by Mary Morgan, ENVSC Director
Many of you may have been following the news coverage of the Wounded Warrior Project. The organization recently came under scrutiny because of its spending. Reports came out about excessive spending on employee retreats, high CEO pay and overhead costs of 40 percent.
Founded in 2003, the Wounded Warrior Project’s mission is to assist wounded veterans with recovery and reintegration into society. As the largest and fastest-growing veterans’ charity in the country, the Wounded Warrior Project has provided vital assistance to many injured veterans over the past 13 years. And running an effective nonprofit does require overhead spending. The situation is not as simple as many have made it out to be, and Elks Lodges who’ve had success partnering with local Wounded Warrior groups shouldn’t feel the need to stop working together to serve veterans because of this.
It does make for an interesting comparison though. By contrast, the Elks have been serving veterans for more than a hundred years. In 2015-16, the Elks National Foundation, which funds veterans grant projects and the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, spent only 7.4 percent on supporting services. This is well below the Better Business Bureau’s standard for charity accountability, which is 35 percent or less on supporting services. (Learn more about this in the ENF’s Annual Report.)
In the days and weeks following the Wounded Warrior media coverage, I read many articles criticizing and defending the group. Many people were eager to offer alternative veterans groups for people to support. They suggested the American Legion, the DAV, the VFW, and the Marine Corps League. No one mentioned the Elks. That’s something we need to change.
The Elks National Veterans Service Commission was officially founded in 1946, and Elks were serving veterans long before that. Today, Elks use Lodge grants to run fitness and recovery groups for veterans, support military families in need and hold recreational therapy programs for wounded veterans. More than 600 Elks serve in VA facilities and veterans hospitals across the country as Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Representatives. The Veterans Leather Program provides free wheelchair gloves and leather therapy kits for thousands of veterans each year. And the Welcome Home initiative is reaching out to some of our most vulnerable veterans: those who are homeless.
Recently, we posted a photo to social media of a Lodge providing free haircuts to veterans in need. It was one of many updates we receive each week of Elks engaged in service. People liked and shared the photo, and hopefully a few more learned about what the Elks do for veterans. One person commented underneath the photo, “These guys don’t just talk.” It struck me as the perfect way to sum up the photo, and much of the Elk’s history serving veterans. Elks don’t just talk. They act. Let’s keep acting, and people will notice.