Charity pleading for money in Seattle spent 0% on its mission

See update at end of post

Given all the questionable charities that have cold-called me since I became New To Seattle, it was bound to happen. Official records say that the organization Vietnam Veterans of Washington State spent absolutely nothing raised toward its stated charitable mission of, well, helping Vietnam veterans of Washington State.

You can see the evidence for yourself right here on the official Website of the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia. For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2010, the charity, which lists an address in suburban Auburn, raised $40,957 and spent not even one dime on program services, as charitable efforts are called. Looking at the charity’s tax return for that year, it appears that $33,361–82% of the money raised–went to an outside paid fundraiser. The rest, I guess, stayed in a bank account somewhere.

And not just any outside paid fundraiser, but one I know a little bit about: Associated Community Services, of Southfield, Mich. As I wrote here in April, ACS was the fundraiser in cold-calling efforts around Seattle on behalf of something called the United States Armed Forces Association. I figured that only 25% of the money went to anything charitable, with the rest going to fundraising and overhead–mainly fundraising. Charity watchdogs think a charitable commitment below 65% is lousy.

The call I received on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans group came in during last night’s broadcast vice presidential debate, maybe a good time to find people at home but maybe not such a good time to ask for money. Like the call I received in April from the Armed Forces Association, the caller was actually some kind of interactive computer-guided voice robot, this time going by the name of Scott. I asked several times for Scott’s last name, but never got it. Following the usual m.o., Scott pressed me to commit to a pledge before sending me literature. I declined, and he/it eventually gave up, allowing me to return to the Joe and Paul boxing match on the tube.

As always, I invite the posting below of comments from interested parties.

Although not reflected in the data on the Secretary of State’s website, Vietnam Veterans of Washington State also filed a tax return for 2011, downloadable elsewhere. It shows that $40,079 was raised in contributions that year, and that $9,000 of the $38,446 spent was paid out in charitable grants. At first blush that suggests a charitable commitment ratio of 23%, which stinks but at least is higher than 0% (or the 0.4% I reckoned recently for another charity prospecting in Seattle).

But then I read the back pages of the tax return. That $9,000 in grants went to the very same address in Auburn! (By the way, a Google Maps search suggests it is a private residence, but, patriotic donors will be happy to know, one with a flagpole in the front yard.)

According to the return, the $9,000 went to “Washington State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Office of the Book Keeper” [sic] to support stuff including operations of centers to help veterans apply for benefits.  The official site in Olympia says “Washington State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America” is “not registered” in Washington State and hasn’t been so since 2003. I sort of doubt it is registered anywhere else, either. All that, plus the clear suggestion of no arm’s-length dealings and the normal custom that accounting is considered overhead, makes me think that again 0% was spent in 2011 on program services as the concept is normally defined.

Great Scott!

UPDATE ON JANUARY 30, 2013: The website of the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office now reflects the 2011 data showing a charitable commitment ratio of 23%, just as I calculated in the post. But since that is based on a $9,000 grant going to the bookkeeper, I still think the true figure is 0%.

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Charity pleading for money in Seattle spent 0% on its mission — 5 Comments

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