Join The NonProfit Times: or Become a member

Subscribe: Print Publication or Newsletter

Stay connected.
Stay informed.

CEO, COO Out At Wounded Warrior Project

By Mark Hrywna - March 10, 2016

Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) Chief Executive Officer Steven Nardizzi and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano were fired today. The move comes six weeks after intense media scrutiny regarding the charity’s spending and personnel policies.

In a 750-word  statement released this evening by WWP, the board determined the organization would benefit from new leadership, to best effectuate some policy changes and “help restore trust in the organization among all the constituencies” it serves.

An Office of the CEO has been created to oversee the organization on an interim basis, effective immediately. The office will be comprised of senior members of the existing executive team and led by Anthony Odierno, chairman of WWP’s six-member board since 2014. He is an Iraq veteran and vice president of military and veterans affairs at JPMorgan Chase. The board intends to initiate a nationwide search immediately for a permanent CEO, according to the statement.

The board of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based organization last month hired Simpson Thacher & Bartlett as external legal counsel and FTI Consulting as forensic accounting consultants to conduct an “independent and objective review of allegations” reported by CBS News and The New York Times. The work has included a review of financial and other records, interviews with former and current employees at all levels of the organization, including senior management and board members.

The review found that some policies, procedures and controls “have not kept pace with the organization’s rapid growth and are in need of strengthening.” The board will do another one with an external auditor, according to a source. Employee travel policies will more explicitly limit domestic air travel to economy class, with exceptions for health or disability. Policies related to employee and director expenses will be strengthened, the organization said, in addition to enhancing employee training on existing and new policies and procedures, and continuing to have financial statement independently audited and available on its website.

Nardizzi did not reply to messages seeking comment. He serves on the steering committee of the Charity Defense Council (CDC). The Topsfield, Mass.-based CDC was founded by Dan Pallotta, to act as an “anti-defamation league” of sorts for the nonprofit sector. The fledgling organization, which received a $150,000 grant last year from Wounded Warrior Project, recently hired its first two full-time staff members.

Pallotta did not respond to messages seeking comment but said via Twitter that there were reports that “the CEO & COO of @woundedwarrior have been fired. Haven’t seen any official statement from Wounded Warrior Project Board.”

The CDC is looking into the dismissals and the situation might end up in litigation, according to sources within the CDC since overhead and spending appear to be key factors. The two executives were brought into a meeting with the WWP board today that lasted less than 10 minutes before they were dismissed. Other high-level executives at the charity have threatened to quit since the two were escorted from the building, according to a source, but there’s been no movement at this point.

Nardizzi has been one of the Charity Defense Council’s loudest proponents, speaking to large charity executive audiences and challenging the metrics used by charity watchdog groups. He challenged overhead cost ceiling, often taunting those organizations.

CBS News last week reported that some major donors were shunning the charity and the donors pledged to seek changes within the organization. According to a source, it was the most recent report, in which CBS News showed up at board members’ houses seeking comment, that “spooked them” into believing the needed to take some action.

Sources said Wounded Warrior spent millions on Direct Response Television (DRTV) last year. It’s unclear how much revenue that spending yielded but Wounded Warrior has been raising huge amounts via DRTV as well as online advertising and direct mail, soliciting monthly givers.

The charity aims to raise $1 billion to be able to fund future needs for veterans, with $500 million to be raised during the next five years and $500 million that will come from investment earnings over a 20-year period. It’s placed almost $40 million toward its Long-Term Support Trust in the past two years.

WWP has been among the fastest-growing nonprofits in the country in recent years after aggressively investing in fundraising. Wounded Warrior Project reported total revenue of $342 million in its most recent fiscal year — compared with $74 million just five years ago — and has grown to more than 500 employees. It ranked No. 45 on last year’s NPT 100, a study by The NonProfit Times of the nation’s largest nonprofits that generate at least 10 percent of revenue from public support.

Nardizzi’s flamboyant nature of riding into conferences on a horse or Segway and rappelling down a building raised the ire of some former employees who talked to CBS News. The reports cited $26 million from WWP’s tax Form 990 as having been spent on conferences. That was among some inaccuracies disputed by the charity.

At issue is just how much of its donations WWP spends on programs. The charity calculates program costs at almost 81 percent, per its audited financial statements, while other calculations put it closer to 60 percent if joint cost allocation (SOP 98-2) are disregarded.

In the statement released this evening, the organization disputed parts of the earlier media reports:

  • Approximately 94 percent, or $24.4 million, of the $26 million reported spent on conferences and events in the tax Form 990 was “associated with program services delivered to wounded warriors and their families.”A source close to the organization said that between $22 million and $24 million of that total was for an initiative called Project Odyssey. The program is like a group therapy where wounded warriors from around the country get together to work out their issues.
  • Less than 1 percent of air travel may have been booked for employee travel in first or business class but the vast majority has been in economy class.
  • The cost of the “all-hands” held in 2014 at The Broadmoor, a luxury resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., was approximately $970,000, compared with the $3 million cited by media reports. “Such events will be curtailed in the future,” the statement said.
  • From 2013 to 2015, employees made more than 150,000 “outreach calls” and sent more than 114,000 “outreach emails” to wounded warriors, disputing the allegation that “We don’t call warriors, warriors call us,” which was reported amid the allegations.

Sponsored Podcasts

Welcome to the Raise & Engage podcast, a filters-off series for nonprofit professionals hosted by Blackbaud's straight-shooting expert Danielle Johnson Vermenton. During this open-mic session, you’ll hear honest advice to help YOU do more for your cause.

Episode 6: The Power of ‘No’ at Work|| daniellejohnson-76

You have a job description, but on any given day, you're probably doing dozens of things outside the scope of that description. Combine that with the challenge of a fast-paced environment and the shifting priorities of funders, colleagues, and board members and it’s easy to fall short of doing your best. By being mindful of your limitations and capacity—and saying “no” when your plate is full—you can actually do more for your cause. In the sixth installment of the Raise and Engage podcast Danielle Johnson and Robin Anderson discuss the power of saying “no” at work.

Episode 5: Professional Development: Getting Un-Stuck|| daniellejohnson-76

In the most recent episode of Raise + Engage, Danielle is back with Brian Reich from little m media to discuss how nonprofit professionals can stay motivated and energized in their day-to-day roles. Brian shares his experience working with nonprofits and the lessons and tips he's learn from and shared with them over the years, including tips for avoiding a professional rut, creating forward momentum in your career and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you're considering making a career move or want to ensure you're on the right path, you won't want to miss this inspo-packed episode!

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane, is all about tips, tricks and tools for sanity. Blackbaud’s own interactive product marketer, Julia Lenz, joins host Danielle Johnson to share some high tech. (and no tech.) productivity tips to help nonprofit professionals stay sane in the crazy world of philanthropy.

Tune in to hear:

  • Tips for how to spend the first 30 minutes of your day
  • The benefits of 15 minute meetings
  • Why notebooks are still relevant to a successful organization
  • Ideas for better managing your inbox
  • Why you should take lunch outside the box
  • ...and much more!
Don’t forget to visit the #NoFilterNonprofit Hub afterwards to download our newest tip sheet10 Productivity Hacks for Nonprofits.

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff In episode 3 of the Raise + Engage podcast, Danielle Johnson is joined by Chris Geady and William DaSilva, two IT experts in the nonprofit space, to talk technology integration for NPOs: when you need it, when you don’t, and how to do it successfully.

Tune in to hear:

  • When to say NO to integration
  • How to set your strategic plan before even looking at technologies
  • Ways to get your entire team on board
  • The importance of identifying a project lead
  • The RFP process - how it should and should not go
And William shares a story about a nonprofit that may or may not have still been using a typewriter. You don't want to miss this one!

Episode 2: From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome! || daniellejohnson-76

According to Danielle Johnson, straight-shooting host of the Raise + Engage podcast series, if your staff members aren’t the number one advocates for your cause on social media, you’re failing. In the most recent episode, Danielle is joined by Blackbaud’s own social media guru Madeline Turner to discuss overcoming social struggles and creating a social ambassador program at your organization. This entertaining and insightful duo dishes on the importance of making your social media presence human, making the case for a formal social program to leadership, how University of Michigan turned a one time social media campaign into a long term social program, and how Madeline's mom unknowingly became a social ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Episode 1: Corporate Culture & Development: Shake It Up! || daniellejohnson-76

In the premiere episode of Raise & Engage, Danielle is joined by three straight-shooting nonprofit rock-stars: Jodi Smith of Sanford Health Systems, Veronica Brown of Chicago Public Library Foundation and Ali Burke of Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation. The group talks organizational culture, problem employees, why its important to celebrate and how to shake things up this year and build a better more authentic team that gets stuff done!


Stay informed, catch latest trends in the nonprofit space.

Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter

No obligation, unsubscribe at anytime.

Success! Check your email inbox.

Follow Us On Twitter

NPT 2016 Buyers' Guide

Newsletter Sign-up

click here to return to the previous page