How to Avoid Military Charity Scammers

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A 67-year-old Ohio man was sentenced to 28 years in prison for masterminding a $100 million Navy veterans charity fraud.  The judge said that not only had the scam hurt the veterans who were intended to be the beneficiaries of this charity, but it hurt other charities because it makes donors “skeptical of giving.”

Bing!  That’s me.  Currently “skeptical of giving”

But that is not a place I want to be. Because of my job, I hear about many military families in crisis. My mailbox, voicemail and email are chock full of requests to support military charities.

And there are a ton of them. There are more than 47,000 nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS that list “military” in their mission statement.

But how am I supposed to figure out which charities will actually channel my hard-earned money to military families and veterans in need, and which ones will use my pay to fund their beach house in the Hamptons?

When I sat down to talk with professionals who work in the military non-profit field at our annual Spouse Summit, they told me that one way to think of giving would be to divide military charities into three categories:

  • Established — non-profits with a proven record of doing good work.  Give to these organizations with confidence.
  • Developing — non-profits who mean well but haven’t firmly established goals and priorities yet.  Give to these with an eye toward encouraging good work.  Not every good charity is a huge charity.
  • Evil — organizations that have set themselves up to rook well-meaning people out of money they intend to be used to help military families.

While I know all three of these types of organizations exist, I don’t have time to do a lot of research. Fortunately, that work is already done.

According to the Federal Trade Commission the easiest way to check a charity is to check its name and reputation at Charity Navigator and GuideStar or the Wise Giving Alliance (operated by the Better Business Association.)

The FTC says that a good rule of thumb is that good charities spend less than 35 percent of donations on fundraising and administrative costs.

Charity Navigator specifically lists military charities devoted to supporting our troops rated by financial health, accountability and transparency. Their ratings show givers how efficiently a charity will use the support we give today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent.

Good ones to give to:

Charity Navigator gives their highest four-star rating to The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in order to support those who lost family members at the Navy Yard this year.

Other four star rated military charities include the National Military Family Association, Hope for the Warriors, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Fisher House Foundation, Air Warrior Courage Foundation, Navy SEAL Foundation, Homes for Our Troops, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Armed Services YMCA, Our Military Kids, Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Mercy Medical Airlift, Support the Enlisted Project, USO of Missouri, Inc. Adaptive Spouse Foundation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.  Find the entire list here.

Avoid this organizations:

The military nonprofits that received zero stars from Charity Navigator include Blinded Veterans Association, National Veterans Services Fund, Inc., Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, National Veterans Foundation, New England Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Vietnam Veterans Foundation and Shiloh International Ministries.

What about Operation Homefront?

Many of our readers are probably wondering why Operation Homefront is missing from the above the lists. Early this year Operation Homefront fired its co-founder Amy Palmer after $36,000 in donated goods was discovered to be missing. Palmer has since filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired for refusing to falsify documents.

While Operation Homefront was last year considered a highly rated charity, it is now on the charity watch-list due largely to this scandal.   Guidestar still lists Operation Homefront with a five-star rating. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance lists Operation Homefront as “review in progress.” Charity Navigator lists Operation Homefront on their Donor Advisory list.

Because the situation is still in question, we chose not to include it on either of our charity lists in this post.

In our military community, we pride ourselves in taking care of our own.  This is the season of giving.  Please think of our families in need and give what you can.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at

13 Comments on "How to Avoid Military Charity Scammers"

  1. Steve Roberts | December 20, 2013 at 11:32 am |

    I am sure there are a few that are good charities that are not on your approved list. I want to suggest "Paws for Purple Hearts" which works with Veterans and matches serviced dogs. My service dog was provided by PPH through Bergin Canine University. My service dog has changed my life. The two of us act as ambassadors for the program, and are working to help more Veterans obtain service dogs. PPH is a very worth charity that directly helps Veterans.

  2. What about the "Wounded Warrior" charity?

    • Steve Roberts | December 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm |

      I have been keeping up with some of the military charities trying to raise money for veterans service dogs. There is the Wounded Warrior Project, and I think they are doing pretty good with the donations. We want to apply for some of the WWP funding grants for the Paws for Purple Hearts program. People are constantly asking where to give donation dollars that will directly help veterans without a lot of administrative costs. The criminal that ran the 'Navy Charity Scam' really hurt veterans. People want to help veterans without getting scammed.

      A year after being matched with my service dog, my life is so much better. I truly think that dogs help with PTSD. Dogs are a better answer than the prescription highway.

    • Hack Margolis | December 25, 2013 at 11:03 pm |


      Check WWP on Charity Navigator. WWP does not get 4 stars dues to high operating cost and a lower % of donations going directly to Wounded Warriors. I have also read that some of the vets applying for assistance from WWP are dissatisfied. I had been donating on monthly basis, but no more. I also give to Navy SEAL Foundation which does get 4 stars and has lower operating expenses. Plus the person who runs Navy SEAL Foundation earns 1/2 of what the gent who runds WWP takes.

    • Lincoln Mueller | December 26, 2013 at 11:06 am |

      I checked the Charity Navigator re Wounded Warrior. They give it a three star rating.

  3. I have found that when approached by an unknown charity, I stop them with, " I provide ALL of my donations through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). Are you listed with them?" If there is any hesitation in response, or if they reply in the negative, I will not contribute.

  4. homefreedomunlimited | December 26, 2013 at 12:05 am |

    A recent TED radio talk was by a charity CEO/apologist for high/competitive salaries. It seems a shame the only (possibly) objective measure of employee commitment to the charity's cause is how much you can short-change them for the work they do, before they quit. (This must be wrong.)

  5. hikesocal | July 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm |

    It's a shame that you missed what is possibly the most important military charity in the U.S
    And that's because they don't help to pick up the pieces after the fact. They help keep soldiers safe during deployment.
    Check out I ran across them a few weeks ago and they've become my charity of choice.
    They respond to military supply requests that come directly from forward-deployed soldiers. Things like stretchers, ballistic eye wear and special chalk for marking IED's. Stuff you would think the soldiers have but don't.
    I actually called the organization to find out what percentage of a dollar goes to the actual supplies and shipping overseas. 92 cents That's unheard of.
    Thanks for putting together this list. There's nothing that upsets me as much as scam artists using the military to make money.

  6. Mary Brockman | August 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm |

    A very good charity is Unforgotten Heroes. Every penny donated goes to veterans.

  7. Beware of the more recent "HEARTS AND HEROES" packages to deployed military. It is probably another SCAM!!!! Has anybody heard of this program? It is going on presently in the Hershey PA area.

  8. There is one referring to themselves as Military Charity Association. Their claim is that they can make funds available to you directly into your USAA account, and only AFTER receiving your funds, do you send them a small portion for their services. Seems shady due to their request for a portion, but they ask for no money up front, and are insistant on you the account holder, being the only one able to access the funds after they are deposited. This is definitely something to dig more into.

  9. I was just solicited by a "Hearts 2 Heroes" rep. He claimed to have been in the Army…but when I asked him what he did, he said "Underwater Welding"! (Not exactly an Army specialty…) He didn't know what an MOS was, couldn't tell me what unit he was in. Honestly, scammers should be better trained…

  10. Operation military pride's founder was sued by the state of Illinois for not being able to account for over $300,000. Beware, they appear to still be operating!

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