Wounded Warrior Project Spends Lavishly on Itself, Insiders Say
Veterans participate in a Soldier Ride on Jan. 8 in Marathon, Fla. The Wounded Warrior Project program provides adapted equipment for injured veterans to cycle together. Credit Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau, via Associated PressBy DAVE PHILIPPS, NYT, JAN. 27, 2016
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In early 2014, after 10 years of rapid growth, the charity Wounded Warrior Project flew its roughly 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel.
They were celebrating their biggest year yet: $225 million raised and a work force that had nearly doubled in just a year. On the opening night, before three days of strategy sessions and team-building field trips, the staff gathered in the hotel courtyard. Suddenly, a spotlight focused on a 10-story bell tower where the chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, stepped off the edge and rappelled down toward the cheering crowd.
That evening is emblematic of the polished and well-financed image cultivated by the Wounded Warrior Project, the country’s largest and fastest-growing veterans charity.
Since its inception in 2003 as a basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded war veterans, the charity has evolved into a fund-raising giant, taking in more than $372 million in 2015 alone — largely through small donations from people over 65.
Today, the charity has 22 locations offering programs to help veterans readjust to society, attend school, find work and participate in athletic endeavors. It contributes millions to smaller veterans groups. And it has become a brand name, its logo emblazoned on sneakers, paper towel packs, peanut butter cups and television commercials that run dozens of times per day.