Current and former employees are speaking out about The Wounded Warrior Project, which many say has lost its purpose and become a charity for profit, funding the lavish lifestyles of its employees and spending millions of dollars on lobbying and PR campaigns to protect its image from criticism. The charity raised $372 million in 2015, largely through the small donations of retirees. It began in 2003 as a small “basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded war veterans” and has expanded to become the largest and fastest growing charity for American veterans with 500 employees.
The NY Times reports:
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.
Watch dog organizations have widely criticized this spending and recounted the expense of luxurious retreats and team building exercises. The chief executive Steve Nardizzi earned $473,000 from the company in 2014. He admits to using large corporations like Starbucks as the business model for the charity and has been a vocal defender of the right of charities to spend money as they please on travel, executive salaries and advertising.
“People could spend money on the most ridiculous thing and no one batted an eye,” said Connie Chapman, who was in charge of the charity’s Seattle office for two years. “I would fly to New York for less than a day to report to my supervisor.”
Supervisors have turned a watchful eye on their employees, stressing their concerns over “shared values.” Many assume that means they must be able to ignore wastefulness within the organization.
Eighteen former employees — many of them wounded veterans themselves — said they had been fired for seemingly minor missteps or perceived insubordination. At least half a dozen former employees said they were let go after raising questions about ineffective programs or spending.