It seems like every year we have a major scandal involving a charitable organization that claims to support Veterans. Last year, the largest Veteran charitable organization, the Wounded Warriors Project (“WWP”), came under scrutiny after it was discovered that a significant percentage of funds raised by WWP served as compensation or incentives for the WWP staff rather than being channeled into programs that truly benefit Veterans or their loved ones.
WWP was not the first Veteran charitable organization to show its feet of clay, but now the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (“IAVA”) is coming under intense public scrutiny. Jonah Bennett, a reporter for the Daily Caller, notes the following:
Former employees of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one of the largest veterans’ advocacy organizations in the country, allege that the charity’s CEO has abused staff and pressured employees to lie about grant funds and project success to mislead donors.
Seven former employees of IAVA spoke to The Daily Caller News Foundation and said among other things that CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an Army first lieutenant, has fostered an environment that puts pressure on employees to aggressively fiddle with numbers so that grant finances and grant project goals can be listed as complete.
Needless to say, CEO Paul Rieckhoff has “denied allegations that he had pressured the staff to misuse grant money and mislead donors.” Nevertheless, it represents yet another blemish on fund-raising efforts by charitable organizations that claim to support Veterans.
Problems within the IAVA date back several years when a 2014 letter from a former employee to the IAVA Board “asks for Rieckhoff to step down as CEO, citing a long history of poor relations with donors, high staff turnover and misspending grant funds.” Calls by the Daily Caller to “Rieckhoff’s personal cell phone went unanswered.”
While it is difficult to know which – if any – of the allegations by former employees of IAVA are true, hints of discontent within the organization have been widely known for several years. Whether these allegations are true or not, the repercussions will likely be severe for both IAVA and many other charitable organizations focused on supporting Veterans.
Sadly, many charitable organizations that seek to support Veterans are strapped for cash to fund even the smallest programs. Well-intentioned efforts fail because the principals simply don’t have the experience or capabilities to raise funds for Veteran programs. Others fail because they simply don’t have the “right” infrastructure to attract charitable funding.
With large organizations like IAVA and the WWP, the pursuit of funding tragically becomes far more important than the causes they support. This may well be an over-generalization, but funding becomes critical to support the many deserving Veteran programs that require an almost constant supply of fresh financial resources.
It is not surprising that the leadership of so many well-meaning Veteran organizations gets trapped by the dilemma of balancing the needs of Veterans and their ongoing fund-raising efforts. As we have seen in the case of WWP and now IAVA (apparently), the lure of attracting additional resources appears to outweigh the needs of Veterans they claim to support.
What to Look for in a Veteran Charitable Organization
There are no hard and fast rules for determining which charitable organization(s) is/are most effective in meeting the needs of Veterans, but there are certainly a few common themes:
– The integrity of the Administrators and Board Members;
– Projects clearly segregated for direct contributions by donors;
– Clear (and auditable) guidelines on how contributions will be allocated;
– Annual audit reports and regular project updates to donors to let them know how funds are being deployed;
– Independent advisory board consisting of charitable organizations to supervise and administer grants.
Tell-tale Signs of Abuse in Veteran Charitable Organizations
It is difficult to generalize on the “signs of abuse” within a charitable organization, but if it looks “too good to be true” the program is probably a sham. Found below are just a few tell-tale signs that the “hype” is greater than “real” programs to support Veterans:
– Public outings with Veterans (baseball games or other sporting events) is a sure sign that it is a staged PR event with little or no lasting benefit to the Veteran or his/her family;
– Lack of distinction between general purpose funding ($19 a month, for instance) and funding for specific identifiable programs for Veterans (i.e. Hyperbaric Oxygen, PTSD research, defined occupational training program, etc.);
– Does the charitable website intelligently focus on specific Veteran support programs or does it focus instead on pulling the donor’s heartstrings?
– Who are the Board Members and do written guidelines of corporate governance exist?
– Are audited financial statements and charitable organization credentials easily found on the website?
SFTT takes no great pleasure in commenting on problems of a prominent Veteran charitable organization, but if these allegations ring true, it gravely affects the funding of all organizations that seek to support our brave Veterans.