Earlier this month, I received a call from Collins on behalf of Injured American Veterans Foundation, a trade name of Healing Heroes Network. After announcing his name and affiliation, the line went dead, making it the shortest charity cold-call pitch ever received at the New To Seattle world headquarters. Quick research by me suggested only 2% of the money spent went to the stated charitable mission.
A few days ago, the phone rang. It was Collins, again speaking in his deep baritone voice. But this time the call was on behalf of American Veterans Support Foundation, which I knew was a trade name of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Now here was another milestone–the first time a computer-controlled interactive voice using the same name was employed to telemarket to me for different charities, and in the same month, to boot (Yes, the Joel Collins who called me is not a real human being.)
There was a reason I knew right away that the American Veterans Support Foundation was a trade name of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. The organization already has been nominated–twice!–for my list of candidates for America’s Stupidest Charities (see the roster on the left if you’re viewing this on a computer). The criteria is simple: questionable charities that call asking for money even though they already have been the subject of a critical write-up in this space. Can it get dumber than that?
Another milestone: AVSF/NVVF is the first to be nominated three times (for the first two citations, click here and click here) after its computer solicited me under varying names: “Jim,” “Jeff,” “Mike McCann,” and now “Joel Collins.”
And after reviewing the latest financials (which you can download from this page), I say AVSF/NVVF remains as questionable as ever. Almost all of the money raised went to fundraising and very, very little got to the stated charitable mission of helping vets.
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.
The organization’s president remains J. Thomas Burch Jr., a lawyer who is a long-time activist for veterans causes as well as favored conservative candidates like George W. Bush. When I first wrote about Burch in 2014, he was paid $24,300 in pay and benefits for 2012 for what the tax return said was a one-day-a-week job. The latest return said he was paid $65,000 for what was officially described as a 30-hour-a-week job.
Last week, I emailed AVSF/NVVF recounting the dreadful efficiency ratios and asking for comment. I’ll update this if I hear back.
As is so often the case talking on the phone to a computer, my latest conversation with Joel Collins bordered on the surreal. After he finished his pitch about all the good things his charity would do for veterans, I asked for the organization’s tax ID number, a standard means of verifying tax-exempt status.
Collins gave me a toll-free phone number.
I asked again for the tax ID number. Here was the reply: “I’m in training right now and can’t answer that.” That gave me a good chuckle.
Still, at this rate, Joel Collins may be looking soon for yet another gig.