If you’re thinking about donating to a veterans charity this year, the hardest part may be which one to choose.

Saturday is Veterans Day, and we recommend you check out CR advice below before you donate.

While there are many veterans groups that get top ratings, there also are many that do very little, if anything, to support their cause, says Daniel Borochoff, president of the charity watchdog group CharityWatch, which evaluates nonprofit organizations.

But such groups are good at tugging at the heartstrings of patriotic Americans. "They know what [causes] people like to give to most, and that's the hook," says Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, another charity watchdog.

Just this week, for example, attorneys general from 24 states reached a settlement that dissolves Illinois-based VietNow National Headquarters. The states accused the charity of misleading donors about how their contributions are used and of spending most of the money it raises on professional fundraisers and administrative expenses. 

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette made similar claims against Florida-based American Veterans Foundation. He issued a so-called notice of intended action and cease and desist order against the group.

Neither VietNow or American Veterans Foundation responded to our request for comment.

How to Check a Charity

Before you make a donation, take these steps to ensure that your gift is put to good use.

Check with a watchdog. The charity watchdogs—CharityWatch, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance—evaluate national groups and some local ones based on a variety of criteria, including how much they spend on their programs, as opposed to fundraising and administrative expenses, and how well they are governed. The watchdogs don't always agree on whether a group deserves your support. So it's best to find charities that have high ratings among all three. Examples of high- and low-rate veterans groups are in the table below.

Do your own research. If the watchdogs haven't evaluated a group you're considering donating to, you can research it yourself, says Weiner. Check the group's website for information about what the charity does, a listing of the board of directors, and its latest financial reports. If the site doesn't have those details, "it is sending you a message that the organization is not very transparent," says Weiner.

Among the documents you should look for, he says, is IRS form 990, which most charities are required to file annually with the federal government. The form provides a lot of information about how much a charity raises, how it spends its money, and even how much it pays top employees. You can also find 990s at the charity information site GuideStar (free registration required).

Understand the charity's mission. Just because a veterans group has a top rating from a charity watchdog doesn't mean it is necessarily assisting veterans or their families in way that you want to support, notes Weiner. For instance, the mission of the highly-rated group Homes for Our Troops, based in Taunton, Mass., is to build specially adapted homes for veterans who have been severely injured. Another top group, Omaha, Neb.-based Wounded Warriors Family Support, helps families of those who have been wounded, injured and killed during combat operations.

Skip the telemarketer. If you get a call from a charity, avoid the temptation to give immediately, Weiner advises. Instead, use the call as a prompt to check out the group. If you later decide to donate, you can contribute directly, typically on the group's website. 

Verify tax deductibility. Donations to some nonprofit organiations aren't tax deductible. If you're counting on taking a deduction, check before giving, advises Borochoff. That information is likely to be on the group's website, he says. As an extra precaution, verify with the IRS.

High and Low-Rated Veterans Charities

High-rated charities

Low-rated charities

Homes for Our Troops

Taunton, Mass.

Healing American Heroes (Help Our Wounded)

Round Rock, Texas

National Military Family Association

Alexandria, Va.


Help the Vets

Orlando, Fla.

Operation Homefront

San Antonio, Texas

Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation

Annadale, Va.

The Mission Continues

St. Louis, Mo.

National Veterans Services Fund

Darien, Conn.

Wounded Warriors Family Support

Omaha, Neb.

Veterans Support Foundation

Silver Spring, Md.

Data from Charity Watch, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance