History Podcasts

Wounded Warrior Project

Wounded Warrior Project

Serving Their Country, Serving Their Community

The following content is brought to you by our partner, the Wounded Warrior Project. For Brett Miller, cycling had not only been a form of fitness, but his escape. A firefighter for 17 years before joining the National Guard in 1988 to help pay for college, he was conducting ...read more

The Wounded Warrior Project: 12 Lessons in Leadership

The following content is brought to you by our partner, the Wounded Warrior Project. From knowing how to listen to inspiring hope to recognizing when to stay firm in your convictions, lessons learned in the military are easily transferable to civilian life. We asked six combat ...read more

The WGI and Wounded Warrior Project: A Brief History

In October of 2008, shortly after their Columbus, Ohio Workshops, The Writers Guild Initiative invited Wounded Warrior Project ® (WWP) to advise them on working with veterans. As WGI board member Lulie Haddad recalls, “We had a like-minded approach to veterans. Both of us wanted to create a space where people could feel safe enough to be creative.”

The workshops in Columbus introduced a format that is in use, and evolving, to the present day. The WGI focuses on exploring the tools of storytelling (character, dialogue, scene description, conflict, etc.), which enables participants to express themselves.

As a byproduct of that, Haddad says, “What the writers choose to write about is self directed and not always related to their military service or the events that may have brought them to WWP in the first place.” Writers in the workshop tackle genres as varied as mystery, science fiction and memoir.

While the WGI had developed a format for their workshops in Columbus, they incorporated WWP’s advice during their San Antonio workshops. During the discussion, WWP brought up the idea of using the workshops for families, particularly caregivers, attending to veterans with long-term needs.

“We didn’t know what they’d think,” recalls Jeremy Chwat, chief strategy officer with WWP, “But we got lucky. They bit.

“We were wrapping our minds around the needs of caregivers,” he continues. “They needed an outlet, and they needed something that they could do in the small bit of free time that they had. Writing is perfect, it fits into the pockets of ‘found time’ that the caregivers have.”

While the WGI’s initial impulse had been to work with veterans, the group quickly took to working with caregivers. “The amazing thing is the WGI is willing to meet them where they are, with no expectations, nothing but the desire to work with them as writing peers,” says Anna Frese, a WWP teammate and herself a caregiver.

“The addition of family members and caregivers to their mission was a brave thing for the WGI,” says Chwat. “It wasn’t what they originally planned. But their recognized that this was a group that was crying out for a voice. And they stepped up.”

The first caregiver’s workshops were held in November of 2011. An account of that workshop and a video can be found here. (link to page on the website)

“We heard amazing stories,” Anna says, “Stories of resilience and healing, stories of the incredible skills and abilities that caregivers develop to cope.

“The emotions they bring may be tied to the injuries they are treating,” she continues, “but as they write, those emotions blossom into so much more. Suddenly, they see that the stories and emotions can open up to so much more in life.”

“So many people in Wounded Warrior Project have so much to say,” adds Cathy Holte, outreach coordinator with WWP. “And sometimes it will only come out in the writing. We have people who come away from these workshops saying ‘I had no idea I could write… and I had no idea what was in there.’”

The buzz around the caregiver workshops soon spread. According to Cathy Holte, “People began contacting each other, spreading the news on Facebook.” Soon, the list of volunteers for the workshops grew.

“It was important that we communicated to everyone that this was a serious weekend,” Holte continues. “They should come prepared to work. The Writer’s Guild brings a team of passionate, committed professionals to these workshops. We wanted the caregivers to know that if they had in an interest in developing as a writer, being mentored, and getting honest feedback and critiques, this was the place for them.”

A few months after the first caregiver’s workshop, WWP and the WGI began talking about yet another group of military people who needed to tell their stories: the medical personnel who treat the wounded directly from the battlefield.

“We were approached by Command at the Military Hospital at Landstuhl, German,” says Jeremy Chwat. “They asked if we could provide programming that would help with the compassion fatigue suffered by their personnel. They see the worst of the worst there — but what they don’t see is the recovery. They deal with the injuries, and then send the soldiers home. They needed a way to process what they were going through.”

The Landstuhl workshops were held in May, 2011. The impulse behind these workshops was the same as for veterans and caregivers: to give people the ability to express themselves and tell their stories. An account of the workshop can be found here. (link to web page)

Since Landstuhl and New York, workshops have been held in Denver, San Antonio, and Chicago (as well as additional workshops in New York).

“There’s an enormous validation that comes with sitting with a professional writer,” says Anna Frese. “First off, they learn that their writing doesn’t have to be perfect. They learn to go with what they’ve got. And once they feel safe, the passion and emotion and energy just flow. They leave these weekends recharged and passionate about this new thing in their lives.”

Another factor that makes the workshops “work” is that they are held on two separate weekends, six months apart. “The writers are not just dropping in,” Jeremy Chwat says. “This isn’t a one-off. These are world-class writers, who are committed to working with veterans and caregivers, who in turn know there’s someone waiting to read their work.”

What’s up for the future? Jeremy Chwat says that “Arts support for the military is essential” to WWP, and the workshops they hold with the WGI are a classic example of the kind of artistic programs veterans need.

From the WGI perspective, the future will hopefully hold many more programs with WWP. If you’re a caregiver or a veteran interested in participating, you can find information here. If you’re a member of the Writers Guild who would like to volunteer, contact us here.

Wounded Warrior Project®

WWP has been serving wounded veterans, their caregivers, and family members for over a decade.

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) began in 2003 when several veterans and friends, some severely injured in military conflicts, were moved by the stories of the first wounded warriors returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq. This group decided it could serve the unique problems of this generation and took action by providing tangible support to heal the physical and mental wounds of injured service members. At first, comfort was provided to returning combat veterans through backpacks with essential items not provided by hospitals, including shorts, T-shirts, razors, underwear, soap, shampoo, calling cards, and playing cards. The group delivered those first backpacks to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and were soon asked for more because of the impact they had on the patients’ resilience.

Over time, the services provided by WWP have evolved to provide a full range of direct support, from the first days after injury to a warrior’s transition into civilian life and beyond. WWP has grown into America’s foremost advocate for those who come home with the visible and invisible wounds of war.

A warriors first connection with WWP often starts with a backpack just like this.

America’s service members protect our nation in the most dangerous places in the world. When they are severely ill or injured, their return home is only the beginning of the long road to recovery. The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP is committed to ensuring warriors receive whatever support they need to continue to thrive – on their own terms.

Uniquely, WWP calls its warrior members Alumni. The term Alumni not only indicates a shared experience but also denotes they earned organizational membership through service. There are no dues required by WWP Alumni as those were paid on the battlefield and by wearing the uniform. As such, all WWP programs and services are offered free of charge, for a lifetime, largely thanks to generous donations made by individual supporters, foundations, and strategic partners through the mail.

Each warrior’s recovery process is different. WWP seeks to help these wounded veterans and their support circles by offering comprehensive programs that will meet their specific needs. WWP offers direct programs and services, such as caregiver retreats, combat stress programs, and career and training opportunities. These opportunities aim to ease the burdens of warriors, their caregivers, and families, by aiding in the recovery process and smoothing the transition into civilian life.

Over the years, WWP programs and services have evolved to meet the growing needs of the warriors it serves. As of 2016, more than 100,000 wounded veterans, caregivers, and family members receive access to WWP programs and services, all of which are free of charge.

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) utilizes the United States Postal Service in two vital capacities. First, and most importantly, WWP’s programmatic mail outreach efforts directly aim to assist the warriors it serves. In addition to spreading awareness about events, mailers educate wounded veterans, their caregivers, and families about WWP’s programs and services. Additionally, WWP mails various support kits directly to warriors depending on their needs. Wounded Warrior Project also acquires and stewards donors through the mail because it is a common and affordable means of outreach.

Annual Alumni Mailer
The Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) annual Alumni Mailer provides outreach to our nation’s wounded and ill veterans to inform them about WWP’s direct programs and services. The mailer includes WWP decals and stickers, a program directory, wallet guide, Resource Center magnet, and custom Alumni gear.

WWP surveys the needs of its warriors to better serve their unique needs.

Alumni Survey
The first Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Alumni Survey was administered in 2010 to collect baseline data on the warriors that WWP serves, and to identify trends and needs among this generation of wounded veterans. Since the first poll, WWP has received over 66,000 survey responses from Alumni. By refining existing programs, developing new initiatives, and determining the biggest areas of need for the wounded veterans WWP serves, the information gathered from each survey is critical to fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission of honoring and empowering Wounded Warriors. The 2015 Wounded Warrior Project annual Alumni Survey was the sixth administration of the assessment and its most widespread distribution to date.

Family members are critical to the healthy and recovery of the warriors that WWP serves.

Family Support Mailer
The annual Family Support Mailer (FSM) is assembled by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) staff and contains handwritten notes expressing gratitude for family members and caregivers, WWP branded stickers, magnets, decals, and information about WWP programs and services. Since its inception in 2015, almost 11,000 Family Support Mailers have been mailed. As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have winded down, fewer FSMs have been mailed to the families of wounded veterans.

Welcome Kits
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Welcome Kits contain information about the programs and services that are available to WWP Alumni, along with contact information for the WWP Resource Center. The center is the first point of contact for many of the wounded veterans the non-profit organization serves. As of 2016, nearly 90,000 of these kits have been mailed.

Transitional Care Packs
Wounded veterans overseas who are evacuated from field hospitals to larger military treatment facilities stateside or abroad receive a smaller version of the Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) backpack, known as Transitional Care Packs (TCPs), for immediate comfort.

Each Transitional Care Pack contains clean clothing and comfort items for wounded veterans.

WWP backpacks are filled with essential care and comfort items such as clothing, toiletries, playing cards, and more – all designed to make a hospital stay more comfortable. Wounded veterans receive backpacks as they arrive at military trauma units across the United States. Even today, WWP backpacks are being delivered to VA and military hospitals around the world. Since the program’s inception, over 44,500 packs have been assembled by WWP staff and distributed to wounded veterans. Thankfully, with the wind-down of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer TCPs are being distributed as a result of fewer wounded service members.

Family Support Totes
The Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Family Support Tote (FST) is the newest addition to the WWP Pack program. WWP distributes totes to spouses and family members of hospitalized warriors.

Family Support Totes contain important information about WWP for family members, as well as comfort items.

The tote provides immediate comfort items to the family during a very difficult time. This program was conceived based on an unmet need observed by WWP’s Family Support team. Family members would fly to visit their wounded family member at a moment’s notice, and many necessary supplies for travel would be left behind. Developed with the input of family members of injured warriors in hospitals, each Family Support Tote includes a planner with WWP program materials, a neck pillow, toiletry kit, and other important comfort and care items. Since the first FST was packed in 2012, over 1,450 Family Support Totesto family support members. With the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq seeing fewer wounded service members in recent years, fewer FSTs are being produced and mailed.

Direct Mail
Direct mail has been responsible for raising 35 percent of the nonprofit’s fundraising intake on a yearly basis since 2008. The United States Postal Service (USPS) plays a major role in almost all of WWP’s revenue lines, spanning event invitations, thank you letters, fundraising kits, and lapsed donor reminders. WWP also uses new USPS technologies, including specially designed stamps that increase engagement. These fundraising methods through the mail support the nonprofit organization’s mission and spread awareness on behalf of wounded veterans, their caregivers, and families.

The Purple Heart Stamp

Purple Heart Stamp
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) encourages new donors to give back by including a paper-clipped Purple Heart stamp with a letter about a WWP Alumnus. The stamp clearly honors wounded service members and gives the American public an easy way to immediately support the WWP mission through the mail. As of 2016, WWP has mailed more than 20 million Purple Heart stamps as part of the ongoing efforts to engage the public and request direct contributions. Assisted by the Purple Heart stamp, WWP has increased awareness for warriors and their needs.

In the nonprofit world, this stamp initiative has been exceptionally successful, winning industry awards and serving as a top-performing fundraising package surpassing seven years. As a result of these efforts, WWP has raised millions in donations to help ensure this generation of wounded service members is supported for a lifetime.

The Wounded Warrior Project® stamp

WWP Stamp
Due to the success of the Purple Heart stamp, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) created a WWP logo stamp in 2014 to accompany direct mail fundraising appeals. As of 2015, WWP has mailed over 1.4 million WWP stamps and has raised important donations through this effective revenue channel.

About Wounded Warrior Project®

The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida.

‘Wounded Warrior’ Charity Unleashes Hell—On Other Veteran Groups

What happens when a nonprofit that was started to help veterans becomes the neighborhood bully?

Tim Mak

Photo Illustration by Quinn Ryan/The Daily Beast

For a charity supposedly devoted to helping veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project spends an enormous amount of time suing or threatening to sue small nonprofits—spending resources on litigation that could otherwise be spent on the vets they profess to serve.

At issue is the Wounded Warrior Project’s brand: The charity has become particularly litigious over the use of the phrase “wounded warrior” or logos that involve silhouetted soldiers. At least seven such charities have discussed their legal problems with The Daily Beast.

The Wounded Warrior Project has become, in the words of those it’s targeted for legal action, a “bully,” more concerned about its image and increasing the size of the organization than actually providing services to wounded warriors.

“They do try to bully smaller organizations like ourselves. They get really territorial about fundraising,” said the president of one charity with the name “wounded warrior” in their title.

He asked to remain anonymous out of fear that the Wounded Warrior Project would launch legal action against his group if he spoke out. His group hasn’t been sued, but he said individuals from the WWP had pressured him to change their name. “They’re so huge. We don’t have the staying power if they come after us—you just can’t fight them.”

The Wounded Warrior Project’s latest target is the Keystone Wounded Warriors, a small, all-volunteer charity based in Pennsylvania.

How small? Keystone Wounded Warriors had a total annual revenue of just over $200,000 as recently as 2013. That’s less than the $375,000 that Wounded Warrior Project Executive Director Steven Nardizzi was personally paid in 2013.

The Keystone group was forced to spend more than two years and some $72,000 in legal fees to defend itself from the legal actions of the Wounded Warrior Project, which brings in annual revenues of close to $235 million, according to the outfit’s most recent tax forms.

“That’s money that we could have used to pick up some homes in foreclosure, remodel them, and give them back to warriors. We spent that money on defending ourselves instead,” said Keystone Wounded Warriors Executive Director Paul Spurgin, a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran.

“The lawsuit was just the coup de grâce,” he added. “They want us gone.” At issue is their similar logo and names—Wounded Warrior Project complained that it will “suffer irreparable damage to its business, goodwill, reputation and profits.”

The Wounded Warrior Project did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But in an interview with local Virginia news channel WTKR, Nardizzi said that most organizations simply change their names when asked.

The Wounded Warrior Project has a history of legal attacks against those it perceives to be infringing on their brand. However, the term “wounded warrior” is a generic term in the military community for an injured service member. The Army has a Wounded Warrior Program. A band at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is called the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band.

And “the Marine Corps’ own battalion… their unit for service members who have been wounded is called the Wounded Warrior Regiment,” pointed out Ann Barnwell, a spokeswoman for Hope for the Warriors, a veterans charity that was threatened for five years between 2007 and 2012 by the Wounded Warriors Project over its logo.

At the time, both organizations had logos featuring the silhouettes of servicemembers. Hope for the Warriors eventually did change their emblem. They say that was not in response to legal threats, but rather the modernize their image.

Wounded Warrior Project is a gigantic organization that has yielded a plethora of complaints from the veterans community. Many vets have been critical that, despite hundreds of millions in revenue, the Wounded Warrior Project does not effectively spend its money to help veterans. The group has received mixed results from charity watchdogs: Charity Watch gave Wounded Warrior a C+ in 2013, up from a D two years prior. Charity Navigator gave it three out of four stars.

“Have you seen their 990 [tax form]? We often get confused with them—they’re not looked upon very highly by [the veterans community],” said David Brog, executive director of the Air Warrior Courage Foundation, which has not been threatened with litigation by the Wounded Warrior Project.

Many of the charities that Wounded Warrior Project threatens are more highly rated. Three of the charities interviewed for this story, for example, received four stars from Charity Navigator. The others were either not large enough or had not been around long enough to be rated by the charity watchdog.

A substantial cadre of veterans feel that the Wounded Warrior Project is more concerned about organizational growth than getting at the roots of problems vets face. They cite statistics that of the 56,000 veterans that WWP supposedly serves, more than a third haven’t engaged with the group in the past year. The lawsuits and threats of legal action against small nonprofits seeking to do good for veterans reinforce that perception.

Keystone Wounded Warriors Executive Director Paul Spurgin is dumbfounded as to why the massive Wounded Warrior Project would spend the resources to sue them. Spurgin is a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. (Wounded Warriors Project head Steve Nardizzi, on the other hand, has never served.)

The Keystone Wounded Warriors co-founder said he spent two years negotiating with the Wounded Warrior Project to come to a sensible conclusion to their disagreements over the name and logo. Then the Wounded Warrior Project filed a lawsuit—forcing the much smaller Keystone Wounded Warriors to offer a settlement agreement.

“It’s the big guy beating up on the little guy. We won't make the same as we did last year. What’s it really about? If they keep blowing up [in fundraising] 50 percent every year, and we're going to go backwards this year, what is the point?” Spurgin said. “The money that we get in donations to help warriors—is that going to make or break them? … [They’re] whining about a small number of legitimate nonprofits. I'm at a loss: We all should be working together.”

Retired Colonel John Folsom formed “Wounded Warriors” in 2003 while he was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany, and is a 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He has argued that his group, which receives four stars on Charity Navigator, was granted nonprofit status before WWP was.

Their organization has spent, in Folsom’s estimation, over $300,000 in legal fees to defend itself from the Wounded Warrior Project over a protracted, five-year process. Folsom’s organization eventually lost the lawsuit and were forced to change its name to “Wounded Warrior Family Support,” on the grounds that it was benefitting from the Wounded Warrior Project’s national advertising. The smaller group had to pay $1.7 million to WWP.

“It was very derogatory… [the Wounded Warrior Project’s lawyers] argued that John’s program was a scheme, that it was fraudulent, that he had benefitted from the wonderful advertisements of the Wounded Warrior Projects, to scam the public,” said Woody Bradford, a former “Wounded Warriors” board member who represented the group in court.

Folsom didn’t even want to talk about the lawsuit, saying that he would lose his temper if he spoke about it on the record.

“We survived. We’re here. We were never going to be a big player with huge advertising… our focus was to have a presence locally,” Bradford said. “They had the power and they used it. It was was brutal. We adopted the idea that each of us should be able to render services to [vets]. We were a grassroots, on-the-ground kind of [organization].”

The Wounded Warrior Ski Patrol is yet another group that has caught the wrong end of WWP’s litigious behavior. The group, which supports the recovery of vets by taking them on snow sports activities, was served with a letter demanding it cease and desist using the name “wounded warrior.” Fortunately for the Ski Patrol group, a patent attorney on the organization’s board was able to push back and argue that the WWP had no legal ownership over that term.

Wounded Warrior USA, a small Colorado charity with a $15,000 operating budget, had a Wounded Warrior Project lawyer reach out to them to demand they change the free clipart they were using as a label on coffee packages they were using for fundraising. “They got really nasty with us,” said Wounded Warrior USA founder Dave Bryant.

“They’ve tried to go after every organization with ‘wounded warrior’ and bully them,” said the head of one veterans charity, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want his group to be targeted. “We’re not going to spend a dime or a moment confronting the bully in the neighborhood. We’re going to focus on the actual wounded warriors.”

Wounded Warrior Project and the Ethical Line

The New York Times’ recent investigation into the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) has sent rumbles throughout through the philanthropy community. Over the past few years, WWP staff members have treated themselves to nights at five-star hotels, booked first class cross-country flights to attend minor meetings in-person, attended lavish conferences, and spent nearly 40 percent of their donations on overhead well beyond typical overhead spending for organizations that serve veterans. For a nonprofit that prides itself on helping veterans readjust to society, find work and attend school, this type of spending comes across as excessive and tone-deaf to say the least.

Of course, WPP’s lavish spending is also reflection of the organization’s overwhelming success. They raised $372 million in 2015. They have 22 locations across the country. Aggressive marketing and public relations campaigns have made them a borderline household name no easy feat for a philanthropic organization. As a result, it’s safe to assume they have the capacity to serve more veterans than any other competing organization.

There’s no easy answer in trying to parse this controversy. First and foremost, Wounded Warrior Project’s ascendancy is the direct result of the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide adequate support services. Given our government’s engagement in two lengthy wars in the new millennia, one would think that our infrastructure of veteran support would be strong enough that there wouldn’t need to be a massive NGO covering gaps. Yet the VA has been mired in scandal and corruption in nearly every decade of its 85-year history, and accusations of waste and poor care in the hospital system are a common occurrence.

In fact, the US government’s neglect of its veteran population predates the Department of VA by about 150 years. During the Revolutionary War, for example, Congress promised payments to disabled veterans, but ultimately left the money for the states to distribute. Only a few thousand veterans actually ended up receiving these payments. From the time of muskets and wooden ships to the Veteran’s Bureau scandal under President Harding to Ron Kovics’ march at the 72′ Republican convention to just last year when the Secretary of the VA resigned in disgrace, there’s a lineage of mistreatment that has continued throughout the ages.

This ignoble tradition reflects a greater problem in our culture. We love symbolic displays of gratitude toward veterans whether it’s “support the troops” ribbons or ostentatious flybys at NFL games. And despite providing very tangible and helpful services to veterans, WWP has embraced the type of excessive branding tactics more befitting of a major sports league than a nonprofit. Combine this aggressive promotion with the lavish spending on overhead, the overly corporate approach to nonprofit management, and a tendency to sue any potential competitor into oblivion, and it sounds like the same old story: veterans and their problems being relegated to the background of their own story.

In the nonprofit world, bigger is not always better, and solving the problem that your organization seeks to address should theoretically either result in a downsizing of the organization, or a broadening/shifting of goals. The story of Invisible Children serves as a cautionary example: the massive scope of their marketing and PR operation created a backlash of critics questioning their understanding of the issues and the level of resources needed to address them, and this backlash caused their funding model to collapse immediately. Faced with the similar backlash, could Wounded Warrior Project scale down their approach to focus solely on helping veterans readjust to society, much like how Invisible Children has adjusted? Given the large ambitions of WWP’s leadership, and the accusations that the organization fires anyone who is not a ‘cultural fit’ (ie holds a dissenting opinion), this prospect seem less likely.

Another overlooked part of this scandal is the lack of due diligence on the part of individual donors. Indeed, it is not a new revelation that WWP spends 40 percent on overhead this information has ALWAYS been transparently available to potential donors. Nevertheless, many of these donors got caught up in a maelstrom of slick marketing efforts and didn’t do their research on how the organization distributes funding. Given the figures available, it might have been better for donors help an individual veteran in their personal network or support a local organization. Since they continued to support Wounded Warrior Project, however, this news douses cold water on the notion that we are in a “data-driven” era of philanthropy (pun intended, given the similar handwringing over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge funding distribution).

Despite all of these issues, however, charitable organizations – particularly small-to-mid sized ones – could still learn a few lessons from WWP’s successes. There exists a naivete at many nonprofits about building capacity and sustainability, particularly for organizations with nationwide or international ambitions. Too often we see these organizations use their mission as a crutch that it is too sacrosanct for marketing and PR, or that talented staff members will tolerate being perpetually underpaid for a good cause.

One of the Unfunded List Evaluators told me a story about a colleague who worked for a mid-sized whole school reform organization. This organization received a multi-million dollar grant from the federal government to scale-up their operation to hundreds of schools across the country. The only caveat was that the organization had to go out and recruit these schools, using the matching government grant funding as a primary enticement. Unfortunately, the organization’s leadership did not invest new resources in marketing or expansion to achieve these goals, thinking that the mission and grants would sell themselves. Two years later, the organization contracted in a massive downsizing due to the inability to draw new schools in.

Examples like these are prevalent in the nonprofit and foundation world: organizations get their big break – whether it’s a major grant or donation – and don’t scale-up their marketing, development, and promotion resources to build sustainable interest and support. In a world where “thinking like a business” is an eye-rolling cliche, this lesson is still important.

Ultimately, there’s a fine line to straddle between promoting oneself enough to build the appropriate capacity to solve the problems set out by your mission, and growing to the point where the mission becomes secondary. Wounded Warrior Project crossed this line, but they have the infrastructure – and track-record – to course-correct and further their goals of veteran support. If they can’t, then we hope that donors begin looking to reputable local organizations, startup organizations or even directly supporting our friends, family and neighbors who have served. It’s the least that we can do for the most vulnerable of our veteran population.

I have been asked many times how this Academy was started. It truly is an amazing story and yet simple at the same time. The Academy strives to provide our students with so much more than a skill to use on the baseball diamond. We seek to demonstrate and realize the common bond between individuals passionate about the sport of baseball. Long after our playing days are over, there is still a connection to the game through umpiring. When like-minded individuals come together to learn the art of umpiring and share similar military backgrounds, our students find another “band of brothers” in which they now belong. This brotherhood will never “PCS” or disband. Everywhere our students go, they are able to connect with other umpires and the game of baseball to immediately feel welcomed with a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

As an active duty Marine in 2013, I was stationed in San Diego, California working as a Series Commander at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD). I was getting ready to gear up for a recruit hike when my assignments monitor called me and told me he was moving me to North Carolina. I had worked college baseball in Southern California and after the logistics of moving my family was set up, I contacted Tom Hiler, The Director of Baseball Umpires for the NCAA and asked for his assistance in finding a new umpire association after transferring to North Carolina. Tom was quick to offer assistance and asked me to come to his camp in Idaho in order to receive instruction on 3-man mechanics and he would give me a fresh recommendation to prospective assigners in North Carolina.

I reported to Tom’s camp as requested and on the first night, each student stood up and introduced who they were and where they came from. I was the only one from Southern California and I felt compelled to explain why. Once I said I was an active duty Marine transitioning from coast to coast, one of the instructors in the front row immediately turned around and showed me a tattoo of a Combat Action Ribbon and the initials U.S.M.C. on his forearm. He said “Semper Fi Devil Dog” and I offered the typical response “Ooh Rah!” The instructor was Jimmy Craig from Columbus, Ohio and he demonstrated the “esprit de corps” which all Marines feel and helped me to recognize the bond and connection we feel as Marines is also very similar to the connection umpires feel within their own associations. Jimmy said “Semper Fi” which is short for Semper Fidelis meaning always faithful – the motto of the Marine Corps and the central theme of the way all Marines feel.

Jimmy and I became immediate friends and would continue to build our friendship and stay in touch. Jimmy was on the phone a few months later with Dan Weikle, NCAA Division II National Umpire Coordinator. As they were discussing business, Dan told Jimmy it would be nice to establish a camp to train Wounded Warriors to become umpires but admitted he had no idea where he could find students. After recently learning of my new assignment working at Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Camp Lejeune, Jimmy said, “I know a guy you need to talk to. ” Dan called me and we laid the frame work for the first Wounded Warrior Umpire Camp to be held the Summer of 2014.

After months of coordination between Dan and I, we agreed to bring it all together during a coordination meeting to be held at the Palm Beach Challenge, DII National Umpire Development Camp in Palm Beach Florida during March 2014. Dan introduced Jimmy and I to Reid Lester, Tim Hatfield, James Arnold, Bill Smith and many more of the outstanding men who would work as either instructors or support staff for our first Wounded Warrior Umpire Camp. In an effort to ensure the Academy would be successful in the eyes of the Marine Corps and allow it to continue, it was important to have the organization and execution to fall under the umbrella of the Colorado Collegiate Umpire Association. This enabled my ability to attend as an official representative of the Marine Corps in order to ensure the camp was a respectable organization worthy of being offered to Wounded Warriors on an annual basis. Wounded Warriors and those charitable organizations supporting them must follow very strict regulations and ethical procedures to prevent any appearance of an official endorsement by the Marine Corps – which there is not, and most importantly, to protect the integrity and dignity of our nations heroes. They deserve only the very best effort we can put forth.​​

After a successful first year, we received approval of the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment to become a regular “charitable organization” event to be held annually. During 2015, the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy was officially formed listing myself as the sole incorporator. The Academy by-laws and articles of incorporation were completed and listed Jimmy Craig as the Vice President, Tim Hatfield as the Treasurer and Libbi Craig as the Secretary. Other board members were Jim Paronto, Dan Weikle, Brian Frisch and Rich Padilla.

This is truly a great organization and we have learned the power and effect it has on us as well as the individual student. At each camp we have held, at least one student has said this has “saved his life.” An average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. I wish we had the capability to offer this camp to every veteran as we are very proud of our Academy and even more proud of the “the brotherhood.”

Wounded Warrior Project accused of wasting donation money

A CBS News investigation into a charity for wounded veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project, looks into how the charity spends its donation money.

What caught our attention is how the Wounded Warrior Project spends donations compared to other long-respected charities.

For example, Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust spends 96 percent of its budget on vets. Fisher House devotes 91 percent. But according to public records reported by "Charity Navigator," the Wounded Warrior Project spends 60 percent on vets.

Where is the money is going?

In its commercials, Wounded Warrior Project appeals to the American public's generosity, and it works. In 2014 alone the group received more than $300 million in donations.

Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette CBS News

"Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn't see is how they spend their money," said Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette.

Veterans: Honoring Our Heroes

Millette came home from Iraq in 2006 with a bronze star and a purple heart -- along with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Initially, he admired the charity's work, and participated in its programs. He took a job as a public speaker with Wounded Warrior Project in 2013. But after two years, he quit.

"You're using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties," he told CBS News.

Millette said he witnessed lavish spending on staff.

"Let's get a Mexican mariachi band in there, let's get maracas made with [the] WWP logo, put them on every staff member's desk. Let's get it catered and have a big old party," he described.

"Going to a nice fancy restaurant is not team building. Staying at a lavish hotel at the beach here in Jacksonville, and requiring staff that lives in the area to stay at the hotel is not team building," Millette continued.

CBS News spoke to more than 40 former employees who described a charity where spending was out of control.

Two of those former employees were so fearful of retaliation they asked that their faces not to be shown on camera.

"It was extremely extravagant. Dinners and alcohol, and just total accessm" one employee explained. He continued, saying that for a charitable organization that's serving veterans, the spending on resorts and alcohol is "what the military calls fraud waste and abuse."

Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi

According to the charity's tax forms, spending on conferences and meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014. That's about the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery -- its top program.

Former employees say spending has skyrocketed since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009. Many point to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs as typical of his style.

"He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He's come in on a Segway, he's come in on a horse."

About 500 staff members attended the four-day conference in Colorado. The price tag? About $3 million.

"Donors don't want you to have a $2,500 bar tab. Donors don't want you to fly every staff member once a year to some five-star resort and whoop it up and call it team building," said Millette.

A Colorado Springs resort where a 2014 WWP conference was held

Wounded Warrior Project declined CBS News' repeated interview requests for Nardizzi, but offered their Director of Alumni and a recipient of their services, Captain Ryan Kules.

Kules denied there was excessive spending on conferences.

"It's the best use of donor dollars to ensure we are providing programs and services to our warriors and families at the highest quality."

When asked why conferences were held at five-star resorts instead of cheaper options, Kules provided the same answer.

Capt. Ryan Kules, WWP Director of Alumni CBS News

"Like I said, it's to make sure we are aligned and can build as a team. Be able to be able to provide the best quality services."

"WWP and those donor dollars trained me to speak and be a voice, and that's exactly what I'm doing," said Millette.

"I'm sorry, but I'll be damned if you're gonna take hard-working Americans' money and drink it and waste it."

Kules also told CBS News the charity did not spend $3 million on the Colorado conference, but he was not there and was unable to say what it did cost. He also denied that the charity spends money on alcohol or engages in any other kind of excessive spending.

More than 52,000 servicemen and women physically injured in recent military conflicts. 500,000 living with invisible wounds, from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. 320,000 experiencing debilitating brain trauma.

Advancements in technology and medicine save lives – but the quality of those lives might be profoundly altered.

The numbers speak for themselves, because not every warrior can. With the support of our community of donors and team members, we give a voice to those needs and empower our warriors to begin the journey to recovery.

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When it all comes down to it, it is very important to find charity groups that do what they claim to do with our money. Just as important, however, is researching accusations against such groups before accepting the word of any who would seek to discredit them. Charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project are important to our nation’s veterans and have helped more than they have profited, which is the very goal of a charitable organization. Though WWP is not the very best at giving a large percentage of its funds to those it is dedicated to helping, they do distribute a significant amount where it needs to be and are in the upper percentage of veterans-based charities.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Watch the video: Wounded Warrior project video (January 2022).