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Norfolk, Va. The Wounded Warrior Project’s top executive says his charity has been unfairly saddled with lower grades from two top charity watchdogs in part because of the Florida based charity’s high executive salaries and high fundraising costs.

TheJacksonville charity founded a dozen years ago in Virginia lists on its tax return the salaries for its eleven executives as $2.2 million. That includes a base salary to CEO Steve Nardizzi of $375,000. The charity also lists fundraising expenses of nearly $32 million. Those figures are, in part, responsible for lower grades from “Charity Watch” and “Charity Navigator,” two of the nation’s three main charity checking organizations.

Charity Watch gives the Wounded Warrior Project an 86 overall, but an 80.77 for its financials, or a B minus. Charity Watch rates the group overall as a C plus. But Nardizzi says those ratings scales measure the wrong thing and are “horribly ineffective.” Nardizzi says he simply discounts the charity watchdogs, and says everyone else should do the same.

“We made a conscious decision in 2008 to ignore those systems so we could grow to meet the needs of tens of thousands of wounded warriors every year,” he said.

Part of that growth comes from an aggressive fundraising campaign that Nardizzi says is needed to bring in more money for programs, but is one factor that lowers scores from charity checkers.

“Fundraising we are doing is to fuel our growth,” he said.

Even though Nardizzi ignores the two ratings organizations, others don’t. Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are both recommended by Consumer Reports and the Federal Trade Commission as a way for donors to assess charities. Those agencies also recommend the Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving Alliance.” Nardizzi likewise recommends the BBB, which issued an accreditation to the Wounded Warrior Project. Nardizzi said he pays a fee to the BBB to use the logo on the charity web site.

Nardizzi said the best way for a potential donor to gauge a charity is to research the charity directly, without relying on charity watchdog web sites. But our investigation shows how a charity and a charity checking organization can review the same data and come up with different results.

On the Wounded Warrior Project’s website, the charity says it spends 80 percent of its donations on its main services. But tax records show it also includes some fundraising expenses in that mix. Charity Navigator subtracts the fundraising and in its most recent report said the Wounded Warrior Project spends less than 60 percent on its services. The rest, according to Charity Navigator, went to fundraising and administration.

While Nardizzi disputes the watchdogs’ methods, he does not dispute his emphasis on aggressive fundraising. He says it has helped the Wounded Warrior Project grow its services to veterans by 50 percent a year. That pays for what his staffers call a no cost “prep school” for wounded warriors to help them move into college, or into the civilian workforce. And Nardizzi says he’s hired top talent to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. Another expensive program is a fund to keep the most severely wounded warriors in their own homes,
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instead of in nursing homes.

“If your only fixation is spending the most on programs, that’s feeling good, but not necessarily doing good,” he said. “You could run a lot of program activities, you could spend a lot of money and have them be wholly ineffective. My question to donors is, ‘Would you want that? Would you want to give a dollar and, say, most of it went towards programs that did no good? That did not advance a warrior? That did not make them well?’ That would be a waste of your money.”

WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT FAST FACTS AND RELATED LINKS:

I like to know what facts both sides have to back their statements up. Where did they get their information? Publish some concrete numbers here, and I panic then, but so far all we really have is a lot of hearsay. Yes, we have some figures, but how do we know they are accurate? Just because some consumer watchdog group says so? I would also like to hear from some of the people this charity benefited as well as some who feel it screwed them over with genuine evidence that they have actually used said charity, and aren simply being paid by either side.

This note is for the folks at wounded warrior, how many executives do you really need vs workers. Why do your execs need a six figure income? One can live on a five figure income just as well, say 70K. The idea is great, who you service is wonderful, but your application as to compensation is skued in that I guess the top execs are not a charitable type of person. Need a new mission statement for the people who get paid. It would really free up a lot of funds back to the people your servicing.

Larry Nortonen,MSgt, USAF, Retired (100% disabled vet.)

Notice that WWP never really talks about what they do other than in general terms. As a service member,
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I know a number of wounded veterans and they have never been helped by them. At most they have received a t shirt with the WWP logo plastered on it. I don see how it helps the wounded veteran to be branded and turned into a advertising mechanism for WWP. The only good thing I can say about them is that if you call them for help they do really good job directing you to a charity that actually does worthwhile work for those that have been wounded. There are a lot of really good military related charities and WWP is not one of them.