At a contentious press conference on May 30th, presidential candidate Donald Trump announced the nonprofit organizations that received gifts from an event he hosted in January. The event, staged as an alternative to Trump’s participating in a GOP primary debate, was promoted at the time as having raised $6 million for veterans charities. However, questions were raised almost immediately about which charities received the gifts and in what amounts—questions the Trump campaign found difficult to answer. A review of the list, including visits to GuideStar and organization websites, raises questions about Trump’s philanthropic due diligence as well as his charitable choices.
Forty-one nonprofit organizations were named as receiving $5.6 million from the January event, in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $1 million and with a median of $100,000. The Associated Press contacted 30 of the groups and discovered that many had received their checks last week, after a story in the Washington Post, among others, questioned Trump’s follow-through in making the gifts. The single largest gift, a $1 million personal check from Trump to the Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation, was among these recent disbursements.
We hasten to add that we pass no judgments whatsoever on the nonprofits Trump chose to support. They may very well be among the best governed and best managed veterans organizations in the country. What concerns us is how these particular groups were selected for support and how he handled the gift process.
We should, however, acknowledge recent news reports that one group receiving Trump’s support, Foundation for American Veterans, has been linked to the telemarketer Associated Community Services. According to its most recent Form 990, the nonprofit paid ACS $3.2 million, or 41 percent of its $8 million in revenue. By comparison, the nonprofit reported total program service expenses of $2.4 million, or 30 percent of annual revenues. NPQ has written repeatedly about this group that has been associated with a number of charitable scandals. See here, here, and here for just a few of those stories.
Returning to more mundane concerns, much here remains murky. Since most of the funds collected came from donors other than Trump, did those donors select (or influence the selection of) the charities that received the donated funds? Did the donors write checks to Trump personally, or to Trump’s foundation, with Trump forwarding the gifts to the veterans charities? Did at least some of the gifts flow directly from Trump’s donors to the charities, with Trump claiming credit for facilitating the donations? Who actually performed the vetting of the organizations that has been blamed for the delays in getting all the donations to the charities?
Donald J. Trump Veterans Organization Donation List
|Organization||Donation Amount||IRS Ruling Year||Annual Income|
|Achilles International Inc.||$200,000.00||1987||$3,114,029.00|
|American Hero Adventures||$100,000.00||2014||$3,729.00|
|Americans for Equal Living||$100,000.00||2015||**|
|America’s Vetdogs – The Veterans K9 Corps Inc.||$75,000.00||2007||$3,274,888.00|
|Armed Services YMCA of the USA||$75,000.00||**||**|
|Bob Woodruff Family Foundation Inc.||$75,000.00||2008||$9,150,415.00|
|Central Iowa Shelter and Services||$100,000.00||1998||$2,194,284.00|
|Connected Warriors Inc.||$75,000.00||2011||$179,401.00|
|Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust||$115,000.00||1987||$8,137,679.00|
|Fisher House Foundation||$115,000.00||1993||$55,605,708.00|
|Folds of Honor Foundation||$200,000.00||2007||$12,343,011.00|
|Foundation for American Veterans||$75,000.00||1995||$8,023,722.00|
|Green Beret Foundation||$350,000.00||2010||$1,868,720.00|
|Hire Heroes USA||$75,000.00||1992||$5,399,295.00|
|Homes for Our Troops||$50,000.00||2004||$17,651,491.00|
|Honoring America’s Warriors||$100,000.00||2014||**|
|Hope for the Warriors||$65,000.00||2006||$5,969,213.00|
|Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund||$175,000.00||2004||$10,367,671.00|
|K9s for Warriors||$50,000.00||2011||$4,065,644.00|
|Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation||$1,100,000.00||1995||$2,980,850.00|
|Navy Seal Foundation||$465,000.00||2000||$15,359,673.00|
|Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society||$75,000.00||2000||$24,945,127.00|
|New England’s Wounded Veterans Inc.||$75,000.00||2014||$202,289.00|
|Partners for Patriots||$100,000.00||**||**|
|Project for Patriots (*)||$100,000.00||**||**|
|Puppy Jake Foundation||$100,000.00||2013||$289,340.00|
|Racing for Heroes Inc.||$200,000.00||2015||$227,542.00|
|Support Siouxland Soldiers||$100,000.00||2007||$33,970.00|
|Task Force Dagger Foundation||$50,000.00||2014||$1,139,738.00|
|The Mission Continues||$75,000.00||2007||$8,419,099.00|
|The National Military Family Association Inc.||$75,000.00||1986||$3,853,924.00|
|Veterans Airlift Command||$100,000.00||2006||$5,617,772.00|
|Vietnam Veterans Workshop Inc.||$75,000.00||1988||$11,017,719.00|
|Warriors for Freedom Foundation||$50,000.00||2012||$459,622.00|
Organization names and donation amounts provided by the Trump campaign. IRS Ruling Year and revenue figures from Form 990 accessed on GuideStar.org.
* The money earmarked for Project for Patriots, Inc., will be released to them upon their receipt of their IRS determination letter.
** Fields marked with two asterisks indicate either no data available for this organization or there are multiple organizations with the same or similar names.
The table above takes Trump’s list and adds GuideStar information on when the organizations received their tax-exempt ruling from the IRS and each organization’s annual revenue as reported on their latest available IRS Form 990. The lack of identifying information other than the organization’s name made it difficult to identify a few of the recipients, especially since Trump gave to local groups as well as national charities. For example, GuideStar lists at least 1,000 nonprofits with “AMVETS” in their name—was Trump’s $75,000 given to the national foundation or a local chapter?
Many of the veterans nonprofits selected by Trump are small charities where his gift will be a significant part of their revenue. For example, American Hero Adventures, recognized as tax exempt by the IRS in 2014, reported total revenue of less than $4,000 on its latest Form 990. Trump’s $100,000 gift would be “huge” to a small start-up organization. Other charities where Trump’s generosity has the potential to overwhelm other gifts include Liberty House, Puppy Jake Foundation, Connected Warriors, Inc., and New England’s Wounded Veterans Inc., along with four new organizations with 2014 and 2015 IRS ruling years and for which no Form 990 information is available.
One reason given for the delays in processing the gifts was the need to vet the charities. Performing due diligence on very small and very new charities can be difficult for donors because they often lack the history, data collection, and administrative resources to respond to donor questions and concerns. In addition, sudden infusions of cash run the recognized risk of destabilizing very small nonprofit organizations. Financial guru Clara Miller wrote about this very common syndrome in her classic article, “Gift Horse or Trojan Horse? A Thorough Physical is Critical.”
Prudent donors and nonprofit leaders often negotiate the terms and conditions to ensure that large gifts strengthen not just the organization’s bank account, but also its board governance, management, and mission focus. Therefore, considering the small nonprofits Trump chose to support, the vetting process is all the more important. However, based on comments from some of the veterans nonprofit’s leaders, Trump appears to have short-circuited the review process, making little or no contact with the organizations before giving the gifts.
One might expect that a report to the media following a months-long vetting process, as claimed by Trump’s staff, would comprise more than a single sheet of paper with organization names and donation amounts. Adding publicly available addresses and tax ID numbers, for example, would have helped properly identify the organizations and resolve confusion over AMVETS and at least two others on the list. Partners for Patriots, an apparently non-operating group in Iowa, may in fact be K9 Partners for Patriots, a veterans charity in Florida. Veterans Count, listed as having received a $25,000 donation from Trump, is not itself a nonprofit, but a program of Easter Seals apparently operating in seven states. In a more perfect world, given the time and resources available to prepare for the press conference, press packets including program and contact information on each of the charities could have been assembled and distributed by Trump. Of course, such preparation would have reasonably included each charity’s leaders or spokespeople. Instead, at least some of the charities were surprised suddenly by notification or receipt of their gifts shortly before the press conference.
News reports about the gift process and examining the donation list itself both indicate an impulsive, off-the-cuff approach to charitable giving that fits with general public perceptions of Trump. He, or some combination of people, chose dozens of small and mid-sized groups, some of which are so new and so small as to have little documented information available. This isn’t the “safe” way, and that may turn out to be a good thing, in that it could provide much-needed public profile for struggling grassroots efforts. But, why not then follow through, providing information about each to the media? And if you don’t have time in the midst of the campaign to attend to such stuff as this, why not use a fundraising intermediary like a community foundation to receive contributions and perform the vetting of eligible recipient organizations? The whole picture looks sloppy.
As Trump is now the GOP’s all-but-assured presidential nominee in 2016, the gifts made through his fundraising event—and the process used to make them—have political significance. They also offer a teachable moment for other donors and for nonprofits seeking major donor support, hoping for that angel donor with the over-the-transom, transformative gift.