Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 17, 2013

Veterans’ charity in question

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Paying a telemarketer for fund raising and reduced contributions due to the recession are among the reasons why little money is left over for veterans in need, an officer with a local veterans organization said Monday.

 The most recent figures from the West Virginia Vietnam Veterans Foundation, posted by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office in a listing of charities in the state, show that the organization raised $37,706 in one year. Of this sum, $3,810 went to administrative costs. Another $33,386 was spent on fund raising, and $506 was spent on programs for veterans.

The foundation has “quite a bit” of expenses due to telemarketing, said David Simmons, treasurer for the West Virginia Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Many other organizations seek funding in the Mercer County area, and “veterans don’t want to step on veterans” when competing for donations, he said.

Approximately 80 percent of funds raised go to the telemarketer to pay staff, Simmons said. Other expenses include telephone, Internet access, and office supplies, he said.

The foundation operated out of a rented office until its members decided to shut it down, Simmons said. It now operates out of his home.

“Actually, with the recession, we had to shut it down,” he said of the office. “Then there is Internet, office telephones, and really, truthfully, I’m paying it myself half the time.”

The foundation has a board of 10 people; eight of them are veterans, Simmons said. Simmons stated he is a Vietnam War veteran who served in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

“We’re volunteers, so we don’t get paid,” he said. “You’re paying the telemarketer to do most of it, and this recession has not helped us at all.”

The foundation provides funds to help veterans with medical care, food, shelter and clothing. Simmons estimated the foundation assists 30 to 35 veterans annually. Much of this assistance includes transporting veterans to the VA hospital in Beckley, Simmons said. In other cases, the foundation has assisted stranded veterans by providing gasoline and helping with utility bills. In a recent case, the foundation adopted a veteran’s family with three boys for the Christmas season and provided gifts and a Christmas dinner, he added.

Tax forms show the organization received more than $630,000 from 2002 to 2012, according to the Associated Press. Of this sum, $423,000 covered the fees of a professional fundraiser.

From the year 2002 to 2006, the foundation spent on average 43 percent of its funds on veteran-related activities, according to the AP. The remainder was spent on fees, rent or other expenses. At no time during this period did the foundation raise more than $22,000 or spend more than $10,000 on programming.

In 2007 the foundation raised $144,275, with approximately $10,000 going to charitable programs, the AP said. Of the total sum, more than $105,000 went to professional fund raising. During the next five years, the foundation spent more than 10 percent of its funds for veterans programming only once; this was 12.5 percent in 2009.

Charity Navigator, a national charity watchdog group, said no more than 25 percent of total expenses should be for fund-raising and administrative costs combined, according to the AP.

Jake Glance, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, said the state does not mandate what percentage of the contributions a nonprofit organization receives must be spent on programs.

The Secretary of State website does offer a section titled “Research Before You Donate! Guide to Wise Charitable Giving.” It allows potential donors to look up a charity, see how much money it has received in the past, and how much of its contributions are spent on fund-raising, administrative costs, and actual programs for the needy.

“What we do is publish this list, an online database of every organization licensed to solicit donations,” Glance said. “That’s why we encourage people at this time of year to research charities they might want to donate to.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com