October 2, 2011; Source: Delmarva Now | Why do we continue to encounter stories of shady nonprofits that target donors to veterans? Undoubtedly, with the U.S. engaged in the longest-running overseas war in our nation’s history, there will be plenty of veterans returning to this country in need of all kinds of help.
They probably don’t need the help of the Veterans Support Organization, if the reporting of this article from Delmarva Now is accurate. The newspaper discovered camouflage-wearing canvassers soliciting donations for the VSO and its “myriad of services to veterans in the regions it serves,” but the volunteer canvassers weren’t volunteers, despite identifying themselves that way.
Although collecting money in Maryland, the VSO couldn’t say what it had ever done for veterans in the state. In Tennessee, VSO claimed it was providing services in the Volunteer state, but when it was shown that the organization really wasn’t, the state fined VSO $20,000.
The Delmarva paper examined some of VSO’s finances, including an audit for 2009 that showed it raised $2.6 million and spent $1.5 million on program. However, in the program category, some $800,000 went to pay for the organization’s street canvassers and for taxes, and other program expenses included rent and uniforms, presumably the camous. A VSO spokesperson told the paper that another audit shows the organization spending 86 cents out of every dollar on program, but somehow the audit wasn’t produced for the reporter.
A spokesperson for Charity Navigator told the Delvmarva paper, “I think this group I would stay clear of.” Without falling prey to inadvertent overemphasis on program versus admin cost ratios, we can say that serial vagueness, half-truths, and contradictions add up to a picture of an organization that merits investigation, not donations. But why do so many people play fast and loose behind the 501(c)(3) structure with the needs of veterans and the obvious generosity of donors?—Rick Cohen