From The Florida Times-Union
It’s been several months since the Wounded Warrior Project was rocked by troubling issues regarding questionable spending and a lack of accountability.
But there are encouraging indications that the Jacksonville-based nonprofit is turning things around.
After forcing out top executives linked to the controversy, Wounded Warrior has brought in as CEO Michael Linnington, a respected retired Army lieutenant.
It has cut expenses and reduced personnel, unfortunate but unavoidable when the exposed problems caused Wounded Warrior’s donations to decrease by more than 20 percent.
It has beefed up the amount of staff that focuses on the specific programs veterans need most, like mental health services.
In short, Wounded Warrior has been doing what any organization that has damaged its credibility should do.
It has acknowledged that it has veered from its core mission.
It has closely examined how to return to that mission — and remain true to that purpose.
It has worked to increase its transparency.
Wounded Warrior Project has much more to do in order to win back the full support of the donors it must have and the veterans it must help.
But it’s a promising sign that such work has begun.
In retrospect, it’s clear that the main reason Wounded Warrior has been forced to rebuild public trust is because of a loss of focus.
When a nonprofit raises money, it has to leave no doubt that the funds will be used to serve the charity’s fundamental purpose.
But Wounded Warrior had allowed such questions to grow and persist – two respected national organizations that evaluate the overall efficiency of nonprofits, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, determined that Wounded Warrior was devoting only 60 percent and 54 percent, respectively, of its expenses to its actual programs.
Now there are reasonable expenses needed for marketing in order to expand services. Too often the news media and charity rating agencies presume that all marketing expenses are not valid.
But reasonable questions should be raised.
How many veterans are being served?
Are the programs producing results?
Is the spending justified?
And there seems to be little doubt that Wounded Warrior, which had massively expanded its operations across the country since becoming an officially recognized charity in 2005, had difficulties dealing with growth.
John Melia — the former Marine who started Wounded Warrior but was pushed out in 2009 by the very executives later accused of lavish spending — put it well when he said Wounded Warrior “grew too fast, and it became exactly what we didn’t want it to become.”
In the case of Wounded Warrior, that flawed mind-set resulted in an oversized organization with an excessive number of senior executives, too much overhead and too many programs that served only small numbers of veterans rather than larger groups.
The best nonprofit organizations figure out what they do best.
And they have a sold blueprint that ensures they carry out those goals in an efficient way.
That’s exactly what Wounded Warrior’s current and somewhat painful transformation must lead to — a clear awareness of its mission and a coherent game plan that justifies its existence as a resource for brave veterans who need support and assistance.
It’s still early, but Wounded Warrior appears to be back on its proper path.