Veterans are very popular when it comes to car donation organizations. Although there are plenty of reputable charities that benefit veterans, there are even more parasites who make tons of money off the plight of our wounded, homeless, and otherwise physically or emotionally injured servicemen and women. These parasites are the people who run car donation programs like Cars Helping Veterans.
The website for this organization provides a wealth of information about how to go about donating your car (or a little cash through PayPal.) But nowhere does it indicate which organizations your donation will actually go to. It kind of hints at it by saying, “Your car donation is helping Purple Heart, Wounded Warriors, and Disabled Veterans in their time of need.”
That kinda makes you think these folks may be affiliated with Purple Heart Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, and Disabled American Veterans, doesn’t it? And it kind of makes you trust them, doesn’t it? But did you notice how they didn’t use the actual full names of those organizations?
The whole reason I chose to review Cars Helping Veterans is that when I was doing research for my review of Purple Heart Cars, the car donation arm of the Purple Heart Foundation, their website explicitly pointed out that they are in no way affiliated with Cars Helping Veterans.
Cars Helping Veterans Random Phone Call Interview
Armed with a few questions, I called Cars Helping Veterans and talked to Scott:
Q: What organizations benefit from my car donation?
A: Purple Heart Foundation, Wounded Warriors Project, and Disabled American Veterans.
Q: Do I get to choose?
Q: So, do they contract with you, or…?
A: No, we just give them the money.
Q: How much of the proceeds do the charities actually get?
A: About 80 percent.
Wow! Eighty percent! That’s really good.
Car donation organizations with names like “Cars for Cramps” or “Vehicles for Venereal Disease” (yeah, I made those up, thanks for asking!) are usually “registered assumed names” for either for-profit commercial fundraising companies or “charities” that are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
Tucked away on the Cars Helping Veterans website is the tiny disclaimer that “Cars Helping Veterans is a registered assumed name of Others First, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.”
Others First on Guidestar
Guidestar is a nonprofit organization that compiles as much information as possible on every single charity registered with the IRS. This information includes the IRS Tax Form 990, which is what charities use to file their annual taxes.
Form 990 provides a wealth of information for those researching a charity, the most important of which is the breakdown of the distribution of funds among three categories:
- Programming, which is the actual work the charity does to benefit others.
- Administration, which includes rent, salaries, office supplies, and other overhead costs.
- Fundraising, which is the solicitation of funds to support the charity.
Charities that put 75 percent of their revenue toward programming with the remaining 25 percent split between admin and fundraising costs are considered highly efficient.
According to their 2013 Form 990, Others First, Inc. raked in $4,445,893 in 2013 from the net sales of 7,308 donated vehicles and $22,463 from the net sales of 38 boats and planes. Their total expenses were $4,383,689.
- $1,663,935, or just 38 percent, went toward programming, which in this case means “to the charity.”
- $185,611, or 4 percent, went toward admin.
- $2,534,143, or 58 percent, was put into fundraising.
So, wait a second! When I talked to Scott at Cars Helping Veterans, he told me the charities get 80 percent of the proceeds. Not true, Scott! Not true. The charities that supposedly benefit from Others First/Cars Helping Veterans aren’t seeing nearly as much money as they should be, and that’s a problem.
Now, some (mainly third-party organizations) would argue that these charities are still getting money that they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. Free money that falls from the sky, unsolicited.
And while that’s true, there’s a real fine line between charitable giving and misleading information and unethical practices that are making people and for-profit companies very rich. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so damn many of these organizations soliciting vehicles on behalf of charities who often don’t even know they’re on the organization’s donation roster. They’re sure as hell not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.
The Ultimate Scam?
There are a handful of reputable third-party intermediary organizations that are contracted to solicit donations for charities. These reputable commercial fundraisers pass on 75 percent or more of the proceeds from donated vehicles to the charities they work with, and they’re considered “highly satisfactory.”
Anything between 60 and 74 percent is considered “more or less satisfactory.” If they pass on between 50 and 59 percent of the net proceeds, they’re considered “just barely satisfactory.”
And anything less than 50 percent is either a result of colossal inefficiency or downright abuse of the system and in either case, the third party organization should be soundly avoided at all costs.
Cars Helping Veterans Car Donation FAQ
Got any questions? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the Cars Helping Veterans car donation program.
How does the Cars Helping Veterans car donation process work?
You can donate your car by completing an online car donation form or you can talk to one of their customer support representatives at 1-888-480-VETS (8387).
You can inform them about the details of the car you want to donate and the time and place of the pick up through the form or their representative.
They will pick up your vehicle at the scheduled time and send the IRS tax-deductible donation receipt to you once it’s available.
How does Cars Helping Veterans determine the value of my car?
The IRS allows you to determine the fair market value up to $500.
If they were able to sell your car for more than $500, you will be able to claim the selling price as a deduction.
Cars Helping Veterans commits to doing their best in maximizing the selling price of your car for you to get a larger tax deduction and for the veterans that they sponsor to get as much funding as possible.
What are the required documents that I need to submit?
To complete the donation process, you will need to hand over your car’s title, as well as a lien release or original termination statement (if there is a lienholder listed on the title).
Do I have to be present during the scheduled pick-up date?
There’s no need for the donor to be present when the car is picked up. However, make sure to inform the towing company of the exact location where they can find the keys to your car, in case no one is there to hand them over.
Don’t forget to leave the car title behind and inform the towing company where you placed it to avoid any hassle. Make sure to remove your personal belongings and your license plate – you’ll need to surrender the license plate to the DMV.
The towing company will leave you a towing receipt that shows your car was picked up on behalf of Cars Helping Veterans.
The Bottom Line for Cars Helping Veterans
Cars Helping Veterans, aka Others First, Inc. is one of many car donation organizations that spend loads of money trying to get you to donate your car to them, ostensibly to benefit the downtrodden, the broken, and the needy.
They greedily take your car, usually add your name to their (and other) telemarketing lists so that you get relentless phone calls soliciting more donations, and then pocket the majority of the proceeds, passing on just enough to be considered at least marginally legit by the powers that be.
Stay away from Cars Helping Veterans. If you want to help veterans, consider donating your vehicle directly to the Disabled American Veterans, who handle car donations in-house.
Cars Helping Veterans has received our 2 star rating – below average.