Major Donor Demands CEO Resignation at Wounded Warriors

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March 3, 2016; CBS News

Fred and Dianne Kane have been dubbed “VIP donors” to the Wounded Warrior Project. They run a charity effort called Tee-Off-for-a Cause, which has raised $325,000 for WWP through golf tournaments. In their outrage at recent reports of wasteful spending at the nonprofit, they have dedicated themselves to a new cause: demanding reform at the organization.

In 2014, for instance, the group’s spending on conferences and staff meetings was at $26 million, a startling increase from less than $2 million in 2010. “Hearing that there was this waste of money, donor dollars that should have been going to servicemen and women that were injured, and that it was spent on their having a good time—it’s a real disappointment,” Dianne Kane told CBS News.

So Fred called the organization, demanding that the CEO, Steve Nardizzi, be fired. (According to CBS News, he is not the only large donor to do so.) But since sources close to the organization say the board signs off on all major spending decisions and also stays at five-star hotels on the organization’s dime, the Kanes may want to think about demanding some changes at that level as well.

The couple also cancelled this year’s charity event and started a petition on Change.org, which reads:

I started a charity in 2009 to support Wounded Warrior Project. Having raised $325,000 for Wounded Warrior Project since 2009, the organization has allegedly misspent donated funds. I call for an open and public, independent audit and full accountability to answer allegations brought forward by the media following investigations and news reports. The WWP has done fantastic work, but I feel they have lost focus and responsibility to donors. Most of the individual donations come from those over 65 years of age. CEO Steve Nardizzi, to this date, has not faced investigative reporters nor appeared in public to answer any of the allegations. WWP claims full transparency and since they operate as a nonprofit, they owe a full, clear and honest accounting to the American public.

I believe in the great work WWP does, but feel that there may be serious governance issues and a lack of control in spending on non-veteran related programs, including, but not limited to: lobbying groups, travel, entertainment and employee “perks.”

This is an excellent example of stakeholder organizing; the petition already has 550 signatures.

“Where is this guy? You lead from the front, good or bad, you don’t hide,” Fred Kane said. “I don’t understand how an organization that has many veterans who value honor and service and chain of command can be led by a guy like that.”

“I feel like I am representing all these people who have donated over the years, all these seniors over 65 sending $19 a month, all these people on fixed incomes,” said Mr. Kane. “If no one is going to talk about this right now and it has to be me, then it has to be me.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Zimzone

    As a Vietnam era Veteran, it’s very disturbing to see orgs like the WWP spend over 40% of donated funds on ‘overhead’ expenses like 5 star hotels and high admin salaries.

    The worst part of this, in my opinion, is the dark cloud other orgs that raise money for Veterans will find themselves under due to the inappropriate activities of the WWP.

  • Rich Lancaster

    What a horrible indictment of WWP, an organization I’ve donated to several times. All too often the truth is found out about successful charities, they get overrun with greed and forget their mission. How many more Vets could’ve been helped if the Board and Staff at WWP had paid themselves, used 3 star hotels, eaten chicken instead of steak and entertained themselves a lot less? Meanwhile us donors are hoodwinked in to believing they are doing a great job, it’s shameful.

  • Emily Flemming

    Please tell me NPQ is going to be covering Steve Nardizzi’s keynote talk at the AFP ICON this month. I think this situation, especially considering Nardizzi’s association with Dan Pallotta and the Charity Defense Council could be a fascinating exploration of the detailed and complex world of overhead reform. As a graduate student writing my capstone on overhead, I would love to see this explored further.

  • As a former nonprofit executive director and crisis consultant, now nonprofit consultant, I always take a look at who is serving on the board of directors of the troubled organization. Wounded Warrior Project’s website shows 6 white men, albeit some of whom represent WWP’s clients. The first question I would ask them is “What was the process for approving the expenditure of donor dollars on a more than $1-million staff team building event?”

    I also look for indicators of the organizational values that are underpinning such disconcerting decision making. In addition to the all-white board, I saw two other such indicators. The first was that the now infamous staff team building event at the Broadmoor was a celebration of successful fundraising, not a celebration of program and mission success.

    The second indicator is the image of Steve Nardizzi rappelling down the side of a building to the cheers of his staff. This is just wrong. Who was involved in this decision to use the able-bodied Executive Director who has never served in military, not a Wounded Warrior client in this motivational moment?

    Unfortunately, when the organizational values are not aligned with mission, it’s time to change the team.

  • As a new nonprofit on mental health and about to help families, I’m at a lost on how this wasn’t stopped long ago. Great lessons on new nonprofits like us to think long and hard to focus on the families and the people you serve.