News reports in the last week about Wounded Warrior Project – 3/30

Here are a few articles I found interesting about WWP in the last week, including an interview with the departed CEO and COO.

3/28 – News 4 Jax – Wounded Warrior Project names interim COO – The WWP board appointed retired Major General Charlie Fletcher as interim COO beginning April 11.  He has 30 years experience on active duty. He currently is one of the people on the advisory board.

3/28 –Board Source – Wounded Warrior Project-A Classic Case Study – Author is paying close attention to the WWP story. Real, current situations are wonderful teaching tools. Responses to Sen. Grassley’s inquiry letter will provide lots of insight.

The biggest lesson described by the author is:

My teachable moment based on WWP is simple: Governance is not a spectator sport!

Author says the board firing of the CEO and COO, even if the exactly correct thing to do, is after the time the board should have been actively involved. Author of the article calls it a Hail Mary play.

Whether the problem is out of control spending (I doubt it), a culture that allows retaliation against people who have concerns about the organization, a broken culture in general, the board not knowing what was going on, or an out-of-control media firestorm, blame flows back to the board of directors.

Author of the article does not know what policies and procedures were in place based on personal knowledge, but the range of accusations in play raise questions about a variety of policies.

I would suggest the focus on policies and the questions which flow from that question is where there ought to be a lot more focus in the public discussion.

3/28 – Brian Mittendorf at Counting on Charity – Is There a Life Cycle for Popular Charities? – Graph shows rapid and severe drop in giving for four different charities that attracted lots of close scrutiny and controversy.

Check out the drop in giving from the peak for Livestrong, Komen, Invisible Children, and Central Asia Institute after they lost confidence of the donor public.

For some of those case studies, it might have been possible that the board and senior leadership could have gotten ahead of the controversy and sustained giving levels. For some (you choose which ones based on your perspective), the underlying lack of integrity would be quite difficult to overcome.

Three of the four are seeing an accelerating decline in giving. At the moment, only Livestrong is looking like the giving might possibly, maybe, be leveling off. None has stabilized or even started to recover, at least based on 2012 data. All of them are still shrinking.

3/28 – Fox 5 New York – Fired Wounded Warrior Project executives defend spending – If you want to see the challenges of dealing with the media, check out this interview.

The interviewers repeatedly cut off Mr. Nardizzi and Mr. Giordano. They spent more time asking questions than they allowed for replies. They interrupted at the end of a sentence before the response was finished in order to ask a different question. They only followed up on one reply but didn’t allow more than about two sentences of reaction.

One of the newsreaders was literally reading his laptop during the interview when he wasn’t talking or asking a question. My reaction after watching the interview once is that I presume he was rehearsing his next prepared question, merely waiting for an opportunity to interrupt.

Lesson to be learned for those who are paying attention: If you get into a media firestorm, this is what you will face. Watch the interview a few times and think through how you would handle such an interview.

Lesson for me: In a media interview, you will be allowed about one sentence to explain what would otherwise require a ten minute dissertation. The time it will take you to read this post is a multiple of the time that the two former officials were allowed to speak.

I’m confused.

There is a severe disconnect between the programming described in the public criticism and what is described by senior staff.

The most vocal critic, quoted at length by CBS, said the main programming done by WWP is taking warriors to sporting events and other fun stuff. After the events, WWP dropped him. He tried unsuccessfully to get into some programs. The way his story is presented makes it look like WWP doesn’t do anything other than fun events.

On the other hand. Mr. Giordano described just one program, the Independence Project, that is spending a million dollars a month providing home care to wounded warriors to keep them out of nursing homes, which is the treatment the VA wanted. Mr. Nardizzi said several of the specific programs have lots of licensed and degreed professionals on staff. There are sixteen different programs within WWP, according to the audited financial statements.

I’m having a struggle trying to harmonize the public complaints with the apparent breadth and depth of programming.

A few comments about booze.

Public reports claim that booze flows freely at staff events with the tab picked up by WWP. This report raises new allegations (at least I’ve not seen the accusations before) that there is booze at program events attended by wounded warriors.

Mr. Nardizzi and Mr. Giordano emphatically deny both parts of those accusations.

Alcohol is not allowed at any event where wounded warriors are present. For several years, staff have been prohibited by policy from drinking when around wounded warriors because of the risks of self-medication, according to Mr. Nardizzi.

The booze at staff-only events is not paid by WWP. The staff buy their own drinks.

Mr. Nardizzi says the organization has declined donations & sponsorships from alcoholic beverage companies because of the confusion caused by having booze ads visible at events.

If you’ve ever been to a military social event, you know there will be a cash bar and you know there will be lots of booze flowing. (Code word alert – cash bar means you pay for your own drinks.) Same with events in public accounting, both with the volume of booze and who is paying for it. Based on my limited observations, I’ll guess military officers are heavier drinkers than accountants.

On the reason for firing the CEO and COO and the volume of investments on hand.

Mr. Nardizzi said twice in the interview that he thinks the board concluded that with all the media attention, they just needed to let the two senior staff go so that the organization could get past the current situation.

The interview touched on why WWP has such a large volume of cash on hand:  $37M has been moved into a trust to provide long-term care. The goal is to build this trust up to the point it will be able to fund something like the Independence Project for decades, even if WWP goes away. Wounded warriors in that program will need decades of care in order to keep them out of nursing homes (which again, is the VA’s plan for them otherwise).

Check out the full interview. If you’ve been reading my comments on the situation, it will be well worth your time.

Some previously behind the scenes, now public, happenings – Apparently the WWP board had a meeting scheduled with John Melia, the founder of WWP.

According to Mr. Melia, the board canceled the meeting for the stated reason that Mr. Melia publicly revealed the existence of the meeting.

Brian Mittendorf’s tweet gives the headline recap:

mittendorf - meeting


Mr. Melia’s Facebook post mentioned by Mr. Kane can be found here.

Seems to me that even if the board knew the only thing that would happen in such a meeting was for them to get royally chewed out, they still should meet with Mr. Melia.

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