Everyone wants to help veterans. Unfortunately, professional fundraisers know this, and too many of them mislead well-meaning donors about how their money will be used.

Everyone wants to help veterans. Unfortunately, professional fundraisers know this, and too many of them mislead well-meaning donors about how their money will be used.

In the most recent case of fundraising gone awry, the Oregon Department of Justice settled a lawsuit against No Veterans Left Behind, which set up booths at retail stores in several Oregon counties, selling veterans-related gear and soliciting cash donations. The state alleged the group's paid solicitors told potential donors they were an all-volunteer organization and 75 to 80 percent of proceeds went directly to veterans.

In fact, the group's organizers kept at least 80 percent of the donations for their own use.

That's just one example.

In another settlement, The Veterans Fund of Salem and Center Stage Attractions, a Florida fundraising firm it hired, agreed never to solicit funds in Oregon again and to pay restitution totaling $180,000. The state's lawsuit accused Center Stage of making false statements to potential donors and sending false pledge invoices. The Justice Department said The Veterans Fund allowed Center Stage to keep 80 percent of the money raised in its name and did little to monitor Center Stage's conduct.

Those are just two examples. There are more.

It's important to note that it is common practice in the charitable solicitation industry for professional fundraisers such as Center Stage to keep 80 percent of the money they raise. This is not illegal, as long as potential donors are told the truth about how much of their money will reach the intended recipients. The law does not permit the state to tell charities how to spend your money.

What's a donor to do?

The Department of Justice has a helpful page on its website, www.doj.state.or.us/charigroup, with tips on making your contributions count.

Rule No. 1: Don't give to unregistered charities. The DOJ maintains a database of registered charities in Oregon, which are required to report how much they spend on fundraising expenses and administration. There are 16,000 charities registered in Oregon. Searching the database for the keyword "veteran" brings up a list of 42.

There is much more valuable information there, including a list of the 20 worst charities in Oregon, based on the percentage of donated money that reaches the recipients supposedly being helped. Three of the 20 are groups that claim to help veterans, but all three actually contribute less than 10 percent to the charitable cause.

The Better Business Bureau's guidelines say organizations should dedicate at least 65 percent of donated funds to charity, spending no more than 35 percent on administration.

So, do your homework — that's Rule No. 2 — and check out a charity before giving it your hard-earned dollars.