BBB Alert: Veterans Relief Network Has Limited Track Record, Ties To Sweepstakes Firm

The Better Business Bureau is warning potential donors about a charity, Veterans Relief Network, that has ties to a Kirkwood sweepstakes firm.

The Better Business Bureau gets inquiries about charities every day through our website as well as in phone calls to our office. Some inquiries are about well-known charities, but others are about charities that have little or no track record in serving the community.

The BBB has been reviewing charities for more than a decade. We take a hard look at each charity’s finances, fundraising, governance and programs. We want to see charities that spend most of their money serving their target populations rather than on administration or fundraising.

BBB Charity Reviews can help you make wise choices about the charities you support. We encourage the public to go to our website and search for charities by name.

In addition, we have tips that can help you make sure your donation will be used appropriately:

  1. If you are unfamiliar with an organization, don't hesitate to ask the charity for written information about its programs and finances.
  2. Don't succumb to pressure to give money on the spot. A charity that can use your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow. Watch out for appeals that bring tears to your eyes, but tell you nothing about how your donation will be used.
  3. Before making online donations, determine whether the charity’s website is secure and that it has a privacy policy concerning the use of your name, email address or other personal facts. (Secure sites’ addresses begin with https://.)
  4. When considering support for a cause-related marketing campaign, find the answers to these questions: What portion of the purchase price will benefit the charity? What is the duration of the campaign? What is the maximum or minimum total contribution? If the information is not on the item, check the organization’s website.
  5. Before donating used items make sure they are in good shape to reuse. Donating junk puts an undue burden on the charity and does more harm than good. You may want to consider selling the item and donating the proceeds to a charity.

Today’s BBB release concerns a charity that has a limited track record: It was founded just a little over a year ago. The BBB also has questions about its fundraising partner. Read on:

St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 9, 2012 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests that
donors interested in helping America’s veterans consider other options before
responding to fundraising mailings from Veterans Relief Network.

The BBB urges caution when dealing with the veterans’ charity or its for-profit fundraising consultant, Precision Performance Marketing (PPM) of Kirkwood, Mo. Over the past several years, PPM has used sweepstakes mailings to help several national charities raise millions of dollars on behalf of causes ranging from childhood cancer to autism. Records show that the large majority of those contributions has gone to pay the costs of fundraising rather than to assist people in need.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said veterans’ needs are extensive and urged donors to give generously to veterans’ causes. But, she added, “If the past performance of PPM-related charities is any indication, most donations made in response to Veterans Relief Network mailings will go to pay professional fundraising costs, not to help our servicemen and women.”

Jim Judge, BBB Charity Review director, said that a review of Internal Revenue Service records shows that three other charities received between three and 11 cents of each dollar donated to them through PPM sweepstakes.

“With so little money going to charity, potential donors have every right to wonder whether these charities were set up primarily to help people in need or to supply a steady stream of income to PPM and its owners,” Judge said.

Records show that Veterans Relief Network was registered in Indiana in March 2011. The charity lists addresses in Dyer, Ind., and Kansas City, Mo. In June 2011, Veterans Relief network entered into a three-year contract with PPM, which calls for the Kirkwood firm to assist the charity’s solicitation efforts by helping prepare educational  material and public support appeals, including production of mailings, research and printing. Similar contracts with other charities have resulted in sweepstakes mailings to hundreds of thousands of prospective donors a year, offering chances to win cash prizes and asking for donations. 

Those sweepstakes mailings appear to have produced little money to help those in need. For example, IRS 990 reports for 2010 show:

Fundraising mailings on behalf of Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center of Niceville, Fla., raised about $250,000 in donations, with about $17,000 going to the charity (about 7 cents of each dollar).

  • Mailings on behalf of Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation of Schererville, Ind., raised about $505,000 in donations, with about $55,000 going to the charity (about 11 cents of each dollar).
  • Mailings on behalf of National Cancer Assistance Foundation of Sarasota, Fla., took in about $817,000 in donations. About $24,000 (3 cents of each dollar) went to the charity.

BBB reports show that Disabled Police Officers of America (a related charity to Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center) and Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation have not responded to written requests for information. A BBB report for National Cancer Assistance Foundation shows that charity does not meet one or more of the BBB’s 20 Standards For Charity Accountability.

A BBB investigation shows several other connections
between PPM, Veterans Relief Network and other charities that have hired PPM to
do fundraising work. The BBB found:

  • Veterans Relief Network, Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, National
    Cancer Assistance Foundation and PPM all have been represented by the same Kansas City law firm, Copilevitz & Canter. The veterans’ charity uses
    Copilevitz & Canter’s office as its mailing address.
  • While none of the three charities has offices in the St. Louis area, all have used the same Sunset Hills accounting firm, Swink, Fiehler & Company. Earl Swink, president of the accounting firm said that he is not sure how his
    company got those charities’ accounts, but said it no longer does work for the autism and veterans charities.
  • Veterans Relief Network and Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation were once housed in the same Schererville, Ind., building on West Lincoln Highway.
  • Helen Ignas, listed as president and executive director of Veterans Relief Network in June 2011, was identified as a director of Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation in an IRS 990 filing in August 2011. In her April 2011 application for a federal tax exemption for Veterans Relief Network, Ignas
    reports an address on Muirfield Court in Schererville – the same residential
    address used by the autism charity’s executive director, Michael Slutsky.
  • Indiana corporation records for National Cancer Assistance Foundation show
    Paul DeBonis of Sarasota, Fla., as incorporator of that charity and autism charity president Slutsky as its registered officer and agent.

Michael Confalone of Ballwin is president of Precision Performance Marketing, which reports a Kirkwood address of 12166 Old Big Bend Road.  Confalone owns 50 percent of the company.  David Lovell of Kirkwood, founder and former head of the Reach Our Children charity, owns 40 percent of the company. Joe Raible of Ballwin, head of St. Louis Business Forms in Fenton, owns 10 percent. Confalone and Raible are former neighbors on Mark Wesley Lane in Ballwin.

In 2006, Precision Performance Marketing was at the center of a controversy that led to Lovell’s resignation from his Reach Our Children charity. Board members of Reach Our Children said at that time that Lovell never told them that his wife was co-owner of Precision Performance Marketing, which had been paid $3 million by the charity from 2003 to 2005 to help with the charity’s fundraising mailings.  Lovell later took his wife’s job as vice president of PPM.

The website for Veterans Relief Network (www.veteransreliefnetwork.org) says the organization was founded to assist U.S. military veterans and their families with “ever increasing costs be it medical or simply daily living expenses.”  The charity has said it intends to solicit in all 50 states.

The BBB offers the following tips to potential donors:

  • Read any sweepstakes offers carefully. Do not be misled by mailings
    indicating you have already won or are a contest finalist. Federal law mandates that persons who do not make donations have the same chance of winning as those who do.
  • Learn all you can about a charity before contributing. Ask for printed
    documentation on how much of your contribution will be used for program services and how much will go for fundraising and management expenses.
  • Whenever possible, donate directly to a charity and not through a
    fundraising telemarketer or a direct mail solicitation. That helps insure that
    most of your contribution goes directly to the charity.
  • Check with the BBB for a BBB Charity Review. For a charity to receive BBB accreditation, it must meet 20 Standards of Accountability covering everything from governance to fundraising.

The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Robert L Elgin August 14, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Great BBB advice:"Whenever possible, donate directly to a charity and not through a fundraising telemarketer or a direct mail solicitation." I'm going to recite that recommendation to all future telemarketers before hanging up!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »