One of the largest Minnesota contributors to the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project says he will continue to support the charity despite news reports suggesting it spends its money lavishly.
The New York Times and CBS News have run stories quoting former insiders saying it spends millions of dollars on travel, dinners, hotels and conferences and has lost its focus on serving veterans.
Over the years, more than 80 individuals and organizations across Minnesota have donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, its website said. They have included groups such as Faribault Senior High School, the Minnesota Central School Bus Car Show and the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Association. Donations have ranged from a few dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.
One of the largest contributors has been Team Minnesota WWP, which has raised more than $600,000 for the organization since it was started in 2008.
Tom Cocchiarella, an Air Force veteran and one of the Team Minnesota WWP co-founders, said the criticism does not reflect what he has experienced with the charity, adding that he fears it will hurt fundraising. Its seventh annual gala fundraiser is scheduled for April.
“The local and national WWP staff I have worked with over the past eight years are some of the most dedicated, hardworking, and caring people I have ever worked with or served with anywhere,” he said in an e-mail. “We have over 1,000 wounded warriors here in Minnesota, and I am humbled by their unassuming passion to recover and ‘fit in to society.’ I am saddened what these stories will do to negatively impact fundraising — and ultimately our wounded and their families. Congress doesn’t help, now the public is given doubts. A sad day for America’s veterans.”
Wounded Warriors has no chapters in Minnesota, but three charities connected to it are registered with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office to raise funds in the state: the Wounded Warrior Project, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Wounded Warriors Family Support Inc., of Omaha, Neb., and Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation Inc., of Apollo Beach, Fla.
None is registered with the Minnesota Charities Review Council, which sets accountability standards for charities in the state. Registration with the council is voluntary, but signals that a nonprofit has maintained standards of governance, finance, fundraising and public communication, said the council’s executive director Kris Kewitsch.
The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans is a longtime partner with the council and Disabled American Veterans is in the process of being reviewed, she said.
Other organizations may have a tangential relationship to veterans. Resource Inc., for instance, assists with job training and placement, CommonBond Communities and Habitat for Humanity work on veteran homelessness, and Helping Paws Inc. and Can Do Canines work with training service dogs and companions for people with disabilities, including disabled veterans.
The council does not make recommendations about donating, but recommends viewing its charity partners on its website. “For donors, it’s such a personal decision to give your resources to a nonprofit organization,” Kewitsch said. “Our goal by using those standards is helping donors feel comfortable and to empower them to either say yes or no to something they care about.”