Last Updated:October 1 @ 10:34 am

Wounded Warrior Project spends 58% of donations on veterans programs

By Tampa Bay Times (FL)

Editor's note: As part of a yearlong investigation into charities across the nation, the Tampa Bay Times and its reporting partner, the Center for Investigative Reporting, asked readers in June to suggest nonprofits for closer review. Readers responded with nearly 300 suggestions. In the coming months, the Times and CIR will examine some of those charities and share what we found.

Wounded Warrior Project, created in 2003, has become one of the fastest-growing veterans' charities in the country.

It was also one of the most requested when the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting asked readers to suggest charities to investigate.

Readers wanted to know how Wounded Warrior was using its donations and whether the charity was spending a large portion of those donations to hire for-profit corporations to raise money.

To find out, reporters examined four years of tax filings and reviewed thousands of actions by charity regulators across the nation to determine if the charity had violated laws governing charity operations.

Unlike the 50 worst charities the Times and CIR named on its list of America's worst, Wounded Warrior does not rely heavily on for-profit solicitation companies to raise money. And it does not pay telemarketers to drum up donations.

Instead, it uses a combination of fundraising events, corporate sponsorships, advertising and direct mail appeals.

Last year, the charity raised nearly $150 million.

About $81 million was raised through professional solicitors. Wounded Warrior paid 11 percent of that money to cover its solicitors' fees and the expense of the solicitor-run campaigns. In comparison, veterans charities on the Times/CIR list paid an average of 82 percent to their solicitors.

Wounded Warrior Project spends most of the money it raises counseling veterans and running sports and educational programs.

Last year, it also gave nearly $5 million to other charities, including the American Red Cross and Resounding Joy, a music therapy group in California.

Wounded Warrior also gave about $880,000 to nearly 100 veterans in the form of college scholarships and stipends for its year-long Track Program, which helps veterans transition to college and the workplace.

In its 2012 IRS filing, Wounded Warrior reported that about 73 percent of its expenses went toward programs. But the charity is one of many that use a commonly accepted practice to claim a portion of fundraising expenses as charitable works. By including educational material in solicitations, charities can classify some of the expense as good deeds.

Ignoring these joint costs reduces the amount Wounded Warrior spent on programs last year to 58 percent of total expenditures.

The charity has been criticized for its salaries, with 10 employees earning $150,000 or more. Chief executive Steve Nardizzi, whose total compensation was about $330,000 last year, said salaries are in line with similarly sized organizations.

"We're a direct service provider, dealing with some of the world's greatest social ills," Nardizzi said, referring to the charity's more than 250 employees who provide services to veterans. "We hire the best of the best and we pay them a living wage."

While the Times and CIR found no actions against the charity by regulators, Wounded Warrior has gotten mixed reviews from independent charity watchdogs. The charity meets all 20 standards set by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance but only gets three of four stars from Charity Navigator.

Charity Watch gave Wounded Warrior a "C+" grade, up from a "D" two years ago, based on the amounts spent on programs and fundraising.

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(c)2013 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Visit the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) at www.tampabay.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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17 Comments

  1. genesalComment by genesal
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:54 am

    “We hire the best of the best and we pay them a living wage.”

    Well, they certainly are not lying. 330,000$ is most certainly a ‘living wage’. That’s why I won’t give to WW, Red Cross or United Way.

    Last year, it also gave nearly $5 million to other charities, including the American Red Cross and Resounding Joy, a music therapy group in California.

    If I give to a certain ‘charity’, I expect my money to stay with that charitable program.

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  2. gopuc12450Comment by gopuc12450
    July 22, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    Someone has to support the Red Cross. I sure as hell won’t!

    Being in a military hospital for a month, gave me the ‘cure’.

    Red Cross stopped by my bed and noticed that I was confined; so they inquired if I wanted anything.
    Sure, was my reply. How about a magazine and a milk-shake?
    A short time later, two of them appeared bedside with the magazine and a well needed treat.
    “That will be $1.75, Sir”.
    I’m startled. Twenty five cents for the shake, fifty cents for the magazine, should be 75 cents. ‘Yes, but we charge a dollar to bring it to you’.

    Here you are! – The last donation EVER given to the American Red Cross!

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    • shellyComment by shelly
      July 22, 2013 @ 10:49 am

      gopuc: I tend to agree with you about the American Red Cross, due to an experience my father had during WWII. He was in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. There was a Red Cross aid station around there, feeding soldiers sandwiches and coffee. My father and a couple of others were straggling warriers and arrived as they were closing up. They asked for some food and warm drink, but they were told that they had arrived too late and they were finishing packing up. To the day he died (1964) he refused to ever give any money to the American Red Cross because of what his personal experience was. And to this day I make my donations to the Salvation Army instead, whenever possible. I did break down once when my husband and I signed over a tax rebate check to the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina, before the scandal that they were witholding direct contributions for “other” purposes. Lesson learned.

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 22, 2013 @ 11:22 am

      I asked for Red Cross help locating my Father while on a 3 year stint in Germany. They refused to help me. Why do they take donations and then ‘Lend’ out money to those in need and expect repayment? (true, snopes)

      As far as United Way, companies I’ve worked on actually strong-armed their employees into donating.

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    • nhpollackComment by nhpollack
      July 22, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

      As a result of my experiences in the SE Asian War Games in the ’60s, I too boycott the Red Cross. Seemed that many of the Donut Dollies were over there to service officers rather than support the troops. I also had an argument about United Way with my banker who was soliciting on their behalf. I told him I wasn’t supporting charities whose executives were “driving Cadillacs and smoking big cigars”. He took umbrage and wrote me a testy letter. A few years later an investigation proved my point. I never received an apology. I keep my contributions limited to the Salvation Army, Operation Gratitude, the local animal shelter and direct, but tactful, aid to those I know personally who are in need.

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  3. Ben_ColderComment by Ben_Colder
    July 22, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    It’s a darn shame that we have to have charity for our veterans.Our veterans should be taken care of with taxes. The Veterans Administration should be responsible for this. I will not support the Wounded Warrior Project. I hate their TV commercials that inspires pity on veterans. Our military deserves respect and honor,not pity. (I’m a Marine veteran and an Army retiree. Korea and Vietnam veteran)

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 22, 2013 @ 10:49 am

      Amen!

      I personally believe that a war wounded Veteran should be taken care of for life, includes housing and transportation.

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      Rating: 4.8/5 (17 votes cast)
    • fouroaks93Comment by fouroaks93
      July 22, 2013 @ 11:15 am

      Ben_Colder. Thank you for your service to our country.

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      Rating: 4.7/5 (10 votes cast)
    • gopuc12450Comment by gopuc12450
      July 22, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

      Ben, thanks for your service to the cause of Freedom.

      It is sickening to see our young Vets with their hand out for their subsistence. They give their life – we repay with charity. Charity, minus $330,000 salary.
      It is equally disturbing KNOWING military families that struggle (with and without their God given extremities) in an effort to provide their children an education. A military spouse holding down two jobs to provide the basic essentials forfeited in dedication to America.

      As our wounded beg for a prosthesis to continue a reasonable way through life, we watch the President blow $100.000,000 on a fun trip to Africa. Our GI’s, didn’t even get a trip to Disneyland, nor the prosthesis and up-armor that would have prevented the tragedy.

      We, Americans, owe our Freedom directly to a dedicated and courageous military; but they ALWAYS get the short end of the stick. Be it protection (Benghazi), medical care (till the cameras are off), support (we know politicians feed Welfare first), or compensation for their loss (yea, now the GI even pays their own insurance).

      The biggest problem, or reason, if you will, is that too few have any ‘skin in the game’. Any jerk walking the street, or college campus, will ever face such danger, and therefore do not care about the ones that die to guarantee their lifestyle.

      Every American should provide some service for the Country, that gives so much and gets so little.
      Compare the life of a wounded Vet to an imprisoned felon; the GI gets a ribbon; the felon – gets shelter, food, medical care, counseling, pastoral care, legal aide, conjugal visits, job counseling and spending money.

      Things MUST change.

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    • stopspendingComment by stopspending
      July 22, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

      Thank you for your service – we all owe you a great deal for your gift so that we can remain safe and free. I also believe the taxpayers should support all veterans and especially wounded veterans. however, since it seems like it is more important to pay big salaries to our bloated bureaucracy, I would like to contribute to some organization to provide direct benefit to veterans. Do you have a suggestion? I am not real comfortable with the United Way because they also contribute to numerous org I do not support.

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  4. Jack ReacherComment by Jack Reacher
    July 22, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    It never fails. Just when you think that a charity that claims to be committed to our wounded veterans the bottom falls out.

    There is a very good reason why the statement: “FOLLOW THE MONEY”, is still so appropo.

    My BS meter is flashing wildly.

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    Rating: 4.7/5 (15 votes cast)
  5. Mort_fComment by Mort_f
    July 22, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    What ever happened to those ‘dollar a year’ people that once ran charities? Where have all the volunteers gone, as well.

    One would hope that organizations like WW would show hiring preference to those people that they purport to help. I wonder how many wounded warriors are on the WW payroll doing much of the functions that the organization needs. And yes, at a ‘market’ wage. As Ben Colder above said, it is not pity that is needed.

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  6. rosechComment by rosech
    July 22, 2013 @ 11:31 am

    Learned the nasties about the Red Cross in 1950 during big flood on west side of KCMO. They charged for everything. Then again, charged military for coffee. Have not given a dime to them since. They get the big salaries, overcharge for CPS classes, and really care more about themselves than anyone else. I gave to WW, but won’t now. $330K is as “living” salary. Man, I could really live high on the hog anywhere with that income. I had hoped to hear that they used at least 80% for our military wounded and also not sent out to non-related charities. Too bad, now they will really hurt for donations and I won’t get any more of their mailings either, which is a big bonus! I normally only give to those charities close at hand or direct to be sure that those who need really get helped. Mailers and online, no more, thank you.

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  7. fdrdocentComment by fdrdocent
    July 22, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

    Another thing about Wounded Warriors that I don’t like, is that if I were to offer to make a donation, and identify myself as an NRA member, they would refuse it.
    And, I’m a veteran!
    Bill

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 22, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

      ???????
      That’s ludicrous.
      (and thanks for your service!)

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  8. GlipperComment by Glipper
    July 22, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    Try Catholic Relief Services – http://www.crs.org – rated A+ at http://www.charitywatch.org
    or Mennonite Central Committee – rated A at http://www.charitywatch.org

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  9. navywifeComment by navywife
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:13 am

    I come from a long line of service members, and my husband is a Navy reservist. My father has had similar experiences with the Red Cross in Viet Nam, and my grandfather also had them in WWII. We give to the USO, and to local groups that directly help veterans with housing and transportation. Team Rubicon and other veteran’s groups work with returning vets to empower them; WW has a vested interest in keeping them “wounded.” WW also doesn’t (or didn’t, until a large PR flap) accept donations from churches.

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