donations they've dispersed over the last three years, like Disabled American Veterans.
So I think when I get the envelope from the American Veterans Coalition, I'll enclose this letter:
Dear American Veterans Coalition,
Thank you for helping to inspire me to donate money to help our nation's veterans. It occurred to me, however, that if I were to send $15 to your organization, probably only about $2.25 would actually make it to an established veterans organization, and after their administrative costs, only about $1.68 would go directly toward helping a veteran.
Of course, 1.1% of $15 is better than 100% of nothing. But 76% of $15 is way better than 1.1% of $15.
So I've decided to send my $15 directly to Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. I know you had to spend money to send me the envelope that I mailed this letter to you in. But as the veterans need the money so much more than Robert Friend, his wife, or their fundraisers, and as the goal of American Veterans Coalition is to help veterans, I'm sure you'll agree your time and expense was very well spent.