Before becoming New To Las Vegas in July, I lived for five years in Seattle, where I also had a blog, NewToSeattle.com. I wrote about the culture and controversies of Seattle. But, having covered charities at Forbes for a long time, I also described the many dodgy nonprofits from around the country that called the New To Seattle World Headquarters asking for money. They generally were dodgy because their regulatory filings revealed that almost none of the money donated went to a legitimate charitable purpose.
Over time I managed to expose many such organizations. The ones that called again asking for money after they were profiled, I nominated for a list I created of America’s Stupidest Charities. I mean, what can be dumber than trying to get a gift from a known critic who has a public platform? You can see that list nearby in the left rail.
But with only a few exceptions, no matter how dodgy the nonprofit, charity regulators allowed it to stay in operation. It was a sad commentary on our government.
But now we have a rare event. One of the charities on my list that I first went after in early 2014 is shutting down on its own. It is the Alexandria, Va.-based National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, which in recent years solicited money under the trade name American Veterans Support Foundation.
According to CNN, which sometimes eats my dust in reporting on such matters, the operation just closed in the wake of an earlier CNN report in May that the long-time head of the dubious charity, J. Thomas Burch Jr., is actually a highly paid lawyer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is supposed to champion the rights of ex-soldiers but has been having more than a few problems of its own.
I didn’t know that Burch worked at the VA. But I sure knew a lot else about the AVSF/NVVF, which has never responded to my requests for comment.
In nominating the operation to my clueless charity list for a third time–a record!–I wrote just this February:
For the year ending December 31, 2014, AVSF/NVVF, which was based in Alexandria, Va., received $8.7 million in donations. Of that, $7.7 million–a full 89%–went right back out the door in fundraising expense. Most of that went to two telemarketers, CSI/Outsource 3000 Inc in Milwaukee and Midwest Publishing Inc. in Phoenix. That’s a fundraising efficiency ratio–percent of donations remaining after fundraising expenses–of 11%. Charity watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance say anything below 65% stinks. Trust me, 11% is really, really low.
What was spent on the stated charitable mission of “support of veterans and veterans organizations”? Not much. According to the latest tax return, $120,000 went out in grants to veterans organizations or individuals, and another $240,000 was spent on veterans events and awards. Together, that was only 4% of the $8.6 million spent.
Another $220,000 that AVSF/NVVF counted toward the charitable mission was mainly for travel (the charity’s four employees managed to spend a total of $133,000, more than the grants) and overhead. So even by its own accounting, AVSF/NVVF spent less than 7% of its expenses on its charitable mission. Again, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance says the minimum charitable commitment ratio–expenses for the mission as a percent of all expenses–should be 65% or higher. Small wonder that AVSF/NVVF has refused to be evaluated by the BBB. It also has a no-star rating from Charity Navigator.
So far, I haven’t received any charity fundraising calls at the New To Las Vegas World Headquarters. But based on my experience, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.