May 4, 2015; Daily Beast
Over the years, NPQ has covered any number of brand wars among nonprofits and between for-profits and nonprofits, but this one reminds us of the behavior of Susan G. Komen for the Cure—the attempt of a large, well-moneyed group to squash smaller nonprofits in the name of their mission “brand.” Ugly.
According to a number of smaller groups, the Wounded Warrior Project, with annual revenues of $235 million, has been spending a good deal of time and money suing other veteran-serving nonprofits on the basis that their names or logos constitute infringement on their brand.
The Daily Beast reports that they talked with at least seven such charities. “They do try to bully smaller organizations like ourselves,” said a representative of one of the groups, who chose to remain anonymous. “They get really territorial about fundraising.” The rep said that they have been pressured to change their name, which includes the term “wounded warrior.”
“They’re so huge. We don’t have the staying power if they come after us—you just can’t fight them.” The term “wounded warrior” is, by the way, a generic phrase in the military community for an injured service member, used often within the various branches. But apparently WWP wants to own the name now and it appears willing to spend its donors’ and beneficiaries’ money to ensure that that is so.
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Most recently, a small, Pennsylvania-based, all-volunteer project named the Keystone Wounded Warriors has become a target. Its annual budget is $200,000—which is, as the Beast points out, $175,000 less than the CEO of the WWP makes annually. But the small group had to spend two years and $72,000 in defense against the charge that their logo and name were similar enough to WWP’s to cause irreparable damage to its business, goodwill, reputation, and profits.
“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. “The lawsuit was just the coup de grâce,” he added. “They want us gone.”
The Keystone Wounded Warriors co-founder said he spent two years negotiating with the Wounded Warrior Project only to have them file a lawsuit—which caused 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.”
The head of one another veterans’ charity, who also requested anonymity to avoid being targeted by WWP, said, “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.”—Ruth McCambridge