Dennis Anderson

DENNIS ANDERSON

Easy Company

We head into Christmas and other holidays just in time for Omicron. What a lump of coal for poor Charlie Brown!

Whatever the news is, whatever fortune will bring, fear will bring us nothing but ... fear.

Coming out of Thanksgiving, Tuesday was marked as “Giving Tuesday” and the requests for your charity will continue. Please be mindful about how, where and why you are giving. 

A 501c3 charitable organization needs to have its registration and identification easily available. Other requirements include easy access to the organization’s financial record keeping. The group should also account for its mission and purpose.

It should represent whether anyone is receiving compensation for their work. Such compensation is legitimate, so long as the purpose of the organization is being served effectively. 

Too many so-called charities that style themselves as “fundraisers” are raising funds to underwrite somebody’s compensation with a wish of avoiding taxation. You want to know what is the purpose, where does the money go and how is it disbursed.

It also is helpful to have easy identification of the charitable organization’s Board of Directors. The Antelope Valley is often described as a “small town” of about 500,000 people. If Lancaster and Palmdale were combined, it would immediately be the third-largest city in Los Angeles County, after the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach. 

Still, many people know each other. We run into one another at the market and the movies — we hope the movies stay open. People need to get out of the house. We are social creatures.

But on the matter of Boards of Directors. You may easily recognize people on a Board, even in a “small town” of 500,000. It’s not hard to tell if people generally have a good reputation. Look them up on Google and LinkedIn and even cast a wary eye on Facebook. Sometimes when somebody is nowhere to be found, that is a clue that they are not somebody to be handing your money to.

Veterans are an “easy ask.” They remain one of the few non-partisan interest groups in America that doesn’t get immediately cast as deeply partisan. There is a problem with that, though. Because they are an “easy ask,” there are many dubious characters. Sometimes they are just wearing the “veterans hat” and asking for money. This can range from street corner wannabes to real grifters who pocket your donation and put it into their gas tank and are on their way.

This happens with big charities. The Wounded Warriors Foundation had to come back from its own self-inflicted wounds of six or seven years ago. They hired a high-priced rainmaker who took care of his cronies and lived on expense account largesse until “60 Minutes” came calling and the organization was embarrassed from the top. So, the top had to change. 

I understand it is doing better now, but another tip is to check out Charity Navigator. This is helpful for the larger national groups.

A legitimate charitable organization needs to be registered with the Internal Revenue Service and also the State of California. If these are missing, out of date or lapsed, that is a tell. At that point, you are heading toward caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware.

I was asked recently about a couple of charities that serve veterans and can hold their head up high. I have high confidence in the local group Vets4Veterans. You can go to their meetings and participate. The members of the Board have worked with the organization, many of them for its 10-years-plus existence.

The group started as a bunch of veterans discussing their PTSD issues in a talking therapy group at the local VA Veterans Center for counseling. They started with a little car show and never looked back. 

The purpose is unambiguous. They provide emergency grocery and shelter grants. Also, they underwrite scholarships to the Antelope Valley College for veterans transitioning from service who haven’t picked up their GI Bill benefits yet. That happens frequently. They also get veterans connected to mental health counseling and other therapeutic interventions.

The group was started by Vietnam combat veteran Tom Hilzendeger, who died around Memorial Day last year, but not before putting in a hard decade of good works for the people he cared most about — brother and sister veterans.

It is not the only area nonprofit that serves veterans and there is a handful of good and reputable ones, but satisfy yourself that all will meet the test of these simple offers of guidance. You want your money to go where it will help whatever good cause you are supporting. You do not want your giving to be “good money after bad.”

 

Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. An Army paratrooper veteran, he deployed with local National Guard to cover the Iraq War for the Antelope Valley Press. He works on veterans issues and community health initiatives.

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