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Wounded Warrior Project’s unique mission draws in donors

Sep. 29, 2012 - 03:29PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments

Since its launch in 2003, the Wounded Warriors Project has raised millions of dollars and served thousands of service members and their families.

The Florida-based charity joined the Combined Federal Campaign in 2006 and has quickly become one of the fastest-growing national charities in the CFC in terms of money raised. The charity’s executive staff credits the organization’s growth to the quality of its programs and services. The organization’s mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors.

“At Wounded Warrior Project, we don’t raise money for the sake of raising money, we raise money to fuel programs, and our programs save lives,” said Adam Silva, the charity’s chief development officer.

Silva said what makes the charity unique is its broad spectrum of programs and services to ensure the mental, physical and economic needs of service members are met, as opposed to focusing on one aspect.

The organization funds weekend retreats for wounded veterans led by licensed counselors, golfing, spa services and horseback riding. And the Warriors to Work program provides career counseling and job placement assistance for wounded service members transitioning into the civilian workforce.

The charity has also seen increased participation in its alumni program, which provides ongoing support for those wounded in service — physically or emotionally — on or after Sept. 11. Today, more than 15,557 people are registered in the charity’s alumni program and receive free professional and educational services and networking opportunities.

Last year, the Wounded Warrior Project raised $74 million, with at least $1.7 million coming from CFC. That is a sharp jump from only two years earlier, when the charity raised $26.1 million, with $1.1 million coming through CFC.

The organization currently ranks as the fourth largest among national charities in the CFC, according to data gathered by the Workplace Giving Alliance.

Other military charities in the CFC, including the Wounded Warrior Emergency Support Fund and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, have also seen a boost in funding over the past three years.

The Wounded Warrior Project in 2011 spent 25 percent, or $18.6 million, of its donations on administrative costs, which include marketing efforts, and the remaining $55.5 million was spent on programs for service members and their families.

“What is important to look at over time is the program spend[ing],” said Ron Burgess, the charity’s chief financial officer. “That number continues to grow.”

While overhead costs have increased, so has the amount of money going toward the organization’s programs. The charity’s administrative costs have decreased from 39 percent in 2009 to 25 percent last year. “We’ve become more efficient at it [fundraising],” Burgess said.

CFC’s published overhead numbers lag behind those listed in the charity’s tax documents, which is common for many charities because CFC requests data in advance of the next campaign cycle.

“We know that donors pay attention to the overhead number, but it doesn’t control all the donors,” said Marshall Strauss, CEO of Workplace Giving Alliance. The alliance includes a dozen federations that share administrative staff to support hundreds of charities in the CFC and other fundraising campaigns. “The identity of Wounded Warrior Project is so strong, donors gave to it even though they saw a high overhead.”

The charity uses direct mail, online and outreach events, television advertisements and partnerships with well-established brands to promote how Wounded Warrior Project is helping service members. Media coverage and endorsements from radio personality Bob Kingsley, country music singer Trace Adkins and others have further boosted the charity’s visibility, Silva said.

“The No. 1 thing that has fueled fundraising over last five years is the American people,” he said.

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