Wounded Warrior Project got a clean bill of health from the Better Business Bureau after a lengthy review of the Jacksonville-based charity concluded it did not engage in "lavish spending" as portrayed in media reports.
The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance suspended its charity seal designation last year after Wounded Warrior Project dismissed the non-profit's two top administrators in March 2016. The firings came after media reports contended Wounded Warrior took money intended for veterans and wasted it on perks for employees such as lavish conventions and parties.
The Wise Giving Alliance concluded Feb. 1 that Wounded Warrior Project meets all 20 standards the Better Business Bureau uses in its assessment of charitable organizations. In terms of meetings and conferences, Wounded Warrior Project's spending has been "consistent with its programs and missions."
"WWP provided details of expenses and expense areas to demonstrate that there was no evidence of lavish spending," the Better Business Bureau said in a report posted online with its assessment of Wounded Warrior.
The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance said its review included face-to-face meetings with Wounded Warrior Project staff members and discussions with the non-profit's board chairman and a firm that conducted an examination of the non-profit's operations in wake of national media reports.
"The new leadership at WWP will face challenges regaining the public trust, but being open and transparent is a great start toward that end," the BBB said in announcing its findings.
The Wounded Warrior Project fired Steven Nardizzi as chief executive officer and Al Giordano after media reports blasted the organization's spending practices, including an employee conference known as the All Hands Huddle in 2014 at The Broadmoor, a five-star resort in Colorado.
Some media reports said Wounded Warrior spent $3 million on that conference, but Wounded Warrior said last March the expense was less than $1 million. The Better Business Bureau said its review likewise put the cost at less than $1 million and said that based on the 415 staff members who took part, that equates to a cost of less than $440 per day per employee for the five-day conference when including expenses for hotel rooms, food, travel and conference space.
The Better Business Bureau also examined Wounded Warrior in the areas of how it handles employee complaints, how it accounts for what portion of its revenue goes for fund-raising versus program expenses, and fund-raising practices.
Nardizzi and Giordano, who guided Wounded Warrior Project as it rapidly became one of the nation's largest charities, have said the board's decision to fire them sent a bad signal to the public because it made donors think criticism of the organization's spending practices was valid.
The outside review ordered by Wounded Warrior's board in early 2016 said some media reporting contained information that was inaccurate. The board said the organization needed to strengthen policies that didn't keep pace with the non-profit's dramatic growth and needed new leadership to restore trust.
Donations to Wounded Warrior plunged after the shake-up, leading to a 15-percent cut in its national workforce with 85 employees laid off last September.