There are a lot of good military charities out there, but there’s also the bad, and the ugly with questionable, and un-ethical practices. This article focuses on the latter, and should serve as a guide to giving.

SOFREP receives a lot of emails with information about charitable organizations. We try and look into them all, and have our own vetted list you can view here.

The Bad

An organization SOFREP recently looked into, which does great things for the Special Operations community, awarded over $50,000 in ongoing education grants to family members of a sitting executive who’s household annual income is in excess of $200,000. These are education grants, not medical or memorial support, and the charity in question has a four star rating with Charity Navigator.

When SOFREP questioned the organization about this practice we were told by their PR company (note: their CEO refused to speak with us) that all grants were awarded by an independent committee. Regardless of an independent committee, any independent committee would likely make themselves familiar with the charity’s mission and leadership, and in our opinion this practice creates a clear conflict of interest.

I reached out to six other military non-profits, and they said that awarding paid executives benefits was not standard industry practice, nor does it seem to represent the best interests of donors. In an survey we conducted on SOFREP, 100% of the participants found this practice to be unethical. Our survey also found that most military charity donors believe that their money is going towards memorial and medical support.

Who are they? As Editor of this site I made the decision to not name this organization publicly for two reasons. First, because the charity does incredible things for the community, and I don’t think there was any ill intent. Second, I hope that their CEO, and Board of Directors will read this, and will consider making changes to their charter with regards to the conflict of interest issue, and income/net-worth guidelines. The truth will always surface, and if donors find that their money is being used in a questionable fashion this charity will have bigger problems.

The Ugly

Many of you know that early this year we helped CNN, and the FBI uncover a phony charity in Arizona.  Recently there’s been another Navy Veterans Charity scandal where the founder was embezzling millions of dollars. The charity was actually certified by the IRS and listed on the VA’s website.

From ABC News

The man accused of setting up a fake Navy Veterans charity and siphoning away millions of dollars was captured by U.S. Marshals in Portland, Oregon after nearly two years on the run.

The alleged con artist, who went by the name Bobby Thompson, continued to refuse to reveal his identity after Marshals took him into custody last night, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

“We’ve been following him all over the country,” Pete Elliott, the U.S. Marshal in northern Ohio who headed the three-man fugitive task force, told ABC News. “We finally caught up with him last night.”

What To Look For

The military non-profit world is a tough environment to navigate, so I’m going to highlight what you should look for in a charity.

  • Does a good charity rating matter?  Be careful of who’s doing the rating. SOFREP has found out that not all charity raters are created equal. Some even charge the non-profit for “rating”, and this creates a conflict in our opinion. Note: Charity navigator does not accept donations from charities.
  • Look hard at their programs, and where the money is going. Some programs are so loosely defined, and so vague it’s hard to track. This should be questioned when you give. Where’s the money going, ask the tough questions.
  • Are there net worth and income guidelines in place. I’ve seen a multi-millionaire SOF widow apply for private school money. Was she eligible? Yes. Deserving? You decide. At RCF I made sure that there are income and net worth disqualification guidelines in place for this reason.
  • What percentage of donations received each year goes towards the mission or programs? SOFREP has seen that in some cases very little goes towards the actual program, and the majority goes towards fundraising, and overhead.
  • Conflict of interest issues. Are sitting executives entitled to benefits?
  • Look at the MilBlog community. Are they vetted?
  • Executive compensation. How much are the executives being paid? Above or below industry standards?

There are some great military charities out there, and my hope is that this helps both donors and military charities look in the mirror when it comes to giving away hard earned money, and doing the right thing when nobody is looking.