Wounded Warrior Project Spends Lavishly on Itself, Insiders Say
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In early 2014, after 10 years of rapid growth, the charity Wounded Warrior Project flew its roughly 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel.They were celebrating their biggest year yet: $225 million raised and a work force that had nearly doubled in just a year. On the opening night, before three days of strategy sessions and team-building field trips, the staff gathered in the hotel courtyard. Suddenly, a spotlight focused on a 10-story bell tower where the chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, stepped off the edge and rappelled down toward the cheering crowd.
That evening is emblematic of the polished and well-financed image cultivated by the Wounded Warrior Project, the country’s largest and fastest-growing veterans charity.
Since its inception in 2003 as a basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded war veterans, the charity has evolved into a fund-raising giant, taking in more than $372 million in 2015 alone — largely through small donations from people over 65.
Today, the charity has 22 locations offering programs to help veterans readjust to society, attend school, find work and participate in athletic endeavors. It contributes millions to smaller veterans groups. And it has become a brand name, its logo emblazoned on sneakers, paper towel packs, peanut butter cups and television commercials that run dozens of times per day.
But in its swift rise, it has also embraced aggressive styles of fund-raising, marketing and personnel management that have caused many current and former employees to question whether it has drifted from its original mission.
It has spent millions a year on travel, dinners, hotels and conferences that often seemed more lavish than appropriate, more than four dozen current and former employees said in interviews. Former workers recounted buying business-class seats and regularly jetting around the country for minor meetings, or staying in $500-per-night hotel rooms.
Sadly,a lot of charities seem to go down this road.