Nominee for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’ list calls again in Seattle

America's Stupidest CharitiesHe went by Mike. Mike McCann. And he wanted money from me. Now.

On the phone recently, Mike said he worked for American Veterans Support Foundation, part of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Mike said the organization was based in Eatontown, N.J., did good work for veterans in need and was hopeful I could aid the cause. And oh yes, he was recording the call.

Mike had a smooth pitch. But then I asked him to spell his last name.

After a pause, he simply repeated his full name. No spelling.

I asked him again to spell his last name.

Another pause. “That’s okay,” he finally said. “We’ll call back at another time.” Mike hung up.

The likely reason there were pauses is that Mike actually was an interactive computer controlled by a handler monitoring the conversation and deciding on responses by hitting a keyboard. The handler probably decided to cut and run.

But I knew about the AVSF/NVVF. A lot, actually. That’s because it was the first nominee to a list I started last year of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The criteria is simple: nonprofits that contact the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though they already had been the subject of a negative write-up by the New To Seattle world headquarters. Can it get dumber than that?

My earlier description was negative for the same reason now. AVSF/NVVF blew almost all the money raised on fundraising costs and spent precious little on stuff that reasonably could be called veterans support.

So I hereby again nominate AVSF/NVVF for my list.

AVSF/NVVF says its official address is in Alexandria, Va., with a “special projects” office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In a New York State charity filing, one of its fundraiser vendors said it was based in Eatontown, near the Jersey shore, which is probably why Mike mentioned that location.

According to its latest available federal tax return and audited financial statement, for calendar year 2013 (downloadable from here), AVSF/NVVF raised $7.05 million in cash from the public. Some $6.25 million of that was spent on fundraising. That was a whopping 89%, or, put another way, a fundraising efficiency ratio, the amount of gifts left after the cost of generating them, of just 11%. Charity watchdogs say the minimum fundraising efficiency should be 65%.

Only $95,000 was handed out in direct grants and assistance. And that included $5,000 to the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in Louisville, Ky. I don’t imagine there are many soldiers left from that war.

The tax return said another $100,000 was spent on charitable travel, and $285,000 on unspecified “veterans events/program.”

Even going by the AVSF/NVVF’s own accounting, only 8 cents of every dollar raised was spent on the stated mission. Again, charity watchdogs, using a slightly different formula, say the minimum for charitable commitment should be 65%, not 8%.

I am hardly alone in questioning the merits of AVSF/NVVF. It has a zero-star rating from Charity Navigator. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance says the charity refused to cooperate in an evaluation, always a red flag. In past years AVSF/NVVF has been on the official list of “Oregon’s worst charities.”

And even the Internal Revenue Service, normally a pretty toothless force when it comes to regulating tax-exempt charities, has gotten into the mix. The AVSF/NVVF financial statement for 2013 said that as of August 14, 2014, the organization was “presently under examination” by the IRS for 2011 and that scrutiny for 2012 and 2013 might follow. That could be one reason why the listed expense for audit and legal has gone up 50% in two years. I sent emails to AVSF/NVVF asking the outcome of the IRS review and will update this if I hear back.

The NVVF was started in 1992 by J. Thomas Burch Jr., a lawyer long identified with veterans and conservative causes. The AVSF brand only dates back to 2011, and might have developed partly because NVVF with its high overhead costs had been getting so much negative notice on the Internet.

According to the AVSF/NVVF tax filing for 2013, Burch was paid $75,000 for what was described as half-time work. The financial statement said he received medical and life insurance valued at $6,338 in exchange for the foundation’s use of his office space and secretarial service. That wouldn’t take up too much room; the AVSF/NVVF tax return said the organization had just five employees and no volunteers. Another $1,132 in cash “emergency assistance” was given to one William H. Burch, identified as a brother of Tom Burch. The crisis was not specified, but it apparently was long-lasting; 2013 was at least the third year in a row that Bill Burch was so helped.

The patriotic July 4 holiday is nearing. I’m waiting to see if Mike McCann fulfills his promise to call me again on behalf of veterans. There’s never been a triple nominee to my stupidest charities list. Mike, or one of his “colleagues,” could be the first. Now.

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Nominee for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’ list calls again in Seattle — 10 Comments

  1. VSF is sending me bogus snail mail reminders to keep a pledge (I never made) for $20.00.
    I had never heard of this Charity.
    I do donate to Charities when I can; but never $20.00.
    They bought my name somewhere and now this…..
    Runaway from VSF…

  2. Unfortunately, there are many charities that operate the same way, we just don’t hear about it. People are such lowlifes, they will use any and everything to solicit money. The disability related and veterans related stuff seems to pull in the most. Charities need to be held to a higher standard and a larger amount of money needs to go to the causes they claim to support. Also, if you check into these charities, some of the COs or Directors are bringing in huge salaries, some into the 100s of thousands and more each year. There is no reason someone should make that kind of money running a charity. It just make me believe it isn’t the charity for them, it’s the personal income.

    • Since the definition of nomination for my “America’s Stupidest Charities” list is that I am cold-called after having written a critical post about the charity, I can only scratch the surface of dodgy nonprofits.

  3. Just hung up the phone after hearing what may have been a computer yapping at me. I tried to interact with the voice begging for money but the non-stop talking with a few pauses where I tried to speak were quickly interrupted by that voice.

    “The likely reason there were pauses is that Mike actually was an interactive computer controlled by a handler monitoring the conversation and deciding on responses by hitting a keyboard.” That would explain what happened during my call. I mentioned that the begging was likely a scam and ended the call.

    Sure would be nice to read about the scammers receiving lengthy sentences at work farms at hard labor with all their assets taken and given to the folks the charity was supposed to help.

  4. I was interested in the costs of dealing with the audit. I pulled a few numbers out of the 990 and financial statements for 2011, 2012, and 2013. Will share a few things to expand on what you have already said.

    Here are some numbers:
    2,011 2,012 2,013
    23,576 27,220 32,267 total legal and accounting
    9,454 10,257 9,909 legal costs per 990
    8,000 9,000 9,000 audit costs per financials
    6,122 7,963 13,358 remainder, other accounting costs

    The 2012 financial statements, which have an accountant’s report date of 8/23/13, also have the comment in the notes about an IRS audit of the 12/31/11 tax return. The 2011 financials have no such comment.

    That indicates the IRS audit started sometime between 7/24/12 and 8/23/13. Most of the increase of other accounting from 6,122 in 2011 to 13,358 in 2013 is probably due to dealing with the IRS. I’ll estimate outside costs of about $7,000 in 2013.

    Might be worth watching the 2014 financial statements and 990 to see what happens to costs.

    Jim

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