The money will be used by the Briests to purchase exercise equipment for Corey, a veteran of the current fighting in Iraq who was severely wounded.
We also give a loud shout to local people who are organizing a spaghetti feed and silent auction here in town later this month. The funds raised in Vermillion and at similar money-generating events in other South Dakota communities will be used to bring members of the B Battery 1st Battalion 147th Field Artillery Unit of the South Dakota National Guard, which is currently stationed in Maryland, home in time for Christmas.
We share these two observations for a good reason. This is a time of the year when, in the spirit of charity and goodwill, it's not unusual to reach deep in your pocket to help the less fortunate.
Sadly, too many of those who need help are men and women who nearly sacrificed their lives in service to our country.
Or, like the case of B Battery, they are men and women already separated by great distance from family. After Christmas, they will be half a world away from South Dakota, serving in Iraq.
Those who truly want to assist the Corey Briests and B Batteries of South Dakota need to, unfortunately, proceed with a bit of caution.
Charitable organizations that seem so reliable, it turns out, are doing a great job of wasting donor money.
Corey Briest's injuries include a near total loss of vision. One might think, therefore, that making a donation to the Blinded Veterans Association would be in order.
Consider this however. Thomas Miller, the association's executive director, draws an annual salary of over $90,000. The organization's primary revenue growth is only about 1 percent, and program expenses growth are at a minus-6 percent.
Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities.
After examining the financial records of the Blinded Veterans Association, it could only give the charitable organization a one-star rating.
Charities that have their act together receive four stars from Charity Navigator.
The Paralyzed Veterans of America does just a tad better than the Blinded Veterans Association. But it, too, turns out to be an organization that doesn't spend your contributions in the way you would want.
The Paralyzed Veterans of America spends more than 30 cents of every dollar it receives on fundraising – not helping soldiers. It receives two stars from the Charity Navigator.
Here are a couple of organizations to simply avoid:
the Ohio-based Disabled Veterans Associations and the Former Military POW Foundation, located in Tennessee. Both of these organizations spend more than 70 percent of their money on fundraising rather than using it to help veterans or soldiers.
There are, naturally, some very good charitable organizations that have gained national and global familiarity over the years.
The American Red Cross, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Coast Guard Foundation, Army Emergency Relief, and the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust are all organizations that have received a four star rating from Charity Navigator.
These charities have demonstrated exceptional financial health. Donors can be confident that contributions made to these charities will be spent efficiently. Each charity has low overhead and fundraising costs enabling them to use more of their resources in carrying out their mission. These organizations provide various services from lifting soldiers' morale to financial assistance for food, rent, utilities and medical expenses.
Let us make one suggestion. Should you ever be in doubt about where to place a financial donation so that it can best help those who need it the most, consider local endeavors first.
After all, the students who organized the fund drive to raise money for Corey Briest had virtually no operating expenses. They were paid no salary. Virtually every cent raised was, in turn, presented to the Briests.
You can't get much more efficient than that. Some of our national charitable organizations could learn a thing or two from Vermillion's kids.
The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org