How do I pick the best veterans' charity for my money?
July 16, 2014 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to release the sequel to my military sci-fi novel, which did super well last year (self-pubbed on Amazon). Experience has shown that whenever I release a new book, all of the others get a sales bump. So for the first month of the new release, I'd like to donate anything I make off of the original to a good veterans' charity. Naturally, this has led me to a lot of questions. This is not the only place I'm asking, but the hive has always been of great assistance.

I'm not John Scalzi or anything, but I got all the way to #1 in sci-fi on Amazon for a brief moment last year and stuck around in the top 10 for weeks. I'm willing to bet that this won't be a huge donation...if overall sales are disappointing, it might not crack four digits, but I'm pretty sure I'll at least have a few thousand dollars to donate. That said, it's something I'd definitely like to do. So, questions:

1. How do I determine the best charity -- i.e., the most honest & effective? I have looked at Charity Navigator and done a little research, but I'm no expert. So far it looks like Wounded Warriors isn't as great as its hype, but Fisher House has a good rep.

2. Do I want to do this publicly (make announcements about it on my blog and note the donations on my Amazon pages), or just make the donation quietly once I have the money in hand? I realize there's some promotional value to this, but it's honestly less about hype than about helping vets. Thing is, there's a chance that if I make it publicly, sales will go up and I'll have more money to donate. The complications arise in that 1) I write under a pen name and I want to protect my identity, and 2) a couple of my other books have a lot of sexual content, which should be irrelevant but you never know who gets upset about what these days.

3. If I want to do this publicly, do I need to contact said charity and get permission?

4. How do I effectively account for this while protecting my identity? I write under a pen name for very good reasons. I could presumably post a picture of the end-result sales figures and the check (with my info blotted out) on my blog or whatever, but say someone challenges me to offer real proof? What then?

Note that I'm not donating everything off of the new book to charity. I need that to live on. But again, anytime I put out a new book, all of the others get a bump, so this seems like it's worth doing.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can inform the charity that you would like to make your donation public but under your pen name instead, and ask that they send you the thank you letter/receipt addressed to you under that pen name. You can then use that letter as your proof without compromising your real name.

I personally like the charities that train companion animals for vets with PTSD. I'm not sure if it's okay or not to specifically recommend the ones with which I am personally involved so I will just suggest that you google around and check some out on Charity Navigator and/or Guidestar to see how they perform.
posted by elizardbits at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

To find out the best veteran's charity, I would try contacting one of the major veterans organizations that routinely work with charities but are not dependent on donations themselves - such as the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Tell them you are looking to donate to a solid veteran's charity and ask for advice.

I would also spend some time thinking about the type of veteran's charity you would like to promote. One for wounded veterans? One for veteran employment? One for trauma? Each of these have certain stand-outs in their fields, but they are as diverse as can possibly be imagined.

I would say you announce it publicly, contact the organization and tell them that you would like to donate, but will be doing so publicly under your pen name. They want to take your money! They want to make it easy for you!

In the same boat as elizardbits in that any charity I'd want to recommend I've probably worked for, sadly. But there are some really great ones.
posted by corb at 9:57 AM on July 16, 2014

I will let others guide you to a charity (but do sniff-test whoever you choose by the most objective ratings you can find, as "veterans" "charities" are a very popular scam), but when you choose a charity just contact them and discuss making the donation as your pen name - and maybe brainstorm with them how to make it a little bit of a campaign, a sort of "I'll be giving X proceeds to Charity Y, and here's how you can donate to them directly!".

At the very least you should end up with a nice letter you can put on your website or Facebook page.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:07 AM on July 16, 2014

Oh also! You could tell the charity you want to put a donate link to them on your website and announce that you will match grants made by your fans on a specific day or days, up to whatever amount you want to donate in total. This is of course dependent on the traffic you get to your website/facebook page/whatevs. But matching grants tend to spur donations from people who would otherwise feel like their small amount might not have much effect.

Of course if it doesn't end up meeting your set goals you still donate the amount you intended to donate in the first place.
posted by elizardbits at 10:24 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a specific charity -- some of the veterans in my family support the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA; has a 4-star Charity Navigator rating), mainly for the organization's work/high visibility re: the veterans' healthcare issue.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:30 AM on July 16, 2014

Response by poster: I am not averse to hearing anyone's personal endorsements. If you're involved with a charity, go ahead and tell me. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:11 AM on July 16, 2014

I don't have a specific charity in mind, but I live near a VA Hospital. Their donations go to hygiene, recreation, refreshments, special programs like therapy pets, and personalized holiday gifts for in-patients. You can find a nearby VA facility through their website.

I'd also encourage you to promote your donation. It's not just about saying, look! I do good! It's about getting the word out about this charity and about the good you (and others) can do for veterans. You're giving your readers and future readers encouragement to donate themselves, whether through buying your books or by their own donation.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:38 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not averse to hearing anyone's personal endorsements.

I am not involved with the Travis Mills Foundation, and don't know much about it, but I play music at a veteran's hall in rural Maine, and the people there are very enthusiastic about it. Might be worth looking into.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:30 PM on July 16, 2014

There are so many wonderful organizations working with vets! One that has made a very real difference for my family is Outward Bound for Veterans-- "Outward Bound for Veterans helps returning service members and recent veterans readjust to life at home through powerful wilderness courses that draw on the healing benefit of teamwork and challenge through use of the natural world."

My husband's experience with the organization was amazing through and through and I really believe that the trip was a turning point out of a lot of darkness for him.

Thanks for supporting veterans!
posted by charmcityblues at 12:36 AM on July 17, 2014

I am a veteran's advocate in the area your profile says you are located in, so I naturally have a number of opinions.

1. Wounded Warriors isn't terrible, but like any large national organization some of your money will go towards administration costs. If you donate to a local organization, you can be sure before you give any money that 100% of your gift will go towards veterans. Also, if you like you can specify what it is used for.
2. Profile says you are in Seattle, which is both good and bad. In Seattle the crazy liberals there have voluntarily taxed themselves at a higher rate to support a tax bond that supplies millions of dollars for veterans services in King County. (I hope you know that "crazy liberals" thing was sarcasm-- I am proud of them). So there is actually a relatively lot of money in your hometown helping veterans, and your small gift may not have as much impact compared to if you sent the money a few miles to the north (Snohomish), south (Pierce) or east (Kittitas) counties. There are plenty of veterans there in really desperate need.
3. For instance, I work closely with the Kittitas County Veterans Coalition, and I can promise that 100% of your money would be used to help veterans-- the organization is run by volunteers with no salary, and the city helps with the rent on their office.
3. You can specify how you want the money to be used, if you like, or just trust your organization will use it wisely (they will). There is a great charity (Brigadoon) in Bellingham that trains service dogs for veterans. I was shocked to find out this takes more than $30,000 per animal! In my network I also have plenty of other specialized services, from help for incarcerated or previously incarcerated veterans to a homeless shelter/permanent housing for veterans in Forks, WA (Sarge's place) to the more rural "coalitions" that provide everything from help filing disability claims to emergency assistance with food and housing to rehab and PTSD services. One recent Washington state initiative is the "Veterans Conservation Corps", yearly grant that pays veterans to work together on environmental restoration and rehabilitation projects.
4. One of the surprises I encountered was that in Kittitas County there are more than 400 young veterans attending school. Their tuition is covered, but the housing allowance with the GI Bill doesn't cover all the expenses a young family with bills often has, so there is plenty of need for assistance with these families for housing or child care so the veteran parent can get the education to earn more money than they otherwise would.
5. Your concerns about privacy and publicity would be respected at any of the organizations I have mentioned. They would work with you before-hand to let you know exactly how the money would be used, and also any (or none) form of promotion or recognition you would want.
6. If none of that works for you, I am friends with a program manager at Washington State's Department of Veteran Affairs, a surprisingly caring and effective organization, and he has dozens more contacts. I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

Drop me a line on memail if you need any more information or want to talk in person about any of these options. I'll be happy to direct you to the group that fits best. I hope you consider keeping the money relatively local-- it will have far greater impact. Thank you for doing this!

P.S. -- I actually occasionally read military science-fiction, although I have a pretty high bar for it. Now I curious as to which novels you have written. I understand you don't want to self-promote, but I am going to memail you to ask the titles of your books, and which ones I should start with.
posted by seasparrow at 10:37 AM on July 18, 2014

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