Another dubious charity solicits in Seattle

U.S. soldiers in Iraq (Wikipedia)

Joe sent me.

This afternoon, still New To Seattle, I received a telephone call from “someone” asking for money on behalf of a charity called the United States Armed Forces Association. I use quotes because it became pretty clear I was on the horn with a cleverly programmed interactive computer using a male voice. I decided to name it “Joe.”

When I asked Joe if in fact I was speaking to a computer, Joe even laughed and said I wasn’t the first to raise that issue. But I don’t recall that Joe said no.

Joe pressed for a verbal pledge of money, saying that would be followed up with a mailing. I said I first wanted to review the mailing before making any commitment. Joe didn’t like that. Joe wanted that oral pledge up front. We went back and forth, with Joe largely repeating the same talking points. It seemed like Joe’s chips were heating up. Eventually, Joe got off the line, maybe to call someone else around Seattle.

Perhaps thanks to the Gates Foundation, Seattle has a reputation as a giving place when it comes to charity.  The dubious operators know that, too.

Last month, I wrote about the Seattle radio pitches of the Cancer Fund of America, a Knoxville, Tenn., charity that spends less than one-half of 1% in furtherance of its charitable mission–an astoundingly low amount. The rest goes to executive salaries, overhead, fundraising and direct mail.

Before Joe called, I had never heard of the United States Armed Forces Association. Who was controlling Joe? And where does the money go?

A little poking around the Internet brought me to the home page of a Silver Spring, Md., outfit called Veterans Support Foundation, which used to be called the Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund. The page said VSA does business as the United States Armed Forces Association. The text says USAFA/VSF funds other nonprofits supporting veterans, provides housing for homeless and at-risk vets, and assists disabled vets.

But looking at its latest IRS tax return and audited financial statement, I’d say that what USAFA/VSF does mostly with the money that Joe generates from folks is pay for fundraising and overhead.

For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, USAFA/VSF received $2.4 million in gifts from the public, $300,000 in government grants and fees, and spent $2.7 million, essentially breaking even. As I read the documents, the charitable commitment ratio–the amount spent in direct furtherance of the stated charitable mission as a percentage of total expenses–was a lousy 25%. Only $655,000 was spent funding other nonprofits supporting veterans, providing housing for homeless and at-risk vets, and assisting disabled vets.

Okay, 25%–the same number calculated by the charities section of the Washington State Secretary of State–is a lot better than Cancer Fund of America’s 0.5%. But that’s still way below the 65% or so that most charity watchdogs consider the absolute minimum. As I have written, I think United Way of King County is playing number games when it put its own charitable commitment at 97%. But even by my reckoning that ratio was a more-than-acceptable 92%.

At USAFA/VSF, the other 75%–a whopping $2 million–was spent for fundraising and overhead. Of that sum, $1.8 million was paid to two companies on the same floor of the same Southfield, Mich., building. One, called Associated Community Services LLC, received $1.8 million for “telemarketing.” I suppose this firm is Joe’s boss.

The other, called Central Processing Services LLC, was paid $700,000 for and “data collection and management.” I suppose this firm helps Joe target his calling efforts.

USAFA/VSF’s fundraising efficiency ratio–the percentage of incoming contributions left after subtracting the cost of generating them–was 56%. This is way below what any reputable charity watchdog considers acceptable. (At UWKC, the latest fundraising efficiency was 95% by my calculation.)

USAFA/VSF refuses to be evaluated by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. It’s not hard to imagine why. According to its financial statements, USAFA/VSF is affiliated with Vietnam Veterans of America Inc. The BBB says VVA also had dreadful financial efficiencies and flunked 10 of the BBB’s 20 standards for charitable accountability.

As always, I welcome entities mentioned here, or anyone else interested in the issues raised, to add their two cents below. But meanwhile, you now know a lot more about Joe in case you get a call, too.

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Comments

Another dubious charity solicits in Seattle — 35 Comments

  1. Joe called me in Augusta GA. I pledged but after this research I think I will just send them a copy of their bad ratings instead. If you know of a reputable Veterans charity please post it.

    • Joe just called on Maryland again, lol. I’ve learned to ask the caller his mother’s name. As soon as there is a 2-3 second pause, I know it’s a robocall. And he states an identical response in a one minute timeframe. Humans just aren’t that perfect….eerie “Joe” laugh! LOL

  2. Hello, my complaint is a little different from yours. We don’t even make it as far as getting to talk to the caller!
    Below is my email complaining about the absolute ignorance and inconsideration of one of their agents:
    Originally emailed to ‘info@vsf-usa.org’, the parent organization of United States Armed Forces Association.

    ————————————————————————————————————

    Hello, I just received the seventh call in two days from this impatient moron, this time from the 786-504-6440 number (at 04:38pm, CDT).

    This time it started out with a pre-recorded message that it was from the United States Armed Forces Association, and that it could be reached at 1-877-202…

    Then this guy cut in before it finished giving the rest of the number (what a shame I didn’t get the rest of the number!).

    He said ‘Hi, James’, and I said ‘Yes’, even though I am his son Stacey.

    He laughed and said ‘You know, getting hold of you than getting through a boot camp!’

    [Because he just says ‘James?’, and hangs up if I say no – never a chance to say he is nearby, that he is dead, or old and hard of hearing].

    He continued with ‘This is Steve with AC Services, a professional fundraiser, calling on behalf of the United States Armed Forces Association.

    Just wanted to touch bases with you, let you know that we are back to work helping our homeless veterans.

    You know these veterans have paid a high price for the peace and freedom we….”

    At this point the call was cut off and went to a dial tone.

    I never got to say anything else to him, even that I had the call on speaker phone and was recording it!

    This mindless impatient fool has called us seven times in two days, just because he is so impatient he won’t shut up and listen to anything!

    See further down about the earlier calls.

    I am going to call that number back again telling them who called and from what company.

    Maybe they, or you, can put a stop to this harassment from this demented moron you having working for (actually very much against) you!

    Stacey

    ————————————————————————————————————

    From: Stacey

    This is a complaint about harassing phone calls from reps of USAF Association:

    Hello, I am writing this to inform you that some of your fund raisers are incredibly rude and inconsiderate.

    I can’t find the numbers from a similar thing about a year ago, but it sounds like the same guy.

    Last year he would say ‘James?’ (my father) and I would say ‘He’s in the next room…’ and he would break in and say ‘No Message, I’ll call back”.

    Nothing about who he is, what he is calling about, or any chance to ask him about it.

    On subsequent calls I would say ‘no’ and he would say, ‘no message, I’ll call back” and immediately hangs up.

    On the fourth call I blew a siren in the phone receiver for a few seconds and then turned it off.

    The he repeated ‘James?’, and I said that James is 87 years old, and can’t hear a word you are saying on the phone!

    He then said that he could talk to me.

    And I said you could have done that on the first of four calls if you weren’t heinously impatient!

    And to never call this number again.

    A few hours later another man called, and he at least listened a second or two so I said I had already asked to be placed on the ‘do not call list’.

    And this year is even worse, with it sounding like the same man (the first man, the more impatient one).

    He calls up and says ‘James?’ and I say no, and he just hangs up.

    We’ve had five or six calls with the same thing in the last two days.

    Maybe they get paid by the number of calls placed, and this way he can run up the number of calls he has placed.

    Apparently he will call until I say ‘Yes’ or say ‘dead’, because otherwise he just hangs up.

    They don’t have time to hear anything back, like he’s sitting in the next chair, or he’s dead, or he’s deaf, or to never call this number again!

    Or to say who he is or what he is calling about.

    The numbers being called from are 786-259-0269 and 786-504-6440.

    I call the numbers back and they have the same polite message, that it is the United States Armed Forces Association, and what they do, and so on.

    I left two messages with my name, phone number, and zip code, and told them the situation, and to stop calling, and cussed them out good.

    The last time I called back to one of these numbers I recorded their message using the speaker phone and a voice recorder, and told them so, and further I was recording the rest of what I was saying to them, and they need to call ME back, not my dad, to discuss this.

    No response so far!

    And that I was saving it to use as a voice attachment to whoever I can get to look into this (FCC, my phone company provider, Better Business Bureau, my state and federal reps and senators, etc.)

    I think someone there needs to look into this immediately, as you people don’t know what these hired goons are doing: harassing people by calling and calling, with never providing a chance to say anything back.

    And probably running up a bogus number of calls placed to make more money (defrauding the federal government).

    This is rude, rude, RUDE, RUDE, RUDE!

    And getting a lot of people really very very VERY VERY ANGRY!

    Stacey

    PS: I am going to call their number again, and tell them I have lodged a complaint with USAF Association’s parent organization at info@vsf-usa.org

    Thank you!

  3. Well, Joe got to Maryland and wanted me to pledge over the phone. I told him I will not pledge on the phone. He insisted and I said “what don’t you understand about my not Pledging over the phone. Then he wanted a certain amount (15.). Again, I said, “I don’t pledge over the phone.. He insisted so I finally said put in any amount you want. You’ll get what I decide to give. The letter and mailing came and after research, I put it in the file waste basket. I’m 86 and I can tell you, I am sick of these calls which usually come either during nap time or dinner.. Thanks for the info.

  4. Thanks for the information. I got a call from Joe in Galveston, Texas. I have caller id. I should have copied down the phone number. He pressed me despite telling him that right now I could not financially afford it. I had to choose between a $25 or $35 donation in which I choose the former and then he had switched me to a woman who insisted on a credit or debit card in which I told her I don’t give neither and asked to send me something. She confirmed my address, I live in New Jersey and she would mail it in three days and asked me to send it right back. It’s not going to happen now that I know this. I also got two calls this week from ACS which you have also explained for two different charities – one is a law enforcement educational fund and the other is for American Cancer Society. When I pressed that I was on a Do Not Call list, they said it does not cover charities. I think it should. Charities have become big business or scams. I am going to do my darnedest in stopping Joe and ACS after all it is an election year coming up.

  5. I just received a call from someone representing the USAFA. I asked for their website address, he gave it to me, and said they would be sending out a donation packet. But he did NOT ask to put us down for an amount (as they usually do with these calls). Then I checked this site (from Google) and thank you for doing some legwork to shed some light on this group. I’m also checking with our daughter, who is a social worker in the VA system. Thanks again!

  6. Joe called me in Wilton California. I said I could only afford $10 and he said he would could connect me with his verifier for my $50 donation. At that point I hung up. Now he calls several times a day at all hours. If I could find him I would pull his plug and wrap it around his neck. Thanks for your efforts in providing this information.

    • You might consider contacting the California Attorney General’s office. Repeated solicitation calls from the same charity is abusive, borderline stalking, and something the office might be interested in.

  7. Joe just called in Chicago. Laughing in his eerily real programmed way. Here’s what the Better Business Bureau crediting group says about them: This charitable organization either has not responded to written BBB requests for information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. Charity participation in BBB review is voluntary. However, without the requested information, it is not possible to determine whether this charity adheres to all of the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. The BBB encourages charities to disclose accountability information beyond that typically included in financial statements and government filings, in order to demonstrate transparency and strengthen public trust in the charitable sector.

    The BBB reports on charities and determines if they meet 20 voluntary standards on matters such as charity finances, appeals, and governance. The BBB does not evaluate the worthiness of the charitable program.

    – See more at: http://www.give.org/charity-reviews/national/veterans-support-foundation-in-silver-spring-md-22421#sthash.tCw7cA6u.dpuf

  8. Joe is in Georgia also.Calling day (6 0r 7. times)\, & Starting at 7AM, and late as 10 PM. We keep our phone off during the night.. He (the one time I talked to him}, was pushy,pressing and obnoxious. We will not be harassed Thank you Bill for all your tedious research

  9. I do appreciate your research on this. We have been getting numerous calls this week from “US Armed Forces Assn”…we can no longer answer our phone because (since we turned 60, it seems) we get non-stop telemarketers, scammers, etc. We live in NW MO and these calls are from a Missouri number. Hmmm…wonder if they changed their base of operations? Or, heaven forbid, they’ve expanded?

    • I don’t think you can make too much of the area code of the telephone number that pops up on the caller ID. It’s pretty easy these days to make any call look like a local call, even if the caller is thousands of miles away. If you’re getting repeated calls in the same weeks from the same telemarketers, that strikes me as harassment. You might get in touch with whatever agency in your state regulates charities.

  10. I got the call in Texas and I felt like I was talking to a computer as well. I didn’t have a good feeling about this charity and the fact that they were pressing me to give my credit card number over the phone didn’t help. I had them send info before I would make a commitment and decided to check the internet as well. I’m so glad I did! Thanks so much for the research and great article Mr. Barrett!

    • The business model of these kinds of charity includes the expectation that many would-be donors won’t ask too many questions or do their own research. Sadly, in many cases it appears to be a successful business model.

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  15. Hi Bill,

    These guys solicited me also and something did not seem right. I told them I would send $10 to cover the cost of their mailing so I could learn more, find out what their give percentage was and consider a ‘real’ gift. Of course I lost the first mailing and they called back so I said $15 for their trouble. They sent quite a nice glossy tri-fold. THAT can’t be cheap. You have given me that data. These guys will get my $15 and that is it. I almost feel guilty now sending that to them because it sounds like the sooner they go out of business the better, but a promise is a promise.

    Do you know of an online database that tracks overhead for multiple charities?

    • Unfortunately, I do not. Sometimes the major charity watchdogs catch this, but often they do not. It’s possible for someone to figure this out with Internet research. I have the benefit of having written about charities and their accounting for years.

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  17. Joe sure called the wrong guy. I would have loved to hear that…conversation. These charity watchdog articles are so informative and important – thanks Bill.

    • Joe sure gets around. He called me in the Phoenix area, and I promised to check them out out on the net before sending my check. Thanks Bill for saving me so $.

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