AT first glance, the West Virginia Vietnam Veterans Foundation sounds like an organization worthy of a donation. After all, helping others seems to be part of the DNA of generous West Virginians. Who wouldn't want to help aging Vietnam vets - folks who fought their country's war against communism yet were sometimes despised at home for doing so?
But as Charleston Daily Mail reporter Dave Boucher revealed in a two-part series on charitable organization spending, only about a nickel of every dollar that people contributed to the Bluefield-based Vietnam vets organization actually went toward programs for veterans over a three-year period.
In fact, in 2012 the organization raised $37,700 and contributed just $506 on programs: $491 to an emergency fund for veterans and a $14.95 "grant" to the National youth Anti-Drug Education Program.
But it's not just the W.Va. Vietnam Veterans Foundation duping contributors, and possibly their own board members, into thinking their programs are doing great things for the needy. Well-intentioned organizations who want to build community support, such as county deputy sheriff's associations, employ professional telemarketers to solicit donations for programs like "Shop with a Cop."
The Harrison County Deputy Sheriff's Association was able to contribute $78,000 over three years to charitable causes. That sounds great, but contributors gave $329,141 to the association during that same period. Most of the $251,000 difference went to the telemarketing firm that did the soliciting.
"That's the price we have to pay to have that money raised," said Lt. Pat McCarty, the association's treasurer and an 18-year sheriff's department veteran.
There must be better ways. Local organizations who want to help local people can work with reputable, established local agencies.
The Better Business Bureau suggests no more than 35 percent of a charitable organization's expenses should go toward fundraising, while the non-profit Charity Navigator suggests no more than 25 percent should go toward fundraising and administration.
The United Way of Central West Virginia, which helps more than 60,000 people, spends less than 15 percent on fundraising and administrative costs, turning 85 percent of giving into community help.
Local police agencies would do better by establishing partnerships with such reputable local charities.
People who want to give should give generously, but do so by not responding to telephone solicitations and checking out local agencies.
For a printed guide on giving, contact the West Virginia Attorney General's office by calling 1-800-368-8808.
Donors can also research charities registered in West Virginia online at the Secretary of State's website, www.sos.wv.gov.