Which nonprofits serving military veterans are worthwhile?

logoI get asked this question now and again, and I see this question posted in various places:

I want to donate money to help USA military veterans and their families. Which nonprofits are really worthwhile?

Sadly, I have trouble answering the question, because there are just too many news articles about very shady happenings by organizations claiming to help military veterans, such as this story from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, another one from Cooper, this one from the Daily Beast, this one from Veterans Today, and this from the Tampa Bay Times. I also find the TV commercials of several of these organizations emotionally-manipulative, as though donating to their organization proves your patriotism.

I’m not going to name any of the organizations in question, but it’s worth it to click on those previously-mentioned links and see the organization names yourself – some will be very recognizable.

Here are some questions you can use as you look at a web site to help you evaluate an organization that claims to help military veterans and their families:

  • Does this organization have a prominent link right on the home page for veterans or families of such in need of services – a link as prominent as its links for financial donors? If not, then it’s a red flag: how can an organization say it serves veterans or families of such but not have an obvious way for people to seek services? If it does have a link, click on it. Does the organization have just one page that talks about vague benefits – events, discounts, camaraderie, etc. – rather than concrete service information like mental health services / counseling, rehabilitation resources, accommodation adjustments in housing, debt management, help with government paperwork, job re-training, etc.? In short: pretend you are a veteran or family member in need and look at the web site from that perspective, then ask yourself this question: are you able to find information about services you urgently need?
  • Does the organization list its services as, primarily, directing veterans and their families to other agencies to help with health services, rehabilitation, job placement, etc. – or does the organization actually provide those services directly? If the former, your donation might be better going directly to those organizations that actually provide the services, since the organization is just referring people other organizations.
  • Does the organization say, right on the home page, that it involves volunteers? If no, that’s a red flag – why would a nonprofit not involve volunteers? Are they hiding something? If they do have such a link to volunteering information, do volunteers help in direct service, or do volunteers help just with fundraising? If the former, that’s a good sign that this is a legitimate organization, as they have a commitment to members of the public seeing their work firsthand – they value that kind of investment in their work. If the latter, then that’s a red flag: this organization sees volunteers only as fundraisers, as money-makers. There’s nothing wrong with volunteers being fundraisers, but if that’s the ONLY way the organization involves volunteers, it may mean the organization is concerned only with raising large amounts of money.
  • Does the organization provide an accounting of how it spends money, beyond saying, “80% of money raised goes to services”? For instance, what percentage of the organization’s staff is working in direct support to veterans and their families, versus staff working to raise funds, manage volunteers that raise funds, marketing staff, etc.?

Those are my suggestions of questions to ask before you donate financially to an organization that claims to help veterans and their families.

So, can I recommend any organization myself as one I would donate to (and maybe I have donated to)? Yes. I recommend the USO.

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