Wounded Warrior Project

Location: Jacksonville, Fla.

Total cash raised: 1.2 million*

Total fundraising costs: .1 million*

Cash raised by solicitors: 9.2 million*

Total paid for professional solicitation campaigns: .9 million*

Total spent on programs: 7.6 million*

Disciplinary actions: 0

* Based on IRS 990 filings from 2008-2011

Wounded Warrior Project, created in 2003, has become one of the fastest-growing veterans’ charities in the country.

When the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting asked readers in June to suggest charities to investigate, it was one of the most requested.

Unlike the 50 charities the Times and CIR named on its list of America’s worst in June, Wounded Warrior Project does not rely heavily on for-profit solicitation companies to raise money. And it does not pay telemarketers to drum up donations.

Instead, it uses a combination of fundraising events, corporate sponsorships, advertising and direct mail appeals.

Last year, the charity raised nearly $150 million.

About $81 million was raised through professional solicitors. Wounded Warrior paid 11 percent of that money to cover its solicitors’ fees and the expense of the solicitor-run campaigns. In comparison, veterans charities on the Times/CIR list of worst charities paid an average of 82 percent to their solicitors.

Wounded Warrior Project spends most of the money it raises counseling veterans and running sports and educational programs.

Last year, it also gave nearly $5 million to other charities, including the American Red Cross and Resounding Joy, a music therapy group in California.

Wounded Warrior gave about $880,000 to nearly 100 veterans in the form of college scholarships and stipends for its yearlong TRACK Program, which helps veterans transition to college and the workplace.

Thomas Toomey, a 30-year-old former infantryman who was severely injured in Iraq, said the TRACK program helped him learn everything from business etiquette to how to use Excel spreadsheets. Now a veterans’ liaison for U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw in Jacksonville, Toomey said, “If not for the TRACK program, there’s no way in the world I would have gotten this job. I didn’t even have a suit.”

In its 2012 IRS filing, Wounded Warrior Project reported that about 73 percent of its expenses went toward programs. But the charity is one of many that claim a portion of fundraising expenses as charitable works. By including educational material in solicitations, charities can classify some of the expense as good deeds. Ignoring these joint costs reduces the amount Wounded Warrior spent on programs last year to 58 percent of total expenditures.

The charity also has been criticized for its salaries, with 10 employees earning $150,000 or more. Executive Director Steve Nardizzi, whose total compensation was about $330,000 last year, said salaries are in line with similarly sized organizations.

“We’re a direct service provider, dealing with some of the world’s greatest social ills,” Nardizzi said, referring to the charity’s more than 250 employees who provide services to veterans. “We hire the best of the best, and we pay them a living wage.”

Wounded Warrior has gotten mixed reviews from independent charity watchdogs. Charity Navigator gives it three of four stars. The charity meets all 20 standards set by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Charity Watch gave Wounded Warrior a C+ grade, up from a D two years ago, based on the amounts spent on programs and fundraising.

How they compare

Wounded Warrior spent 11 percent of donations raised on professional solicitors’ campaigns. Here’s how that compares with veterans charities that made the Times/CIR list of America’s worst:*

* From 2011 IRS 990 filing or latest year available

Charity Investigator is an initiative by The Center for Investigative Reporting and Tampa Bay Times as part of our America’s Worst Charities project. We’ve solicited tips from readers about nonprofits they believe our reporters should investigate. You can submit a tip here.

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Kris Hundley joined the Tampa Bay Times 17 years ago as a business reporter. She is now a member of the Times’ investigative team.