Americans donated a record-breaking $358 billion to charity in 2014, a seven-percent increase from the year before, according to the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Military members and their families are often among the most consistent of givers. Given their familiarity with and empathy for military issues, military charities and veterans groups are often the recipients of their goodwill.
Unfortunately, scam artists and shady charities remain in steady supply, especially heading into the holiday season. It’s important for military families to ensure their donations are going to the right place.
Here are a few major things to consider before helping a charity:
The American Institute of Philanthropy rates charities on an A-F grade scale. When the institute graded 29 military-related charities, the results were worrisome.
Twelve charities received an F while eight had a D grade. Only seven were reported in the A range. When it comes to fund allocation, the top five charities the American Institute listed included Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Fisher House Foundation, Bob Woodruff Family Foundation and Homes for Our Troops.
Five of the worst were Shiloh International Ministries, Former Military POW Foundation, United Spinal Association, National Veterans Services Fund, Inc., and Disabled Veterans Associations.
For example, the National Veterans Services Fund sounds like a great name, but according to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services only 18 percent of its reported $7.9 million in collections went to veterans. Allied Veterans came under fire last year when it was investigated for a $300 million money laundering and racketeering scheme.
If you’d like to contribute to a cause other than the top five listed, you can do some of your own research. GuideStar, Charity Navigator and other monitoring sites work as watchdogs for the financial activities of nonprofits. You can determine which charities have a quality financial impact. If you’re set on a military related one, Charity Navigator can help with its specific list of VA charities.
Also, be sure to search for known charity scams, especially when it comes to the military. Subtle changes in well-known charity names such as Operation Home Front vs. the real Operation Homefront can sneak up on you. Be especially wary of phone and email solicitations.
Most, but not all, reputable charities have a mission statement, annual reports and future plans outlined for the public. There may also be a board of directors to give constant updates as well as an accessible mode of communication, such as a blog or social networking site.
One way to ensure your donation is being properly received is to volunteer yourself to the cause. You may find you can help collect, sort or distribute donations, or spend interpersonal time with a veteran, child or person in need.