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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.
But in its swift rise, it has also embraced aggressive styles of fund-raising, marketing and personnel management that have caused many current and former employees to question whether it has drifted from its original mission.
It has spent millions a year on travel, dinners, hotels and conferences that often seemed more lavish than appropriate, more than four dozen current and former employees said in interviews. Former workers recounted buying business-class seats and regularly jetting around the country for minor meetings, or staying in $500-per-night hotel rooms.
$500-per-night hotel rooms.
In 2015: $372 million in donations. At 40% overhead that leaves $223 million for services. So the question to ask is: Are the wounded warriors getting the benefit of those funds?
The WGA recommends fundraising costs not exceed 35 percent of related contributions, but Weiner suggested that the public look at more than just the statistics. “Ratios in general can result in false positives,” he said. “You may have an organization with excellent numbers, but it may not have good governance, or have much of an impact with its mission. That’s one of the limitations of looking at finances alone.”