Donors to Veterans Organizations Face Crowded Field

Donors to veterans' causes must navigate an increasingly crowded field of some forty thousand charities, many with questionable records, the New York Times reports.

With new charities rushing to fill perceived gaps in services for veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the relatively young field is riddled with inefficient and underperforming  organizations, experts told the Times. At the same time, the influx of philanthropic support, intense public interest in supporting veterans, and the relative lack of long-established organizations that can model best practices have created what CharityWatch president Daniel Borochoff calls a "minefield" for potential donors. "It's an emotional give, and people are very sympathetic toward veterans, and so they don't think it through," said Borochoff. "This is a ripe opportunity for a bad operator to take advantage."

Complicating the situation, many charities in the field pursue duplicative missions, have similar-sounding names, and/or highlight specific needs in a way that draws funds away from where they are needed most, including job placement and other programs designed to help veterans transition to civilian life, said Thomas Meyer, a director at the Philanthropy Roundtable and author of the 2013 report Serving Those Who Served: A Wise Giver's Guide to Assisting Veterans and Military Families.

One organization that seems to have figured things out is the Schultz Family Foundation, a family philanthropy started by Starbucks chair and CEO Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri. In 2013, the foundation began looking for charities with a track record of  helping veterans and their families overcome their most pressing challenges. The Schultzes and foundation officials spent several months working with a consulting firm  doing due diligence on veterans charities, visiting military bases and hospitals, and meeting with current and former military officials, veterans, and enlisted men and women to discuss their needs. Having identified post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, and economic stability as areas where help was most needed, the foundation then made the decision to  support a handful of organizations, including Warrior Canine Connection, One Mind, and Dog Tag, To date, the foundation has awarded $15 million out of a total of $30 million pledged to veterans' causes.

"As with all of our giving, we approach these investments with a business lens," said Daniel Pitasky, the foundation's executive director. "This is particularly important within the veteran landscape since it's grown so quickly since September 11. At times, this sea of good will can make it difficult for veterans and their families to navigate and for funders to determine best practices that will lead to real impact."

Michael S. Schmidt, Nicholas Fandos. "Donors to Veterans' Causes Face Crowded Field of Charities." New York Times 11/04/2016.