How does the Wounded Warrior Project spend its donations?

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Norfolk, Va. - The Wounded Warrior Project’s top executive says his charity has been unfairly saddled with lower grades from two top charity watchdogs in part because of the Florida-based charity’s high executive salaries and high fundraising costs.

The Jacksonville charity – founded a dozen years ago in Virginia – lists on its tax return the salaries for its eleven executives as $2.2 million. That includes a base salary to CEO Steve Nardizzi of $375,000. The charity also lists fundraising expenses of nearly $32 million. Those figures are, in part, responsible for lower grades from “Charity Watch” and “Charity Navigator,” two of the nation’s three main charity-checking organizations.

Small veterans’ charity sued for “unfair competition” by Wounded Warrior Project

Charity Watch gives the Wounded Warrior Project an 86 overall, but an 80.77 for its financials, or a B-minus. Charity Watch rates the group overall as a C-plus. But Nardizzi says those ratings scales measure the wrong thing and are “horribly ineffective.” Nardizzi says he simply discounts the charity watchdogs, and says everyone else should do the same.

“We made a conscious decision in 2008 to ignore those systems so we could grow to meet the needs of tens of thousands of wounded warriors every year,” he said.

Part of that growth comes from an aggressive fundraising campaign that Nardizzi says is needed to bring in more money for programs, but is one factor that lowers scores from charity checkers.

“Fundraising we are doing is to fuel our growth,” he said.

Even though Nardizzi ignores the two ratings organizations, others don’t. Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are both recommended by Consumer Reports and the Federal Trade Commission as a way for donors to assess charities. Those agencies also recommend the Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving Alliance.” Nardizzi likewise recommends the BBB, which issued an accreditation to the Wounded Warrior Project. Nardizzi said he pays a fee to the BBB to use the logo on the charity web site.

Nardizzi said the best way for a potential donor to gauge a charity is to research the charity directly, without relying on charity-watchdog web sites. But our investigation shows how a charity and a charity-checking organization can review the same data and come up with different results.

On the Wounded Warrior Project’s website, the charity says it spends 80 percent of its donations on its main services. But tax records show it also includes some fundraising expenses in that mix. Charity Navigator subtracts the fundraising and -- in its most recent report -- said the Wounded Warrior Project spends less than 60 percent on its services. The rest, according to Charity Navigator, went to fundraising and administration.

While Nardizzi disputes the watchdogs’ methods, he does not dispute his emphasis on aggressive fundraising. He says it has helped the Wounded Warrior Project grow its services to veterans by 50 percent a year. That pays for what his staffers call a no-cost “prep school” for wounded warriors to help them move into college, or into the civilian workforce. And Nardizzi says he’s hired top talent to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another expensive program is a fund to keep the most severely wounded warriors in their own homes, instead of in nursing homes.

“If your only fixation is spending the most on programs, that's feeling good, but not necessarily doing good,” he said. “You could run a lot of program activities, you could spend a lot of money and have them be wholly ineffective. My question to donors is, ‘Would you want that? Would you want to give a dollar and, say, most of it went towards programs that did no good? That did not advance a warrior? That did not make them well?’ That would be a waste of your money.”

Related: 

WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT FAST FACTS AND RELATED LINKS:

Wounded Warrior Project top salaries (11 executives): $2,197,524, plus $195,738 listed as “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.”

Wounded Warrior Project’s most costly contractor: Creative Direct Response (a Bowie, Md., direct-mail and fundraising company), $3,449,688

Total fundraising expenses: $31,740,306

(Note: The Wounded Warrior Project pays a fee to the Better Business Bureau to use the “Wise Giving Alliance” logo on its web site.

 

List of Charity Watch’s highest-rated military/veterans charities (all scoring “A”):

Armed Services YMCA of the USA

Fisher House Foundation

Homes for Our Troops

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

National Military Family Association

Operation Homefront

Semper Fi Fund/Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

 

List of Charity Watch’s lowest-rated military/veterans charities (all scoring “F”):

AMVETS National Headquarters

AMVETS National Service Foundation

Armed Forces Aid Campaign/U.S. Armed Forces Iraq Casualty Appeal/TREA Memorial Foundation

Circle of Friends for American Veterans

Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes

Disabled Veterans National Foundation

Disabled Veterans Services/Gulf War Veterans Coalition

Feed Our Veterans/Feed Our Vets/Scraps For Vets

Foundation for American Veterans

Healing Heroes Network

Help Hospitalized Veterans

Help Our Wounded/Healing American Heroes

Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation

National Veterans Service Fund

National Vietnam Veterans Service Foundation

Paralyzed Veterans of America

United American Patriots

United Spinal Association/VetsFirst

Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US and Foundation

Veterans Support Organization

Vietnam Veterans of America

VietNow National Headquarters

14 comments

  • The People

    400K a year..what a joke ! Sounds fishy to me as he runs an organization for wounded vets! Let the IRS look into it ! So it’s not a non-profit business cuz this guy is raking in the $$$$ !

  • DavidT

    Even though salaries are exorbitantly high, they get away with being a non-profit because the “charity” does not make more than it dispenses. Red Cross, Girl Scouts, the City of Portsmouth, all pay some outrageous salaries to certain people, yet don’t show a profit, and need to be investigated.

  • Oh, please....

    I’d like to know what facts both sides have to back their statements up. Where did they get their information? Publish some concrete numbers here, and I’ll panic then, but so far all we really have is a lot of hearsay. Yes, we have some figures, but how do we know they are accurate? Just because some consumer watchdog group says so? I would also like to hear from some of the people this charity benefited-as well as some who feel it screwed them over-with genuine evidence that they have actually used said charity, and aren’t simply being paid by either side.

    • Tayler

      Exactly. Give me some hard core facts and evidence to support your claim. Because right now all it is, is a case of he said, she said and pointing fingers. For now, I’ll continue my monthly donation to WWP.

  • Nick

    Based on a known source close to this organization, there is dear ole Dad that isn’t brought up in this article, and it is said that his payroll is close to 1m per year and a couple of lear jets are in the family garage…..Also, the Son (CEO) has an unlimited slush fund by which to lavish himself and his guests on fancy dinners, golf outings, vacations (gotta fuel the Lear Jets up…..

  • Patti Goettler

    They sure as heck don’t support Greyt Hearts Service Dogs…I have tried to get in touch with them for assistance with our program and I just get blown off……….Guess it might cut into those disgusting salaries…

  • stephen thomas

    well i agree 375,000.00 a year while most Vets try to live on 3000-5000 dollars a month is a big joke.While he travels all over the country in jets and eating at fancy restaurants make me sick to my stomach. Who is this CEO ? any military back ground? Yes i think the Federal government should investigate this matter

  • William Norvell

    This is one reason why I do not like giving to charities like this. When the top executives make bank and the rest is a trickle down effect. As a vet i feel that there should be no need for this charity and the government should be taking care of the men and women that are wounded, but there again you have the ones in Washington DC that do not care for our wounded vets. I will not give to this charity as I see it they pay out way more than they give to the vets.

  • Larry Nortonen

    This note is for the folks at wounded warrior, how many executives do you really need vs workers. Why do your execs need a six figure income? One can live on a five figure income just as well, say 70K. The idea is great, who you service is wonderful, but your application as to compensation is skued in that I guess the top execs are not a charitable type of person. Need a new mission statement for the people who get paid. It would really free up a lot of funds back to the people your servicing.

    Larry Nortonen,MSgt, USAF, Retired (100% disabled vet.)

  • Ken Heck

    I don’t see anything on the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars
    They each have been around a long long time

  • Dale Bennett

    Jay Marsh (AKA CROOK) —> registrant for the CDR FUNDRAISING GROUP ->direct mailer company for WOUNDED WARRIOR
    Jay Marsh 1-301-858-1500 JMARSH@CDRFG.COM
    Addresses :Churchton, MD Federalsburg, MD Arnold, MD Lothian, MD
    *Creative Direct Response Inc. <—Now take the money and run from your venture with Wounded Warrior
    *Matrix Group International , Inc. <–set the stage for his new venture
    *Mattress Discounters <- nice raise to the money you make now What a career!!
    *Everbatim, Inc.
    Anne Arundel Community College

  • Concerned

    Notice that WWP never really talks about what they do other than in general terms. As a service member, I know a number of wounded veterans and they have never been helped by them. At most they have received a t-shirt with the WWP logo plastered on it. I don’t see how it helps the wounded veteran to be branded and turned into a advertising mechanism for WWP. The only good thing I can say about them is that if you call them for help they do really good job directing you to a charity that actually does worthwhile work for those that have been wounded. There are a lot of really good military related charities and WWP is not one of them.

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