First thing you need to know about charities: they're not all charitable.
Take the very patriotic-sounding Move America Forward, "a non-profit charity dedicated to serving those who protect us: our brave troops" (according to their website). Next month, this charity will hold its annual "Troopathon" fundraiser, during which over 40% of their total revenue is raised every year, to supposedly send as many care packages as possible to U.S. military personnel around the world.
I say 'supposedly' because Move America Forward has a habit of telling tall tales, especially leading up to Troopathon. They do this so much, in fact, that it's hard to say what they actually do. They've been caught inflating the numbers of packages they send. They've been caught using servicepeople's photographs without permission and attaching fake stories to them. They've been caught taking credit for other nonprofits' care packages. And that's just the beginning.
So what's wrong with any charity making a few mistakes as they try to cure the world's ills? So what if they fib every now and then to get people motivated? A lot.
Here are four reasons why you should avoid donating to Move America Forward at all costs:
Let's get this out of the way first: CharityNavigator, one of the top watchdogs for charities, has awarded Move America Forward zero out of four stars. This score is based on the fact that an inordinate amount of their budget (35%) goes to "administrative expenses," which is code too often for ridiculously high salaries and lavish retreats. They don't have their financials audited independently. They don't have any policies around conflicts of interest, whistleblowers, destruction of records, or determining CEO compensation, which is code for "the people at the top are going to do whatever they darn well please and there aren't any structures in place in the organization to stop them." This and a host of revelations about the charity's shady practices have landed Move America Forward on Charity Navigator's Watchlist.
With a charity this well-run (sarcasm intended) it's no surprise Move America Forward has made lies their primary tool of choice in bringing in the donations. After all, they can't tell people what they've actually done without looking bad. Of course, however, this should raise a huge red flag for anyone considering donated to them: if an organization has to lie about what has been positioned as their main purpose for existing, then what good are they?
Experts say that everyone tells white lies, but history shows that Move America Forward has elevated their dishonesty to systematic deception. According to a Stars and Stripes story entitled "Troop charity misleads donors while lining consultants' pockets":
"In February 2013, Move America Forward announced an ambitious fundraising goal. The charity had adopted the 800 Marines in a battalion fighting in Afghanistan and wanted to send them all care packages.
'For some troops, these care packages are the only mail they will receive all year,' the group said in one email solicitation.
The charity later described the fundraising drive as a rousing success: In less than five weeks, all 800 Marines in a 1st Marine Division battalion nicknamed Geronimo were sent care packages and notes in Afghanistan, it claimed.
But that couldn't have been true. The Marines of Geronimo weren't even in Afghanistan during Move America Forward's fund drive. Instead, they were deployed more than 3,000 miles away, in Okinawa, Japan."
And the lies continued.
In their email campaigns, Move America Forward claimed they had formed a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center when, in fact, Move America Forward has never been on Walter Reed's list of partner nonprofits (partly due to the fact that they have such a bad rating with Charity Navigator).
On multiple instances, Move America Forward has been caught taking taking fake stock photos and trying to pass them off as the real thing or simply grabbing online photos of real troops from Instagram and doctoring them up. These are usually accompanied by fake quotes from fake troops.
A few misused stats could be passed off as white lies or just mistakes. But Move America Forward has shown a pattern of deception in their fundraising activities. Even worse, this deception results in donations being not just funneled into an inept organization, but sucked away from more worthy military charities.
To be fair, most charities are started by people who just want to do some good. To be honest, however, others are started by people who just want to take advantage of tax breaks and name their own salaries. To make matters worse, these people aren't always the best money managers. They often either don't know how badly run their organization is or don't want anyone else to know. So they resort to hoarding financial information about their company and finding unethical ways to pad their bottom line.
One striking example of this is how much Move America Forward asks per care package. If you want to send a servicemember a package through Move America Forward, they ask for a $24.99 donation. According to the Stars and Stripes article, all the items inside the box are donation, unpaid volunteers do the packing, and the cost to ship a large box to a military base in Afghanistan is only about $15. For this reason, other similar charities ask for donations of only $15 per care package. But not Move America Forward.
Do the math and you see that Move America Forward makes a $10 profit off of each care package donation. As a charity, they're not supposed to make any profit, so presumably that extra $10 goes to their bloated administrative expenses.
To be fair, a number of large charities do this sort of thing. They run a lot more like for-profit companies than charities, because under the surface they are. Move America Forward and others make profit, line the wallets of their executives, and then find ways to disguise it as expenses.
Unfortunately, Move America Forward takes this act a step further...
This starts at the birth of the charity, which was launched partly by prominent Tea Party leaders and has since recruited the likes of George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Dick Cheney to its ranks. Wondering where the aforementioned profits go to? Look no further. Move America Forward has become a machine for moving millions of dollars from donors to high-profile Republicans and their consulting firms.
As if that weren't enough, the Stars and Stripes article found that:
"The charity's funds and other assets also appear to have been used to subsidize three conservative political action committees, records show ... Its activities could violate tax rules, which prohibit charities from engaging in partisan politics or overly benefiting the people who run them."
In other words, Move America Forward, with all its rah-rah messaging about supporting the troops, is really just another (illegal) tool for funding right-wing political movements and campaigns. Like any political campaign, they will say anything to get donors to open their wallets.
Thankfully, there are plenty of great charities that specialize in supporting our nation's servicepeople, many of which receive top marks from Charity Navigator. Unfortunately, as happens when any so-called charity is exposed as being anything but charitable, Move America Forward puts a black eye on this category of charities and casts doubt on their motives. This is yet another reasons why we recommend that you do your homework on any charity to which you're considering donating time or money. You can reviews here on bestcompany.com and a host of financial information on sites like Charity Navigator. A little homework will make sure your donation goes to people who deserve it, instead of into the coffers of political fat cats.