West Virginians and Ohioans revere veterans of military service and direct a considerable amount of our giving to organizations that help them. During the past few weeks we have been reminded of the necessity of cynicism in that regard.
Here in West Virginia, a recent report showed a group called West Virginia Vietnam Veterans Foundation is a terrible steward of the funds it receives. Nearly all of its money goes to pay professional fees or back into fundraising.
According to the report, of every dollar spent by the foundation, slightly more than one cent went to veteran-related activities. Charity Navigator, a watchdog organization, maintains fundraising and administrative costs combined should account for no more than 25 percent of total expenses.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, a man is set to spend 28 years in prison for stealing $100 million from the organization he ran out of Florida, the United States Navy Veterans Association. It was a nationwide scam, but Ohio took the lead in prosecuting him for the campaign of fraud.
Now, "Everyone's afraid to give," said Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Gall of Cleveland, where the case was handled.
While donors should not be afraid, they should be cautious. Poor financial management - and even downright dishonesty - exist at organizations of all sizes, in all regions. And there is more to the problem than simply mishandling of funds. Not all organizations spend their money effectively, even if they are spending it on something other than their own administration.
If this season has inspired you to do good in the world, and you believe a financial donation is the best way to do so - or if you are simply looking for an end-of-year tax adjustment - do your homework. Take advantage of tools and research available to inform your decision, and to ensure your hard-earned dollars do not end up in the hands of those who are using hot-button issues to tug at the heartstrings and pocketbooks of good people they intend to cheat.