By Doug White, Special for USDR
Yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa released a report documenting the results of his 14-month investigation into news reports that accused Wounded Warrior Project, the largest veterans service organization in the nation, of lavish spending and improper fiscal oversight.
But, according to Doug White, a nonprofit expert who conducted his own independent investigation into the WWP crisis and who is now writing a book about the scandal, the report may be flawed.
White says he has recently obtained internal documents that indicate the organization may have misled Senator Grassley and the public.
For example, while WWP has recently reported that it is growing, internal board budget documents show that it is expecting a $100 million loss for the current year – in addition to last year’s $70 million drop. “While WWP has lately been touting how much better things are going to be,” White says, “its own projections, in important categories, show the opposite. At least for the near future.”
Although his report did not identify any evidence of misappropriation of funds or other wrongdoing alleged in the CBS reports, Grassley was still broadly critical of the organization’s past spending and operations.
“Many of the original allegations were misleading or overstated,” White says. As for one subject of Grassley’s criticisms, allocating fundraising costs, White points out that the senator “seems to ignore the principles that accounting professionals are bound to follow and also ignores the guidance outlined by the IRS. But even if you accept the false premise of the allegations, I note that he doesn’t mention the role of the board – the report’s most obvious flaw. It is my view that the board in part created, or at least abetted, this crisis. While the senator has been looking closely at charities for many years, which is a good thing, he did not address the real issues – impact and serving wounded veterans – which WWP was doing well.”
White says his investigation revealed that the charity was well run, operating efficiently, and essentially a model for 21st Century charities. But he also cautioned that no organization is run perfectly and all charities need to constantly be vigilant to ensure good practices. “Were some things in need of improvement? Of course. But, in my view, nothing happened that should have caused the removal of the two top people. And certainly nothing that should have warranted such one-sided news reports, which added up to little more than scathing indictments of a good charity.”
In February, the nation’s most recognized charity watchdog groups, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, awarded WWP their highest ratings for the period covering the time that Senator Grassley’s report covers.
White says, “For some reason CBS News decided to run a report – which, the network says, it stands by – filled with much misinformation and innuendo based on very few sources, some of whom had an ax to grind. It’s as if someone wanted to bring down the organization.”
That is what White is investigating for his book. “Wounded Warrior Project is one of this nation’s great charities. I understand that it’s trying to recover and I sincerely hope it does, but the reasons for the scandal need to be examined so other charities can learn. The road ahead will be difficult.” White says that questions he has sent repeatedly to the board about the scandal have gone unanswered.
Among other things, White wants to know the role played by Richard Jones. Jones chairs WWP’s board audit committee. He is also an executive, the general tax counsel, at CBS Corporation. “To me,” White says, “it looks like he has a conflict of interest.” White also says, “It’s odd that Jones is at the center of so much here, yet CBS News has never interviewed him on camera or identified him in its reports.”
About Doug White
Doug White, a long-time leader in the nation’s philanthropic community, is an author, teacher, and an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists. He has written four books, the most recent of which is “Abusing Donor Intent,” on a family’s lawsuit against Princeton University, and is currently writing a book about WWP. He is the former director of Columbia University’s Master of Science in Fundraising Management program, where, in addition to his extensive management responsibilities, he taught board governance, ethics and fundraising.
SOURCE Doug White