Is the Darien-based National Veterans Services Fund one of the worst charities in America? A new rating by the the well-respected group Charity Navigator suggests that by some measures, it could be a contender for that dubious distinction.
We’ve written about the National Veterans Services Fund before. The non-profit, run for more than a decade by Phillip Kraft, has generated about $70 million in donations in the last decade, but only a small fraction of the money was actually spent on charitable services. In the year ending June 30, 2012, well-meaning donors gave nearly $9 million to the fund. But as much as 84 cents of every dollar donated went back to the professional fundraiser.
Charity Navigator gives the National Veterans Services Fund zero stars – as it has for each of the last nine years. That record put the Fund in the No. 1 spot of a new list of “10 Consistently Low Rated Charities” published by the rating group.
“These ten charities have earned the most consecutive 0-star, ‘extremely poor’ ratings meaning they consistently perform far below industry standards and below nearly all similar charities.,” Charity Navigator reports. Not surprisingly, charities that claim to help children and law enforcement are heavily represented on the list, as those heart-string causes are commonly used in fundraising campaigns that deliver only a pittance to the non-profit group.
There are non-profits on the list that provide little to no true charitable services. But that is not the case with the National Veterans Services Fund. Kraft, who collects a six-figure salary, says he and three other workers – one full-time and two part-time – have helped thousands of warriors pay their bills and navigate the Veterans Administration. He wishes fundraising costs didn’t deplete 80 percent or more of the millions donated, but says he and his crew lack the resources and expertise to raise money on their own.
“To blame a charity for the price charged by our fundraisers is like blaming a driver for the price of gas,” he said.
Kraft said his small operation has picked up the tab for everything from wheelchairs to utility bills to dentures, and has paid for temporary housing for down-on-their luck vets. But under the charity’s lopsided fundraising, every dollar it spends requires more than $5 in donations. So a wheelchair with a $175 pricetag costs donors to the charity nearly $1,000. And covering Kraft’s $118,800 salary requires more than $600,000 in donations.
Still, Kraft is unapologetic, saying those pricey fundraising contracts are the only way for him to stay in business.
“A small percentage of something is better than 100 percent of nothing,” he said.
Click the chart above for our full Charity Check report on the National Veterans Services Fund. And see below for the group’s most recent tax return.