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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. December 11, 2011

Chain e-mail claims top executives of veterans organizations receive no pay for their good deeds

If this is the time of year when you open your checkbook to make donations to worthy causes, an anonymous e-mail making the rounds has some suggestions for you.

It lists nine organizations and the compensation each top officer received.

The CEO of UNICEF, the fund to help children around the world, is listed as having the largest salary: $1.2 million per year, plus a Rolls Royce, plus expenses, for an organization the e-mail claims spends "less than 5 cents of your donated dollar" on its mission.

The heads of other charitable organizations are listed as having sizable salaries as well. By contrast, the e-mail lists five veterans groups and says the national commander of each "receives a $0.00 zero salary." (You can see the text of the e-mail on various websites, including here and here.)

The author of the e-mail says, "No further comment is necessary."

But we wanted to be sure.

A shorter version of this e-mail, which doesn't mention the veterans groups, has been around for a while. Our friends at ruled that it was "mostly outdated and inaccurate."

We decided to examine the longer list of groups using data from, which has the latest IRS 990 forms listing total compensation for highest-paid workers and from the Better Business Bureau's website, which also analyzes charities.

Remember, the heads of all these groups are supposedly working for free.

AMERICAN LEGION: The group's national adjutant, Daniel S. Wheeler earned $201,661 in salary and other compensation, according to the organization's 990 form from 2009. Unlike the other organizations we examined, the Legion failed to fill out the form breaking down how much it spent on fundraising and administrative costs. But the Better Business Bureau, in its analysis released in February 2010, found that, of the $63 million it spent, 45 cents out of every dollar went for fundraising and administrative costs. The organization failed to meet 11 of the Better Business Bureau's 20 standards of accountability.

DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS: National Adjutant and CEO Arthur H. Wilson earned $328,252 in compensation, according to the organization's 990 report for 2009. Of the $124 million in expenses, 30 cents of every dollar was spent on fundraising and administrative costs. The organization met all of the BBB's standards for charity accountability.

VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES: VFW Adjutant General Allen F. Kent earned $215,822, according to the organization's 990 report from 2009. The organization's quartermaster general earned nearly $24,000 more than Kent in compensation. Three other top officials also earned more than $211,000. With nearly $85 million in expenses, 36 cents of each dollar was spent on administration and fundraising. The Better Business Bureau could not rate this organization because it failed to release enough information to the BBB.

MILITARY ORDER OF THE PURPLE HEART SERVICE FOUNDATION (listed in the e-mail as The Military Order of Purple Hearts): Executive Director Gregory Bresser received $142,986 in compensation in 2009, and that was only for part of the year. He left the post in August. CFO Stephen Ruckman got $150,626, according to the 990 filing for 2009. The group listed nearly $34 million in expenses and spent a whopping 63 cents per dollar on fundraising and administrative costs. The BBB could not rate this organization either because it did not supply enough information.

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA (The e-mail listed the Vietnam Veterans Association, which we couldn’t find. This organization was the closest match.): Chief financial officer and staff director Joseph Sternburg earned $137,902 in compensation, according to its 990 report from 2009. According to the form, the organization has $7 million in expenses and spent 33 cents per dollar on fundraising and administration. When the BBB reviewed the organization, in March of 2010, the rate was 75 cents per dollar -- the highest rate we saw. The business bureau said the group failed to meet 10 of the 20 standards of accountability.

We also checked the other organizations that the e-mail was comparing the veterans organizations to.

AMERICAN RED CROSS: The e-mail says the CEO makes $651,957, which actually is an understatement. President and CEO Gail McGovern earned more than $1 million in compensation, according to the organization's 990 form for 2009, which says she typically worked 60 hours per week. The charity spent $3.4 billion; fundraising and administrative costs ate up just 8 cents of every dollar. The latest BBB rating says the organization met all of its accountability standards.

UNITED WAY WORLDWIDE: The e-mail says President and CEO Brian A. Gallagher makes $375,000, but the organization's financial report says he made $717,076 in income and other compensation for 2009. (Its chief operating officer earned the most: $864,875.) Fundraising and administrative costs accounted for 11 cents of every dollar spent. The BBB says the charity met all 20 of its standards of accountability. (Anthony Maione, CEO of United Way of Rhode Island, received $211,378 in compensation, according to the organization's 2009 report.)

THE SALVATION ARMY is not required to report complete 990 financial data because it is largely a religious organization. One quarter of the money raised by the four Salvation Armies that cover different sectors of the United States goes to the national office, which supplied data to the BBB to get its certification, according to Salvation Army spokesman Maj. George Hood.

National Commander William A. Roberts receives $126,920 in compensation (not $13,000 per year plus housing as the e-mail reports). That salary is shared with his wife, who also works for the organization. The organization logged $51 million in expenses; 15 cents per dollar went for fundraising and administrative costs. (Total expenses for all of its affiliate organizations was $3.2 billion, with 18 percent going for fundraising and administrative costs.)

UNITED STATES FUND FOR UNICEF: The e-mail says CEO Carly M. Stern's compensation is $1.2 million. It was actually $472,891, according to its 2009 report. The e-mail says only 5 cents of every dollar "goes to the cause;" it's really 83 cents. The amount spent on fundraising and administrative costs: 17 cents per dollar, out of a budget of $243 million. The BBB says the charity met all 20 of its standards of accountability.

Our ruling

To be charitable, the only thing this e-mail got right was the names of some of the top officers. Everything else was wildly off.

Here's the summary:

Organization Top compensation Fundraising and administration costs


Featured Fact-check

  E-mail says Actual E-mail says Actual American Legion $0 $206,661 -- 45% Disabled American Veterans $0 $328,252 -- 30% Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. $0 $239,534 -- 36% Military Order of the Purple Heart $0 $150,626 -- 63% Vietnam Veterans of America $0 $137,902 -- 33% American Red Cross $651,957 $1,032,022 -- 8% United Way Worldwide $375,000 $864,875 -- 11% Salvation Army $13,000+ $126,920 4% 15% U.S. Fund for UNICEF $1.2 million $472,891 over 95% 17%

First, the suggestion made in the e-mail that top officials in five veterans groups are working for free turns out to be outlandishly false. All are making six-figure incomes.

Top officials in three of the non-veteran organizations earn a lot more than stated in the e-mail. In one case, they make a lot less.

The e-mail incorrectly states -- in the case of UNICEF, wildly misstates -- the amount the charities spend on charitable work.

Because the e-mail is ridiculously inaccurate, we give it a free Pants on Fire!

(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)

Our Sources,  "Christmas is Coming And So Are The Non-Profits Asking For Money," Nov. 25, 2011, accessed Dec. 6, 2011, "Charitable Compensation," Last updated Oct. 30, 2010, accessed Nov. 30, 2011, "Charity Accountability Standards" and "National Charity Report Index," accessed Dec. 1, 2011

Interview, Maj. George Hood, national community relations and development secretary, The Salvation Army, Dec. 2, 2011

Interview and e-mail, Sal Fabens, director of public relations, United Way Worldwide, Dec. 6, 2011

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