How to Avoid Military Charity Scammers


A 67-year-old Ohio man was sentenced to 28 years in prison for masterminding a $100 million Navy veterans charity fraud.  The judge said that not only had the scam hurt the veterans who were intended to be the beneficiaries of this charity, but it hurt other charities because it makes donors "skeptical of giving."

Bing!  That's me.  Currently "skeptical of giving"

But that is not a place I want to be. Because of my job, I hear about many military families in crisis. My mailbox, voicemail and email are chock full of requests to support military charities.

And there are a ton of them. There are more than 47,000 nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS that list “military” in their mission statement.

But how am I supposed to figure out which charities will actually channel my hard-earned money to military families and veterans in need, and which ones will use my pay to fund their beach house in the Hamptons?

When I sat down to talk with professionals who work in the military non-profit field at our annual Spouse Summit, they told me that one way to think of giving would be to divide military charities into three categories:

  • Established -- non-profits with a proven record of doing good work.  Give to these organizations with confidence.

  • Developing -- non-profits who mean well but haven’t firmly established goals and priorities yet.  Give to these with an eye toward encouraging good work.  Not every good charity is a huge charity.

  • Evil -- organizations that have set themselves up to rook well-meaning people out of money they intend to be used to help military families.

While I know all three of these types of organizations exist, I don’t have time to do a lot of research. Fortunately, that work is already done.

According to the Federal Trade Commission the easiest way to check a charity is to check its name and reputation at Charity Navigator and GuideStar or the Wise Giving Alliance (operated by the Better Business Association.)

The FTC says that a good rule of thumb is that good charities spend less than 35 percent of donations on fundraising and administrative costs.

Charity Navigator specifically lists military charities devoted to supporting our troops rated by financial health, accountability and transparency. Their ratings show givers how efficiently a charity will use the support we give today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent.

Good ones to give to:

Charity Navigator gives their highest four-star rating to The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in order to support those who lost family members at the Navy Yard this year.

Other four star rated military charities include the National Military Family Association, Hope for the Warriors, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Fisher House Foundation, Air Warrior Courage Foundation, Navy SEAL Foundation, Homes for Our Troops, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Armed Services YMCA, Our Military Kids, Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Mercy Medical Airlift, Support the Enlisted Project, USO of Missouri, Inc. Adaptive Spouse Foundation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.  Find the entire list here.

Avoid this organizations:

The military nonprofits that received zero stars from Charity Navigator include Blinded Veterans Association, National Veterans Services Fund, Inc., Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, National Veterans Foundation, New England Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Vietnam Veterans Foundation and Shiloh International Ministries.

What about Operation Homefront?

Many of our readers are probably wondering why Operation Homefront is missing from the above the lists. Early this year Operation Homefront fired its co-founder Amy Palmer after $36,000 in donated goods was discovered to be missing. Palmer has since filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired for refusing to falsify documents.

While Operation Homefront was last year considered a highly rated charity, it is now on the charity watch-list due largely to this scandal.   Guidestar still lists Operation Homefront with a five-star rating. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance lists Operation Homefront as “review in progress.” Charity Navigator lists Operation Homefront on their Donor Advisory list.

Because the situation is still in question, we chose not to include it on either of our charity lists in this post.

In our military community, we pride ourselves in taking care of our own.  This is the season of giving.  Please think of our families in need and give what you can.

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