A major characteristic of the end-of-the-year holiday is exchange of gifts. After it recently cold-called me, a veterans group that I then described in this space as “iffy”–mainly because its paid fundraisers got almost all the money donated–just cold-called again asking for money.
Now that’s a gift to me, since it provides material to write about.The call was on behalf of The Center for American Homeless Veterans, doing business as the Association for Homeless and Disabled Veterans, headquartered in Falls Church, Va.
And here’s my gift back to the nonprofit, which in its latest reporting period handed over 90% of the $2.1 million raised to outside fundraisers rather than spend that money on something worthwhile. I’m officially adding CAHV as an candidate for my list of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The largely self-nominating criteria is simple: A dubious charity solicits money from the New To Seattle world headquarters despite being the subject of a previous critical post.
CAHV becomes the fourth contender for my stupidest-charities list, a competition that started earlier this year after a rash of follow-up calls. Here are the others:
- National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, doing business as the American Veterans Support Foundation. The geographically elusive organization handed over to fundraisers $21 million of the $24 million raised.
- Cancer Support Services, of Dearborn, Mich., which, with an affiliate, used cheap-to-get receipt of donated goods to hide the fact that only $21,000 of $14 million in cash gifts went to anything that appeared to be charitable, with $11 million going to telemarketers.
- Community Charity Advancement, doing business as the Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund, based in Pompano Beach, Fla. As I read its documents, no more than $45,000 of the $3.58 million raised in cash went to charitable purposes–that’s barely 1%.–with $3.03 million going to fundraisers–85%. In a previous incarnation the nonprofit was known as Seven Sisters of Healing. Thanks to repeated calling, Community Charity Advancement has the unique distinction of being the only charity nominated twice for my “America’s Stupidest Charities” list.
With such formidable competition, it’s really hard for a nonprofit to stand out. But CAHV, whose filings say it advocates and lobbies for troubled veterans, is trying.
CAHV is one of many sketchy charities that employ computer-driven interactive voices. The persona on the earlier call from CAHV used the name “Eric Thornton.” This latest call was in the name that I understood to be “Mike McCann.”
Like “Thornton,” “McCann” wasn’t very good at answering my questions. After he said a contribution would go to help disabled or homeless veterans, I jumped in and asked if that meant paying for actual facilities or programs to help vets. CAHV’s filings say no; what’s left of the gifts after the fundraisers get their hefty cut goes solely to pay for advocacy.
“McCann” didn’t know. “I’m in training right now,” he said, a rather amusing statement for a computer but one I frequently hear in these situations. “McCann” offered to get a supervisor on the line to answer my question. Sure, I said.
After some fumbling–I was inadvertently routed to someone in the “records department”–a real human identifying himself as Leslie Heskett came on the line. But he couldn’t answer my question, either. “I don’t have that information in front of me,” he said. Heskett, who said he really worked for paid fundraiser Residential Programs Inc., gave me a number I could call for more information. However, he agreed with me that his organization’s calling would-be donors and then telling them that they had to make another call to get basic information wasn’t such a hot fund-raising strategy.
But then again, difficulty in getting information out of CAHV seems to be part of its m.o. Several days ago, I sent an email seeking more information to its president, ex-Army major Brian A. Hampton, who, with another veterans charity he heads out of the same office, was paid as much as $181,668, or more than 35% of what remained after the telemarketers for both charities got their cut. That other charity, Circle of Friends for American Veterans, made the now-famous Tampa Bay Times list last year of “America’s Worst Charities.”
My email was sent via a page on the CAHV website that proclaims, “We‘ll be happy to return your comment, question or suggestion.”
I’m still waiting for a response. It would be another gift.