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Vietnow charity keeps most money raised, man discovers


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SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of charities say they're all about helping veterans. While you may not want to say no to helping support the troops and their families, it's a good idea to investigate before you open your wallet.

Eric Langheinrich is no stranger to phone calls from charities asking for his financial support. But a fundraising call he received recently rubbed him the wrong way.

"They were very pushy. 'Let us send out the packet. Let us send out the packet,' and didn't really want to share any of their contact information," he said.

Langheinrich said the call was from Vietnow — a group that claims to raise money for veterans, their families and veteran programs. He hung up, looked online and discovered the group was a registered charity with the state of Utah; however, the website showed the group only forwards 3 percent of the money it raises to veterans and programs.

"So three cents on every dollar you donate to this organization actually will go to veterans organizations," Langheinrich said.

After analyzing 10 years of tax forms, the Tampa Bay Times ranked VietNow number 19 on its list of America's 50 worst charities. Here's why: During that decade, the charity raised $18 million. The paper said only $527,000 was sent directly to veterans and veteran groups. But a whopping $16 million was kept by the telemarketers and others who actually raised the money.

Effective charity
Sandra Minuitti said the hallmark of an effective charity is that at least 75 percent of the money it raises actually goes programs and people it claims to help.

"This charity has it completely backwards," said Sandra Minuitti of CharityNavigator.org.

She said a number of veterans charities do this. While each have their own reasons, none of them ring true for her group.

"I can't for the life of me understand why a charity would even get into bed with a for profit telemarketer that knowingly is going to keep 80 percent or more of every dollar," she said.

While many question the ethics of a such a relationship, the U.S. Supreme Court says it's legal for fundraisers to hold onto 80 percent or more of the money they raise for charity as long as they don't lie about it.

Check it out
Find a charity search tool run by Utah's Division of Consumer Protection at http://consumerprotection.utah. gov/consumerinfo/lists.html?list=CH. Type in the organization's name, and the website will tell you if it's registered and how much of its budget goes to those it claims to support.

Minuitti said that's why consumers should aske telemarketers asking for a charitable contribution how much money they keep and how much they forward on.

"Unfortunately, most donors don't think to ask because if they did, they would find out it's such a low percentage and hang up," Minuitti said.

Langheinrich said, "If I'm going to donate my money to a veterans organization, that organization should really be out there supporting veterans."

VietNow officials didn't return our phone calls.

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Bill Gephardt

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