By Mark Wachtler
December 18, 2014. Jacksonville, FL. (ONN) A recent question posted on LinkedIn social media by a US veteran has generated a firestorm of comments regarding the credibility and sincerity of one of the largest veterans charities in America - Wounded Warrior Project. The comments were passionate both for and against the organization, with most vets settling somewhere in the middle. We were surprised nobody stumbled upon one curious fact about the charity - why is Wounded Warrior Project sitting on $175 million unspent dollars?
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What do you think of the Wounded Warrior Project?
That was the title of the discussion on LinkedIn’s ‘US Military Veterans Network’ group page one month ago. Being staunch supporters of our nation’s vets, we at Whiteout Press have been monitoring the nearly 100 comments with great interest. Without actually calculating the numbers, we estimate that roughly 10% of responding veterans wholeheartedly supported the Wounded Warrior Project and the work they do. Somewhere around 40% said they wanted nothing to do with the charity due to its finances. And a good 50% said they thought WWP did great work but spent too much of their donations on executive salaries, fancy TV commercials and fundraising.
Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2002 and is headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. According to the charity’s Mission Statement, their ‘Vision’ is, “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.” WWP’s website goes on to describe how they carry out that mission, ‘To raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of injured service members. To help injured service members aid and assist each other. To provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.’
Charity Navigator says…
Many of the veterans who commented on the LinkedIn question about the Wounded Warrior Project cited the website Charity Navigator. The site is a God-send in that it provides unbiased, fact-based information on every charity in America, including the Wounded Warrior Project. The only problem is that the data is two and a half years old. It’s still the best source for information on non-profits and the site gives WWP 3 out of 4 stars with a ‘financials’ rating of 78 out of 100 and a ‘transparency’ rating of 96 out of 100.
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Wounded Warrior Project is also listed as spending 57.9% of its income on services for veterans, 5.6% on salaries and overhead, and 36.3% on fundraising. The organization reported it had $154.9 million in revenue at the end of fiscal 2012, the latest period Charity Navigator provides information for. And it shows WWP spent $95.5 million total in those 12 months, including $55.3 million on programs serving wounded veterans and their families. The key here is to understand - they spent 57% of the money they SPENT in 2012 on services for veterans. But they only spent roughly one-third of the money they RECEIVED in 2012 on services. Same stats, two ways of looking at it.
WWP - charity or investment bank?
To put this topic in perspective, it’s worth reminding readers that Harvard University has its own hedge fund containing $32 billion dollars. General Motors has its own bank with $38 billion in it. General Electric has a bank account so big, nobody knows what’s in it from day to day, only that GE Capital was one of the largest recipients of the 2008-2009 trillion-dollar bank bailout. The moral of the story is that these institutions aren’t in the business of education, automobiles or refrigerators. They are, to be blunt, investment banks gambling in the world’s financial markets.
Is Wounded Warrior Project a similar creature? According to numerous warnings from individual watchdogs in the LinkedIn group discussion, WWP doesn’t actually perform any services for wounded veterans. Instead, they take in hundreds of millions in donations, keep tens of millions for themselves, and donate a portion to small local charities that actually have programs and services for veterans.
WWP takes the rest and is either uselessly hoarding it or carelessly gambling it on various financial investments. Either way, the money is not making its way to veterans. At last count, Wounded Warrior Project is sitting on $175.5 million - more than the total amount the charity spent on veterans in all of FY2013.
Normally, your author would just assume this is responsible financial management…if it were a mutual fund. But what we found with Wounded Warrior Project is a trend. And the trend shows WWP hoarding a massive amount of money, $175.5 million and growing by a staggering amount each year. Consider the amount of money WWP has kept each of the past few years, not to service veterans, but to sit on and assumedly gamble in the investment markets.
At the end of FY2010, WWP had an unused balance of $8.5 million (from WPP FY2010 financial report).
At the end of FY2011, WWP had an unused balance of $36.3 million (from WPP FY2011 financial report).
At the end of FY2012, WWP had an unused balance of $101.4 million (from WPP FY2012 financial report).
At the end of FY2013, WWP had an unused balance of $175.5 million (from WPP FY2013 financial report).
Do readers see a trend? With US stock markets breaking record highs this year, it’ll be interesting to see Wounded Warrior Project’s financial statement for FY2014 when it’s made public. The question some veterans now have is, why is WWP hoarding so much money? And will it simply vanish with the next dip in the US or global economy the way so many other over-leveraged institutions did as recently as 2009? It’s probably safe to say that the donors who give WWP hundreds of millions of dollars expect that money to be used to help wounded veterans, not sat on, invested or gambled.
Veterans speak out
Going back to the original question posted in the LinkedIn veterans group, almost 100 vets chimed in with their own personal opinion of Wounded Warrior Project. None were aware of the above financial information, and instead based their opinions on personal experiences and the review from Charity Navigator (from the LinkedIn group - US Military Veterans Network):
Jennifer posted, “I am a combat wounded vet, and a WWP alum. They are nothing but a marketing giant. The CEO isn't even a veteran. In 2012, he walked away with $311,538 - a third of it in bonus pay. I have grown suspicious of any charity that pays its employees six figures- especially in the name of wounded service members.”
Cory wrote, “My issue with WWP is almost 50% of their budget (44%, specifically) is spent on other things than delivering services they provide…So what services does WWP provide? They advertise extremely well, and have a very recognizable brand, but a critical eye paints them as a monetary middle man - taking money from donors, skimming some money off the top (14% of their revenue is spent on WWP staff salary alone), and dispersing a portion of that donation to other, actual service-providing organizations. I've eschewed buying any WWP-branded products, and give directly to the service-providing organizations.”
Art said, “I am the Veterans Columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper, the largest newspaper in the state of Arizona. I say to all veterans, give locally. I looked at the 990 of WWP and the top 10 people take in over 2 million. I wrote a column about this organization some time ago and had the most emails and phone calls in my 10 years of covering veterans’ subjects. Most agreed that 2 mil was way too much.”
Nathaniel countered them saying, “I'm a disabled veteran that served in OEF. I've been an Alumni WWP for a year and I've found they are and have been wonderful for Veterans, both individuals and families…They do a wonderful job and when my three boys, my wife and I go on their activities, they've gone way above and beyond. My family will never forget how fun and spoiled they were. I commend them on running an outstanding program and know if you ask ‘Veterans’ who have been blessed by them and the millions of people that donate, they will agree.”
Michael posted, “According to their IRS return they do nothing, they farm out everything including the fundraising.”
Bob added, “I would never do anything for the WWP. If you want the details and specific objective evidence to support why, please contact me and I will be happy to share it. I am reluctant to post it here because I do not desire to become one more of a long, long list of individuals and groups the WWP has gone after for saying anything against them or their powerful marketing machine.”
Lu posted, “I went through the WWP 990, as I do for any national charity, and couldn't believe the cost for Directors (10 of them) plus the Million for consultants.”
Richard said, “I LOVE WWP. They do some great work. I have been able to do things with them as a disabled Vet that I wouldn't have been able to do anywhere else. Their Veterans Day Parade in NYC events are the best. They have helped me with transition and benefits. I couldn't have asked for more.”
As readers can see, comments from the close to 100 veterans were a mixed bag with some condemning the charity, some passionately supporting it, and most somewhere in the middle. What caught this author’s eye however were the vast number of grassroots veteran activists who took the opportunity to post their own personal recommendation for organizations and charities tirelessly working to support veterans. Some of them are already good friends of ours here at Whiteout Press. Some, we’ve never heard of. The best way we can think to help them is to give them a quick shout-out, a pat on the back, and a public thank you.
Real veterans, real recommendations
The below comments are from the same LinkedIn veterans discussion about the Wounded Warrior Project:
Marianne wrote, “Having recently left the position of Chief, Voluntary Service, I can say that I know for a fact that there is NO overhead charge to any donation made to a VA that is earmarked to help Veterans. We just take the donation, and put it in an account that meets your instructions, work with our staff to find those Veterans, and get ‘er done.”
David posted, “I think there were great points made about the WWP. I am the CEO for a Veterans’ nonprofit, founded & operated by US Military Veterans and their families. Hire A Patriot: a 501(c)3 focused on assisting Active Duty Military, Military Spouses, Wounded Warriors, Caregivers and Veterans in their transition by offering employment opportunities based upon skills they have acquired and perfected while serving in the military. We also assist them in their search for education opportunities and information on resources that are available to them and their families.”
Jennifer wrote, “I am a volunteer for Mission: VALOR, a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on bridging the gap in Veteran employment; through internships, practicums, and mentors. Through this, our Veterans can obtain not just jobs, but successful and rewarding careers.”
Randall said, “From my experience, I have found that community based organization such as the VFW and American Legion have a much lower admin cost and therefore most, if not all donations go to the veterans of the post's community. I know all donations given to a post are kept in a separate account that is used for assisting local veterans only. The admin costs for doing business are paid from the membership dues, not charitable donations.”
Rick added, “I would recommend Team Red, White & Blue…Disclaimer, I am a member of Team RWB.”
Alexander posted, “I would check out the IAVA if you get the chance. I am a leadership member down in FL. I kind of fell into it because I just got out of the military and started a company helping those in my situation.”
Don wrote, “Freedom Farm For Vets is a non-profit located in Wadsworth Illinois, having a simple concept for veterans suffering from PTSD, who the VA has given up on. It is a no stress farm environment which has recently had to remove it's portable toilet because they don't have the money to pay the bill.”
Lloyd said, “Still Serving Veterans in Huntsville, AL is a small organization funded by the Call of Duty Endowment (Yes, the video game guys from Activision/Blizzard). They are bending over backwards to help guys find jobs. They are at every career fair I go to. They blast out jobs from all over, constantly finding new sources of openings.”
Michael posted, “As a Desert Storm combat veteran and someone who is involved with veterans on the local level, I find there are MANY veterans organizations that do great work. One of the 501(c)3's I work with is Honor Flight, an organization that gets our WWII and Korean War Veterans to Washington to see their memorials.”
William simply said, “Thank you.” William is the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Veteran Village Foundation.
Bill wrote, “The local DAV Post 86 in Flagler Beach Florida was just given a very needed 2014 Ford Flex. It is most welcome. All the people you find at a Disabled American Veterans post are disabled Veterans that work with Veterans to do whatever they can to help their fellow Vets.”
Alfredo added, “I would recommend the Independence Fund. They provide track chairs for wounded service members.”
Rafael posted, “The USO for me is the best. They have been giving for a long time.”
Bob said, “Here is a link to a charity working with veterans and first responders: Campaign Against IEDs. 100% all volunteer and NO PAID STAFF.”
Lu suggested, “I came across Hope for the Warriors and found them a great ‘bang for the buck.’ Check out their 990. They even make it available on their website.”
Tage wrote, “I prefer to donate to We Soldier On in Leeds, Mass. They provide for homeless Vets.”
Jason posted, “I'm proud to work for Project Sanctuary…Year after year, 85% or more of Project Sanctuary’s funding goes directly to providing the services so desperately needed by our military families to take them from battle ready to family ready.”
James added, “Here is a group you may want to check out. It is the National Veterans Memorial. It is run by all volunteers as well as being a memorial for all that have served our country. It has also started a food bank in helping to feed our Homeless and Needy Veterans. When we are able to expand to the future size, we will be adding a recreation area for disabled veterans as well.”
Kristin said, “You might check with the American Red Cross's Boots to Business Program. It is currently being funded by MGM Casinos out of Las Vegas, but it seems like they only have a certain number of clients that they really have a handle on with supporting veterans with jobs. Maybe with more sponsors, the Red Cross can reach out to more diverse types of employers.”
Mike wrote, “I am on the Board for a group called the FOCUS Marines Foundation. We have US Marines/Corpsmen who have been injured in combat with either physical or mental scars (TBI/PTSD) come to a remote farm outside of St. Louis, MO for a whole week.”
Larry added, “I am publishing a book in Jan 2015 with all 2015 profits going to the Fisher House Charleston to be built soon in Charleston, SC to support the over 62,000 patients (Vets -Troops-families) of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.”
Michael posted, “I am spearheading a fundraising campaign for our returning combat veterans…all donations go towards the mission. Contact me for more information regarding this life saving endeavor. The name of my organization is Warriors in Heart.”
Gabriel suggested, “I am a combat Veteran and a member of K-9 Warriors Inc. - provides Elite Service Dogs for Veterans at no cost to them.”
Richard wrote, "97% of the referrals we receive are for veterans/troops who are in need of urgent financial assistance for things like food, shelter, car payments, home payments, emergency travel (all of which we raise funds for). We would like to be better know to those who need assistance - Operation Silver Star."
Finally, back to the subject of this article, Alan posted, “I don't know about, or care about high salaries. I just know Wounded Warrior Project has helped me more times than I can count, and I do not have any kind of status. I’m just a poor medically retired Vet. I have nothing but good things to say about WWP. God bless them for what they do.”
Since they weren’t mentioned above, we’d like to take this opportunity to recommend two more veterans organizations - Veterans for Peace and the Veterans Party of America. They, along with the many groups listed above, are fine organizations worthy of your support.
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